Sunday, February 26, 2006

that infamous stravinsky quote

For I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc....

Many people have heard this quote, and at the surface it seems rather absurd and even outrageous, it is also taken out of context. If you read the rest of the paragraph you will see what Stravinsky is trying to say is not what we might read from that first sentence. I remember actually seeing this quote before listening to any of his post-rite music and being turned-off to hearing later-stravinsky as a result. "why would i want to listen to the music that was conceived under this concept? meaningless music?" Meaninlessness, absurdity, has always bothered me and nagged at me. I questioned the avant-garde for years because i was concerned about the possibility of a kind of absurdity and pointlessness in it, which is something im not going to gamble with, and it is a pointlessness which seemed stravinsky was suggesting in this quote.

But of course, Stravinsky heard an outcry from those words and decided to make his point clearer to those still stuck on the first sentence:

The over-publicized bit about expression (or non-expression) was simply a way of saying that music is supra-personal and super-real and as such beyond verbal meanings and verbal descriptions. It was aimed against the notion that a piece of music is in reality a transcendental idea "expressed in terms of" music, with the reductio ad absurdum implication that exact sets of correlatives must exist between a composer's feelings and his notation. It was offhand and annoyingly
incomplete, but even the stupider critics could have seen that it did not deny musical expressivity, but only the validity of a type of verbal statement about musical expressivity. I stand by the remark, incidentally, thought today I wouldput it the other way around: music expresses itself."

Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft (1962). Expositions and Developments.

He puts it very well at the last bit there. I cringe now when i see that quote floating around, as if to provoke outrage, writers will publish it from time to time. Its very wrong, its very stupid to continue to take this quote out of context and present it as some sort of concrete summing up of stravinsky's aesthetics. In fact, something that i found once very upsetting i find out to be in reality, actually agreeable. Language can confuse sometimes, funny thing, this expression bit.

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