Igor Stravinsky

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Igor Stravinsky, c. 1920s - 1930s

Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky (Russian: Игорь Фёдорович Стравинский) (June 17, 1882April 6, 1971), a Russian-born composer, is thought to be one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. His musical language evolved over the years through many stylistic periods including neoclassicism and serialism, though he is perhaps most remembered for his early works, written in a primitive style for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; L'Oiseau de Feu (The Firebird), Petrushka and Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring).


  • 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. Expression has never been an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence. If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not a reality. It is simply an additional attribute which, by tacit and inveterate agreement, we have lent it, thrust upon it, as a label, a convention – in short, an aspect which, unconsciously or by force of habit, we have come to confuse with its essential being.
    • Igor Stravinsky (1936). An Autobiography, p. 53-54.
  • I was…attacked for being a pasticheur, chided for composing “simple” music, blamed for deserting “modernism,” accused of renouncing my “true Russian heritage.” People who had never heard of, or cared about, the originals cried “sacrilege”: “The classics are ours. Leave the classics alone.” To them all my answer was and is the same: You “respect,” but I love.
    • Expositions and Developments (1959), pp. 113-114
  • My music is best understood by children and animals.
    • Igor Stravinsky. The Observer, Oct 8, 1961.
  • One has a nose. The nose scents and it chooses. An artist is simply a kind of pig snouting truffles.
    • 1962, quoted in Andriessen and Schoenberger, The Apollonian Clockwork (1989). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • 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, though today I would put it the other way around: music expresses itself.
    • Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft (1962). Expositions and Developments.
  • The trouble with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music; they should be taught to love it instead.
    • Igor Stravinsky. "Subject: Music", New York Times Magazine, 9/27/64.
1970s and later
  • The phenomenon of music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things, including, and particularly, the co-ordination between man [sic] and time.
    • Quoted in DeLone et. al. (Eds.) (1975). Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0130493465, Ch. 3. from Igor Stravinsky' Autobiography (1962). New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., p. 54.
  • Music's exclusive function is to structure the flow of time and keep order in it.
    • Quoted by Géza Szamosi, The Twin Dimensions: Inventing Time and Space (New York, 1986), p. 232.

Themes and Conclusions (1982)[edit]

Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft (1982). Themes and Conclusions, Berkley: University of California Press.

  • Much of the music is a Merzbild, put together from whatever came to hand. I mean, for example...the Alberti-bass horn solo accompanying the Messenger. I also mean the fusion of such widely divergent types of music as the Folies Bergeres tune at No. 40 ('The girls enter, kicking') and the Wagnerian 7th-chords at Nos. 58 and 74."
    • p. 27: Dialogues.
  • What I cannot follow are the manic-depressive fluctuations from total control to no control, from the serialization of all elements to chance.
    • p. 33.
  • Composers combine notes, that's all.
    • p. 52 : Dialogues.
  • It is the transcendent (or 'abstract' or 'self-contained') nature of music that the new so called concretism--Pop Art, eighteen-hour slices-of-reality films, musique concrete--opposes. But instead of bringing art and reality closer together, the new movement merely thins out the distinction.
    • p. 188.

Quotes about Igor Stravinsky[edit]

  • Stravinsky, the chameleon-musician, the man of a thousand-and-one styles, has bequeathed us a totally unified treasury of rhythm that traces a perfect arc from his first to most recent work, rising from the simple to the complex then falling from the complex to the simple.
    • Olivier Messiaen, "Rhythm in the Music of Igor Stravinsky", La Revue musicale 191 (1939)
  • The music of Le Sacre du Printemps baffles verbal description. To say that much of it is hideous as sound is a mild description. There is certainly an impelling rhythm traceable. Practically it has no relation to music at all as most of us understand the word.
  • This intersecting of inherently non-symmetrical diatonic elements with inherently non-diatonic symmetrical elements seems to me the defining principle of the musical language of Le Sacre and the source of the unparalleled tension and conflicted energy of the work.
  • The diatonicism of Le Sacre du printemps should not be understood in the restrictive sense of the major/minor system, but in terms of something more basic. Like the symmetrical partitionings of the twelve-tone scale in Le Sacre, its diatonicism may also be explained in terms of interval cycles--more simply and coherently, in fact, than in terms of the traditional modes and scales. With the single exception of interval[-class] 5, every interval[-class] from 1 through 6 will partition the space of an octave into equal segments. A seven-note segment of the interval-5 cycle [C5], telescoped into the compass of an octave, divides the octave into unequal intervals--'whole-steps' and 'half-steps.'
  • For my part I did not approve of Stravinsky's predilection for Bach's method — pseudo-Bachism — or rather, I did not approve adopting someone else's idiom and calling it one's own. True, I had written a Classical Symphony myself, but that was only a passing phase. With Stravinsky this 'Bachism' was becoming the basic line of his music.
  • Now we will throw these mediocre kitschmongers into slavery, and teach them to venerate the German spirit and to worship the German God.
    • Arnold Schoenberg, regarding "the bourgeois tendencies of musical reactionaries such as Stravinsky and Ravel", in a letter to Alma Mahler, 1914 after the outbreak of war. Quoted in "Impressions of War" by Philip Clark, The Gramaphone, 4 August 2014.
  • More like a sacrilege du printemps.
    • Overheard joke of Richard Strauss, later reported to Stravinsky. Found in Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss - an intimate portrait. Thames and Hudson, London, 1898. (Translated from original 1984 German edition by Mary Whittard), page 142.

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