Felsenmusick - The Weblog of Daniel Felsenfeld
The Web Log of a Certain Daniel Felsenfeld: Composer, critic, avid reader, aspiring
bon vivant, capricorn, shadowy figure, advice for the lovelorn

Monday, November 14, 2005


In a 1931 edition of the Boston Evening Transcript, apropos of Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, Nicholas Slonimsky writes:

"During his first visit to the United States, in 1924, upon being asked what he thought of modern music, Stravinsky replied that he is not a modern composer. On another occasion, he stated that a piece of music should be composed in the spirit in which a notary's contract is drawn. He enlarged on this exasperating notion when he related to the world how the Violin Concert was written; the form being compressed as it is in this work, Stravinsky says it took him sometimes a full day to compose a single measure to achieve maximum results within a minimum of musical denotation. In this, so the report goes, he opposed himself to composers of a happier and lighter day, such as Mozart, who did not have to economize musical matter in this drastic fashion."

Is there anything un-modern about that? I do appreciate the sentiment, but had to read the paragraph over and over again to make sure I'd not missed anything. If Stravinsky is not a moderinst, should he not be graced with the (allegedly) carefree notions of, say, a Mozart?

But you have to love not only Slonimsky's dab hand at ferreting out this contradiction and presenting it without qualms or qualifiers, but also the notion that these were discussions being had within the confines of a newspaper column!. He is engages the laypeople as we today engage the initiated, and even when spouting what would today be dismissed as "jargon" (can you imagine any newspaper copyeditor today who might understand the expression "economize musical matter"?) without so much as a sentence of explanation. Bear in mind also, this is not a review, it is a preview.

If that stands as a portrait of a more enlightened time--though does not every time that has passed seem more enlightened to present eyes and minds?--a capsulated tour of some of the world's composers, written for the very same paper, offers this chilling portent, dated 1934:

"The venerable German periodical, "Die Musick," has been "leveled." The recent issues are strewn with thick, black, swastaki-shaped clawprints, and at the end of a learned article, the reader finds a piece of wisdom from Adolf Hitler: "Jeder Deutsche Kunstler kommt zu uns." ("Every German artist comes to Us.") There follows a fine, unsigned antisemitic article directed against Alfred Einstein the former critic of the Berliner Tageblatt, now safe in London."


"The Austrian Government may not like musical geniuses of Jewish blood, but places no restrictions of the twelve-tone system and similarly subversive theories."

Good night, and good luck. I prefer my own time, thank you.


Blogger Chris Foley said...

Stravinsky was a man of contradictions. In the sixties he would state that Rite of Spring was the culmination of the Russian national style and then a few months later he would claim that the Rite was a complete break with the Russian tradition. He simply could not be trusted as a commentator on his own music.

4:53 PM  

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