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Thread: Stravinsky??

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    Senior Member StlukesguildOhio's Avatar
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    Question Stravinsky??

    Currently on our poll voting for the 50 greatest composers of all time Igor Stravinsky is ranked the highest among all the Modernist composers (unless one counts Debussy or Mahler among these). This is as might be expected. Stravinsky is commonly compared with Picasso as the great Modernist composer. While I agree with this comparison in the sense that both Picasso and Stravinsky were chameleons in nature, beyond that I find the comparison almost insulting to Picasso. Picasso is unquestioned as the towering figure of Modernist art. He produced a virtually unrivaled wealth of masterpieces across most of the 20th century.

    My question is what is Stravinsky's reputation based upon? I agree that the early ballets (Petrouschka, The Rite, and The Firebird). To this one might add a number of other works... especially the Symphony of Psalms. But what other works are you listening too and enthralled with that leads you to believe that Stravinsky was the greatest Modernist composer? I ask this after having picked up most of Stravinsky's oeuvre last year (or thereabout). I found many of the works pleasurable... at time challenging... often witty. But they seldom ever engaged be in the manner in which the other great Modernists have been able to do so: Strauss with his operas or Last 4 Songs, Bartok with his orchestral works as well as his thorny quartets, Shostakovitch with his 2 audacious operas, his best symphonies, his cello concertos, preludes and fugues, and his harrowing quartets, Mahler and Debussy... well do we even need to discuss these? And then there's Britten and his brilliant vocal work including the operas... and even Puccini and Rachmaninoff. I am drawn to these again and again... and quite often they move me in a manner that Stravinsky never does.

    So what about it? Beyond the undeniable genius of the early ballets and the Symphony of Psalms where does the genius of Stravinsky lie? What leads you to rate him above all other Modernist composers?
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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Basically, it was Stravinksy's innovations in rhythm, or more accurately pulse (as his rhythms/time signatures constantly changed & shifted, sometimes within the same bar, I think).

    In terms of rhythm, he was just as innovative as Schoenberg was with tonality.

    Thing is, you can tell someone is an innovator if people start rehashing him straight away. Eg. The Rite of Spring was rehashed by many. Eg. Australian composer of the time, John Antill, did Coroboree, which is like The Rite with Australian Aboriginal rhythms and stuff added. Then there's Orff's Carmina Burana, a rehash of much that is in Oedipus Rex. In America, he influenced many, like Copland who was I think among the best in not rehashing but synthesising & properly absorbing many aspects of Stravinsky's innovations.

    Yes, he was a chameleon, but he was also an innovator & unique. His innovations and unique style went through all his output which I've heard, from the early Firebird's more romantic leaning aesthetic to the late works incorporating serialism.

    I'm not interested in his place in the poll. I don't care much for those. As for comparing with Picasso, well it's the closest comparison with a visual artist, despite any limitations of making such a comparison, etc.

    My only 'problem' with him is his solid mask, he often comes across as a composer more like a scientist than an artist. Look at an original score with his handwriting, it's like it came from a printing press, not a human hand. But there are works where its easy to penetrate to his personal feelings, emotions and world view. The strongest is the Symphony in Three Movements, where he cannot hide his disgust at Fascism, what was going on in Europe in World War II at that time. Another one is his Elegie for solo viola (or violin), written just after he lost his wife, eldest daughter and mother - a triple whammy - but its a very short work and not many people know it. But at the same time, he composed the Symphony in C & even though he was in hospital with tubercolosis at that time, you would not know it from hearing this work.

    Stravinsky actually influenced a number of who you mention, eg. Shostakovich & Rachmaninov (listen to the rhythms in his Symphonic Dances, a late work). Also, I'd guess, Britten to some degree - even if, subliminally, through Shostakovich. Puccini was a huge admirer of The Rite of Spring (do you hear some of it at least in Turandot, maybe?). Debussy played through the score of The Rite of Spring with Stravinsky in its two piano reduction before its premiere. He slyly quotes it in one of his piano preludes - the second book was composed around that time. Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin was heavily influenced by The Rite, composed after it, in the same decade. That leaves R. STrauss and Mahler who I think where different to these guys, more extensions of the Romantic era than Modernists to begin with, more or less.

    So all these guys bar two where touched by Stravinsky. That's a big part of the reason why he was a key figure in the 20th century. That's not diminishing the others you mention, or others still like Schoenberg, etc.
    Last edited by Sid James; Jun-16-2012 at 06:03. Reason: added stuff
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    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    I think it's because Stravinsky's music doesn't take that much of listening effort relative to other 20th century comparable pieces to score a "instant hit" pulse with one's ears. I think he was finest when it came to painting large orchestral canvass in ballet music and the like, and a few of the symphonic style works. I can enjoy his music but he was not near Richard Strauss when it came to dramatic musical characterisation in opera.

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    Senior Member Arsakes's Avatar
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    I'm mostly into Rembrandt and Jacques-Louis David works, not Picasso. No wonder modern world has no special appeal to me!

    At least listening to Stravinsky is more enjoyable than atonal music.
    Last edited by Arsakes; Jun-16-2012 at 06:00.

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    Senior Member ComposerOfAvantGarde's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arsakes View Post
    At least listening to Stravinsky is more enjoyable than atonal music.
    Because Stravinsky has never written any atonal music. He didn't even go anywhere near serialism.


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    Senior Member science's Avatar
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    I'd say a lot of it lies in how original and influential he is supposed to have been rather than that he wrote a large body of "great" and popular works.

    As for Bartók, I'd say he has a good argument for being a bit under-appreciated popularly. Maybe I'm wrong about that.

    And then Hindemith, who is about to be forgotten. Hopefully I'm wrong about that!

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    Senior Member Petwhac's Avatar
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    A maverick who evolved his own unique and expressive style and was able to reinvent himself without ever losing his identity.
    Some of my favorites,
    Orpheus
    Concerto for Piano and Wind Instriments
    Symphonies of Wind Instruments
    Mass

    All very different from each other and from the early Russian Ballets.
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    Senior Member Arsakes's Avatar
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    @ComposerOfAvantGarde
    I know, I know .. Atonality is the innovation of Schoenberg.

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    Senior Member ComposerOfAvantGarde's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arsakes View Post
    @ComposerOfAvantGarde
    I know, I know .. Atonality is the innovation of Schoenberg.
    I wouldn't call Schoenberg innovative.
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    It's the greed of huge companies and huge organizations which control life in a kind of a brutal way ... It's gotten worse and worse, somehow, because physical science has given us more and more terrible deadly weapons, and the human spirit has been destroyed in so many cases, so what's the use of having the most powerful country in the world if we have killed the soul.
    ~Hovhaness

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    I like Pulcinella, very neo classical style.
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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Much of Stravinsky's music is relatively easy to grasp, even after the early ballets, at least the top layer. Easier than Prokofieff, much of Shostakovitch, most of Bartók. I am referring only to instrumental music, of course.

    If I were a psychologist focusing on music, I would wonder why there is such pleasure gained, by some people, in Bartók's string quartets.
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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    What impressed me most about Stravinsky is how he developed a more economic structuring to his music without losing any of its beguiling qualities - I'd put many of Janacek's works from his last 15 or so years in the same bracket.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Because Stravinsky has never written any atonal music. He didn't even go anywhere near serialism.


    I am not a big fan of Stravinsky to begin with, but his serialist music is absolutely the worst. Especially the 12-tone serialist pieces.
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    Mahler's unfinished 10th symphony shows him experimenting with highly irregular rhythms ,particularly the second movement . Riccardo Chailly has stated that this movement is more difficult to conduct than Stravinsky ! If the ocmposer had loived longer, who knows what might have done?
    Some post Sacre works of Stravinsy I like are the symphony in 3 movements, Oedipus Rex, Symphonies of wind instruments, the ballet Jeu De Cartes, Symphony of Psalms, Renard, Le Rossignol , Persephone (unusually gentle and lyrical for htis ocmposer), and the Fairy's Kiss ballet .
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    Senior Member ComposerOfAvantGarde's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Romantic Geek View Post
    I am not a big fan of Stravinsky to begin with, but his serialist music is absolutely the worst. Especially the 12-tone serialist pieces.
    I think they're very accessible.
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    It's the greed of huge companies and huge organizations which control life in a kind of a brutal way ... It's gotten worse and worse, somehow, because physical science has given us more and more terrible deadly weapons, and the human spirit has been destroyed in so many cases, so what's the use of having the most powerful country in the world if we have killed the soul.
    ~Hovhaness

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