Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky
(unattributed photograph)

R.C.  Have you any further observations to make about electronic ‘music’?

I.S.  I would still repeat the criticisms I made of it two years ago – namely, I do not see why a medium so rich in sound possibilities should sound so poor; and, though shape and composition are more in evidence and the liaisons more convincing in the newer pieces, the impression of desultoriness is still a main impression. At the same time the newer electronic music has more direction – a fact I attribute to the clearer division between those who are trying to create a new and purely electronic sound and those who are trying to transform existing sounds, instrumental and otherwise; some attractive results have been attained on both sides of this split. Now, however, with the appearance of the R.C.A. synthesizer the whole electronic music experiment set up to the present can only be regarded as a pre-natal stage in its development. 

[…] Perhaps the real future of electronic music is in the theatre. Imagine the ghost scene in Hamlet with electronic ‘white noise’ entering the auditorium from several directions (Berio’s Omaggio a Joyce is perhaps a preview of this kind of thing). But this is very theatricality – which electronicians will object to as more for the effect of another art than for the thing itself – exposes another problem.  ‘Concerts’ of electronic music are, in fact, more like seances. With nothing to look at on the stage – no exhibition of orchestra and conductor, but only conduit-speaker boxes and, suspended from the ceiling, mobile reflectors – what is the audience to look at? Surely not anything as arbitrary as the ‘symbolic’ colours and pictures of the San Francisco ‘Vortex’ experiment?

I have uncovered a Diaghilev letter that should be of at least historical interest in the discussion of ‘Futuristic’ music, music concrete, and electronic music. It is dated Rome, 8 March 1915, and was sent to me at the Hotel Victoria, Chateau d’Oex, Switzerland. It is naive, of course, but not more so than the ‘Futuristic’ composers themselves; and it is a good example of Diaghilev’s flair.

[…] dance action must be supported not by music but by sounds, id est,  by filling the ears harmonically. The source of this ‘filling’ should not be recognizable. The changes of these harmonic junctures, or liaisons, must not be remarked by the ear – one sound merely joins or enters another, id est, there is no obvious rhythm whatsoever, because one does not hear either the beginning or end of the sound. The projected instruments are: bells wrapped round with cloth and other material, aeolian harps, guzli, sirens, tops and so on. Of course all this has to be worked out, but for that purpose Marinetti proposes we get together for some days in Milan and discuss it with the leader of their ‘orchestra’, and examine all their instruments. Also he guarantees that at this time he will bring Pratella to Milan so he can show us his newest works which are, according to him formidables. We could do it between the 15th and 20th of March.

Telephone me at Naples, Hotel Vesuvio, if you can come to meet us in Milan. You will see many new Futuristic studios; from there we will go together to Montreux. I urge you very strongly to come – it is very important for the future . I will send you some money for the trip immediately. As for the concert of Prokofiev in Geneva, he can give it as a benefit for the Serbs if he is busy on the 20th. Then, until we meet soon,

je t’embrasse,


PS. Compose Noces quickly. I am in love with it.”

(Stravinsky, 1958, 228-230)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTL7-E02n9I]

Robert Craft comments on a 1949 dinner party and the relationship between Igor Stravinsky and Aldous Huxley:

“That sovereignty of scientific rationalism, the very blueprint of his intellectual heredity, is a planet away from I.S.’s mystagogical view of human existence. I.S. has not followed any science or philosophy of science since his reading of Bergson a half-century ago. It is for this reason, also, that he lives in terror all evening lest Mr. H. dwell on scientific deeds and books of which he has never heard. Yet I think that Mr. H. is as self-conscious of his own limitations in being unable to stem the flow of his thoughts long enough to approach the world of the other from the other’s bias. The two men watch each other like champions of two mutually incomprehensible games, but for basic toeholds rather than for gambits.”

(Craft, 1972, 10)

[youtube http://youtu.be/5tGA6bpscj8]

‘Lullaby and final hymn’ from the ‘Firebird Suite’ (1945)
Igor Stravinsky conducting the New Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, London (1965)

Further resources
Igor Stravinsky, an autobiography – here
This entry was posted in Composers, Compositional Techniques, Electronic Music, Russia and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Igor Stravinsky

  1. LaLa says:

    I love this blog! How come I’ve never found you before 🙂

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