Archive for stravinsky

Eric Dolphy

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Eric Dolphy does things with a bass clarinet that Stravinsky never dreamed of. Charles Mingus wanders off during his solo.


Igor Stravinsky conducts L’oiseau de feu

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2009 by Robin Gosnall

Here are some of Stravinsky’s thoughts on other composers, taken from Robert Craft’s less than reliable book Conversations with Igor Stravinsky:

I remember seeing Mahler in St. Petersburg. His concert there was a triumph. Rimsky was still alive, I believe, but he wouldn’t have attended because a work by Tchaikovsky was on the programme (I think it was Manfred, the dullest piece imaginable). Mahler also played some Wagner fragments and a symphony of his own. Mahler impressed me greatly, himself and his conducting.

Rachmaninov’s immortalizing totality was his scowl. He was a six-and-a-half-foot-tall scowl. He was the only pianist I have ever seen who did not grimace. That is a great deal.

Ravel? When I think of him, for example in relation to Satie, he appears quite ordinary. His musical judgement was quite acute, however, and I would say that he was the only musician who immediately understood Le Sacre du Printemps.

Satie was certainly the oddest person I have ever known, but the most rare and consistently witty person, too. No one ever saw him wash – he had a horror of soap. He was always very poor, poor by conviction, I think. His apartment did not have a bed but only a hammock. In winter Satie would fill bottles with hot water and put them flat in a row underneath his hammock. It looked like some strange kind of marimba.

We – and I mean the generation who are now saying “Webern and me” – must remember only Schoenberg’s perfect works, the Five Pieces for Orchestra, Herzgewächse, Pierrot, the Serenade, the Variations for orchestra and the Seraphita song from Op. 22. By these works Schoenberg is among the great composers. They constitute the true tradition.

If I were able to penetrate the barrier of style (Berg’s radically alien emotional climate) I suspect he would appear to me as the most gifted constructor in form of the composers of this century. His legacy contains very little on which to build, however. He is at the end of a development.

I would like to admit all Strauss operas to whichever purgatory punishes triumphant banality. Their musical substance is cheap and poor; it cannot interest a musician today. I am glad that young musicians today have come to appreciate the lyric gift in the songs of the composer Strauss despised, and is more significant in our music than he is: Gustav Mahler.

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This Modern Music

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 23, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


The changes in serious musical composition from 1911 to, say, the late 1960s were quite monumental. The journey from, say, Stravinsky to Boulez and Stockhausen took us to brave new wonderful worlds. I feel in the last 30 years we have been given some interesting pieces but sadly nothing really new and shocking. I think we may be a period of decline.

Recently I have being playing recordings of the Stravinsky ballets and the Bartók orchestral works, amongst others. What exciting worlds of music these are; and yet they are from a bygone age and there is nothing today to touch their invention.

I’ve often felt that since Gruppen and Pli Selon Pli the emphasis has changed away from advancement to re-exploration. Quotation, back-reference, parody and austerity have opened the spectrum.

I remember Michael Berkeley saying a while ago that there’s never been a more exciting time to be a composer. It’s a little like ladies’ fashion. There’s not so much distinction between new and old-fashioned now. You could even begin a new piece with a scale of C major and few would mutter “how dated” as they would 40-50 years ago.

I don’t think we’re really in a “modern” era any more, maybe a post-modern era.

The main problem with “modern” music is that the vast majority of people have no interest in listening to it. There is no point intellectualizing it or telling people a certain piece or composer it better because you think it is less derivative, or contains more of the composer’s personality, or that it is “saying something new” or deriding another composer for “having nothing to say”.

Composers of “modern” (or for that matter any other kind of) music ultimately can only be composing to please themselves. Anything else is a bonus which the composer may welcome but has no right to expect.

Igor Fest

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , on May 16, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Well, the CBSO’s Igor Fest is over. There are no all-Stravinsky concerts on BBC Radio 3 now to look forward to, not even at this year’s Proms. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait for the next Stravinsky festival for this to happen. I notice Michael Tilson Thomas is doing an all-Stravinsky concert in London in June, should be good.

Charles Rosen considers that many of Stravinsky’s neo-classical works are connoisseur’s music and perhaps he is right. And if that is true, what about his output after The Rake’s Progress?

I got hooked on Stravinsky in my teens beginning with the Symphony in C (not L’Oiseau de Feu, which I did not at that time enjoy). I still love a great deal of his music. But how many pianists know the Concerto or the Capriccio – such rewarding pieces? How often is Persephone done? Is it too rarefied for most tastes? These are all pieces which deserve to be much better known.

When I was at university, ahem, 25 years ago, Stravinsky was very much to the fore as (arguably) one of the top five composers of the 20th century. Yet now he has almost fallen off the radar, and I wonder what the cause is for that? Perhaps it has to do with the great stylistic differences between his early, middle and late works?


Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , on April 3, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Artists took to modernism like ducks to water. Writers, I have read, seemed reluctant to follow but I’m not quite sure how this conclusion was reached.

Who were the British modernist composers? I suppose you could argue that Tippett was a sort of modernist.

I mean, there were anti-modernist British artists and writers. I think there’s something about music that divides and segregates people’s approaches to it in a way that doesn’t happen in the other arts.

I think that Britain’s peripheral position in Europe and its conservative musical history impeded or limited the acceptance of modernism in music. And we didn’t have the creative soil for it to flourish. There was no 19th century British Berlioz, Wagner or Strauss to lay the foundations for modernism. Even Vaughan Williams’s music was thought strange by some distinguished musicians in 1909, and Holst’s “Choral Fantasia” was criticized because its opening didn’t observe the rules of figured bass. And only in England could Walton’s “Façade” have been thought avant-garde.

If pushed, I’d cite Lutyens’s 12-tone row-based O Saisons, O Chateaux of 1947 as definitively the first modernist statement in British music. Its idiom is very close to contemporary pieces by Dallapiccola.

But in the end it all comes down to how one defines modernism in the musical context – or any other, for that matter. The Bexhill Lido is sometimes offered as the first example of post-Corbusian architecture in this country, but one can probably find modernist elements within the fabric of many a more traditionally shaped and framed building in one’s own locale.

Can the bog standard 1930s British semi be considered a work of modernism? Can the ubiquitous neo-classical facades of our municipal buildings? Like the sounds of Stravinsky’s Apollo, they couldn’t have been created in any other century.


Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


The French horn opening of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 must be one of the most nerve wracking first few bars for any instrumentalist, so totally exposed. It has to be perfect to set the atmosphere for the rest of the symphony. And surely any bassoon player who has to start Le Sacre du Printemps must get nervous. This solo is not supposed to sound as though the player is coping comfortably, even though that’s how it always does seem to sound these days.

Stravinsky was reported to have said that he wanted the bassoon solo to sound “as if striving for the unattainable”. He also added that he thought that the solo ought to be raised by a semitone every decade, as techniques improved, to get the same effect.

Whilst the beginning of Le Sacre du Printemps is an exposed entry for bassoon, it is also an orchestral excerpt which is standard fare for any aspiring bassoonist. So if you are good enough to be principal bassoon, that’s something you’ll be expected to play in your sleep. It is no different from a dentist taking out a wisdom tooth or a tree surgeon 10 metres up removing a branch. Difficult job, but that’s what he/she is trained for.

It is a nervy solo, although one that would be well within the capabilities of any principal bassoonist worth his salt, these days. By the way it’s no more fraught than the solo at the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, but for wholly different reasons. It’s very hard to play that lower register of the instrument in tune, very smoothly, very quietly and with perfect control.

I think that if you are a professional musician and you go into a concert fearing that you will fluff it then you are probably in the wrong profession. Sure, mistakes happen and the best players can cover up, but if you sit on the chair, you should be up to the job.

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