Stravinsky has been widely characterized as enigmatic, a composer whose stylistic transformations were impossible to anticipate. He cultivated this image, not in a disingenuous way, but because his eccentricity was central to his self-definition.
More than any composer of 20th-century art music, Stravinsky was able to make the leap from a rarefied intellectual world to the status of a pop icon, widely respected by people who largely did not understand his music. He needed to be public, accepted, and popular, and a surprisingly large proportion of his archival documents reflects his efforts toward these goals.
Television producers in Europe and North America found in Stravinsky the ideal nonconformist film icon: droll, quirky, conversational, contentious, and pedestaled as the epitome of the rebellious hero. He was drawn to them as well, as a natural performer who needed and commanded the spotlight.
This according to “Truths and illusions: Rethinking what we know” and “Film documentaries: The composer on and off camera” by Charles M. Joseph, two essays included in Stravinsky inside out (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 1–34 and 162–195, respectively).
Below, the composer works the camera with some of his favorite things to say about Le sacre du printemps.
Nicolas Astrinidis (1921-2010) is a free online resource that documents the life and works of the Greek composer, pianist, and conductor.
Edited by Ilias Chrissochoidis and mainly in English, the site presents a biography of Astrinidīs along with audiovisual documents, lists of works and performances, and a discussion of his life and works in Greek. Below, a work influenced by Greek traditional music.
In 2011 Schott launched the series Stuttgarter Musikwissenschaftliche Schriften with Was bleibt? 100 Jahre Neue Musik, edited by Andreas Meyer.
Noting that the musical revolutions of Debussy, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg are over a century old, and that the experimentalism of the 1950s belongs to a bygone era, the authors assess the current new music scene and demonstrate how audiences have changed in recent years.
Below, Stockhausen’s pioneering Gesang der Jünglinge (1955–56).
Negativland is a group of sound artists who mix fragments and samples of sounds from the mass media to produce a parodic critique of contemporary culture.
The group’s 1991 single U2 combined samples from and a vocalized parody of the band U2’s I still haven’t found what I’m looking for with studio outtakes of Casey Kasem verbally abusing his staff on the American Top 40 radio program. Soon after the single was released it was pulled from stores and Negativland was sued by Island Records, Warner-Chappell Music (U2’s label and music publishing company, respectively) and by their own label, SST.
Over time a community arose that provided a loose distribution system for the recording, along with a medium for producing and disseminating an oppositional discourse to the dominant legal and economic system that had stopped its legitimate release.
This according to “Negativland, out-law judgments, and the politics of cyberspace” by John Sloop and Andrew Herman, an essay included in Mapping the beat: Popular music and contemporary theory (Malden: Blackwell, 1998).
Below, the recording in question. Warning: Negativland is not shy about using profanity.
Lutosławski’s Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux for choir and orchestra features many of the key elements of his mature compositional style: mirror-symmetrical sonorities, composite rhythms incorporating the element of chance, and the use of textural counterpoint.
Perhaps its most significant aspect is the intricately interwoven structural layers that form its foundation. Pitch, rhythm, and timbre unite to create texture, the main building block of the piece and the musical parameter that ultimately determines its formal subdivisions.
This according to Wheels within wheels: An examination of Witold Lutosławski’s “Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux” by Frederick Carl Gurney, a dissertation accepted by the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1999.
Today is Lutosławski’s 100th birthday! Below, the first movement of Trois poèmes (after about two minutes score excerpts are shown). Above, a portrait of the composer by Mariusz Kałdowski.
Although Stravinsky’s transplantation to the glamour-conscious culture of Los Angeles may have seemed completely out of character, he genuinely thrived there. Still, his inability to relinquish control made it impossible for him to work as a film composer, despite his efforts to break into the business.
The notable exceptions are his associations with Walt Disney, who used excerpts from the composer’s works for several films—most notably Le sacre du Printemps for Fantasia—before they had a falling-out over financial arrangements.
This according to “The would-be Hollywood composer: Stravinsky, the literati, and the dream factory” by Charles M. Joseph, an essay included in Stravinsky inside out (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 100–131).
Below, the Rite of spring segment in its entirety.
Related article: Stravinsky and recording
MIDI-Connect4 is a program that composes music from the unfolding of a board game, Hasbro’s Connect 4™.
The system uses evolutionary computation to evolve from scratch a neural network that plays the Connect 4 game. Music is produced when a user plays the game against the system. The system generates music by associating the moves of each player with musical forms (see above).
The program was inspired by a musical event called Reunion, which was conceived by John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, and Teeny Duchamp in 1968, in which sounds were spatially distributed around a concert audience as a chess game unfolded.
This according to “Composition as game strategy: Making music by playing board games against evolved artificial neural networks” by Eduardo Reck Miranda and Qijun Zhang, an article included in Proceedings of the 31st International Computer Music Conference (San Francisco: International Computer Music Association, 2005).
Below, the game’s intrinsic acoustical properties.
A five-note motive in Rahmaninov’s Ostrov mërtvyh (The isle of the dead, op. 29), which evokes the opening of the Dies irae melody used by Berlioz and Liszt, is strikingly similar to what Bernard Herrmann referred to as the motive of power or fate in his score for Citizen Kane.
Rahmaninov’s work was inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel (above; click to enlarge), and Herrmann’s statements about his creative process suggest that the opening images of the film might have unconsciously reminded him of the painting, which in turn could have aroused an association with Rahmaninov’s symphonic poem.
This according to “The Dies irae in Citizen Kane: Musical hermeneutics applied to film music” by William H. Rosar, an essay included in Film music: Critical approaches (New York: Continuum, 2001, pp. 103–116). Below, the first minutes of Citizen Kane.
Best known as an experimental composer and performer, Cage (1912–92) was also a visual artist who created an extensive body of prints, drawings, and watercolors during the last 20 years of his life.
In all of his work, regardless of medium, Cage consistently dismissed conventional aesthetics by limiting or eliminating the artist’s choice in the creative process. In composing his watercolors, he relied on his signature method of chance operations, guided by a system of random numbers derived from the Yijing.
The sight of silence: John Cage’s complete watercolors by Ray Kass (Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 2011) reproduces all of the 125 signed watercolors that Cage created during four week-long sessions at the Mountain Lake Workshop, Virginia, between 1983 and 1990.
The included critical essay and accompanying workshop diaries relate the methods at play in Cage’s visual art to those of his musical compositions and theater pieces. The accompanying DVD offers a live view of Cage at work, featuring a public reading with audience discussion, as well as an interview with him about his watercolor paintings.
Below, Cage’s collaboration with the visual artist Marcel Duchamp for Hans Richter’s Dreams that money can buy.
The arc of Kodály’s career as an ethnomusicologist appears to have been a consciously, even artistically, designed path.
In the early 20th century he traveled the Hungarian countryside along with Béla Bartók to document and research Hungarian musical traditions; both composers were influenced tremendously by this pursuit.
After World War II, the focus of Kodály’s ethnomusicological activities was the publication of A magyar népzene tára/Corpus musicae popularis Hungaricae, the critical edition of all Hungarian traditional music. For this undertaking he established the first scientific research group for ethnomusicology in Hungary, the Népzenekutató Csoport, which served as a workshop for the modern Hungarian school of ethnomusicologists.
This according to Kodály, a népzenekutató és tudományos műhelye by Olga Szalay (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2004).
Today is Kodály’s 130th birthday! Below, two of his settings of traditional songs that he collected in Zobor, from 1908.
Related article: Kodály and somatic eruption