Talking with Stravinsky

John Tavener writes in today's Guardian - Since the age of 12, when I heard the world premiere of the Canticum Sacrum, I have loved the music of Stravinsky. After hearing the Canticum I went to every concert conducted by him in London. I vividly remember that on one occasion I was introduced to Stravinsky by Rufina Ampenoft of Boosey & Hawkes, for she had previously given him a score of one of my first pieces, The Donne Sonnets. As I peered down at his tiny but muscular form, he inscribed the score with two mysterious words: "I know." I never found out what he meant by this, but intuitively I felt that it was in some way tongue-in-cheek, and therefore linked to the spiritual world of the holy fool, common to all traditions.

The last time I saw Stravinsky, in Oxford after a memorable performance of the Symphony of Psalms, I went backstage, and he happened to take my arm (because no one else was available!) so that he could descend the stairs to the stage door where hundreds of admirers awaited him. With his basso-profundo, thickly Russian-accented English, he said: "Up to heaven, down to hell." Again, tongue-in-cheek, he revealed a childlike but profound truth.

Time passed, and I moved away from the influence and the colossal impact that Stravinsky had on me. It is only recently, more than 40 years on, that I have re-immersed myself in his work, but in a totally different and more contemplative way.

I write this tribute now to Stravinsky, surrounded by metaphysical axioms and criteria according to all religious traditions, and my estimation of his greatness is determined entirely by them. I want to try to understand Stravinsky's stature by placing his music besides permanent and universal truths, essential truths, situated outside time and space. Stravinsky himself could not equate music with metaphysics, but this was a personal defect in a man who did not understand the true nature of objectivity. To be objective is to know, to will and love things as they are without any subjective deformation. Like many of his generation, he believed that to be objective in art meant a non-expressive coldness, and a complete lack of sentiment. Stravinsky (right) believed that music could express nothing at all. Thank God that most of his finest music belies this nonsense!
- For the full story follow this link.

Now find out who, in my header photo, is Walking with Stravinsky
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Henry Holland said…
What a load of rubbish from Tavener! I'm no fan of Stravinsky's music apart from the three great ballet scores and Le Rossignol but he deserves better than the arrogant twadle that Tavener has written.

Stravinsky himself could not equate music with metaphysics, but this was a personal defect in a man who did not understand the true nature of objectivity

What cheek! "Personal defect"? What a shock it must be to Tavener that not all people look at the world as he does.

It might be argued that the great masters Schoenberg and Berg belonged more to the outward and therefore hellish realm

Oh please do fuck off, Tavener.

Stravinsky and Webern belonged more to the inward dimension, because they were able to bestow a certain kind of beauty and spirituality on Schoenberg's 12-tone system, which by its very nature is opposed to the celestial and ascending path

[rolls eyes 'til they almost pop out of head] Bloody New Age hippie.

But when his music does not satisfy the necessary metaphysical demands he can be brutal, dissonant and ugly

"Necessary"? To whom? By what criteria? John "Lord Is My Music Boring" Tavener?

But Stravinsky's modernism barred him from this blissful essential feminine theandric mystery. Had he truly fully embraced the archetype then there would be no more need for anyone to write music!

[groans intensely] Hyperbole much?

By doing this, by actually recomposing all of these musics, according to the music of his own soul, he was able, at times throughout his life, to set himself free to be able to leave the closed system of the individuality through participation in the one and universal selfhood

Or: we are born utterly alone, live our lives alone and die utterly alone. Silly wet-headed prat.

I know there's some people in the "let's make classical music more popular" crowd who bitch and moan about program notes that are given out at operas/concerts --they're too complicated, too technical, too "elitist"-- but give me that over John Tavener's presumption any day.

I knew there was a reason I find his music tedious and soporific, this article is a perfect example why.
Pliable said…
I know that you're just waiting to hear this Henry, but I have some more gems from John Tavener coming up shortly.

Looks like Tuesday or Wednesday next week as I have some other articles to upload in the meantime - can you wait until then?
Pliable said…
Several readers have emailed defending John Tavener's music, and they make a fair point.

The problem, for me, is that Tavener is a classic case of someone whose attitude speaks so loudly that it is difficult to hear what he is actually saying.

Which is a pity, because he certainly has some things worth saying in his music.

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