Friday, October 14, 2005

Landmarks (8)

Stravinsky hit the conceptual music exacta in 1920 with Pulcinella and the Symphonies of Wind Instruments. For a Musik-Konzepte issue with the theme Was heißt Fortschritt?, I wrote

For Stravinsky, modernism was a form of rapid transport in musical time and space, and composition for him meant finding new syntactical relations among existing materials, accustoming one to the alien while restoring strangeness to the familiar. His two most radical scores date both from 1920, travel in opposite directions, yet illustrate the same point. The Symphonies d’instruments à vent (in memoriam Claude Debussy) have no direct precedent or referent in musical history and are enormously difficult to analyse with regard to form, tonality and orchestration. Yet, at all points, the listener to the Symphonies must make music-historical and -ethnological references to get any hold onto the music. On the other hand, the <<Ballet avec chant>> Pulchinella (Musique d’apres Pergolesi) is superficially an objet trouvè, but the authentic, lyrical material from Pergolesi (and others, as it turns out) continually melts away from the listener’s recognition into absolute Stravinskian invention. To listen to Pulchinella, one has to forget how to listen to 18th century Italian music; to listen to Stravinsky one has to abandon chronological, genealogical, and ethnological expectations; Stravinsky’s music progresses by force of personality alone without a bit of anxiety.