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Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons

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One of the greatest of contemporary composers has here set down in delightfully personal fashion his general ideas about music and some accounts of his own experience as a composer. Every concert-goer and lover of music will take keen pleasure in his notes about the essential features of music, the process of musical composition, inspiration, musical types, and musical exe One of the greatest of contemporary composers has here set down in delightfully personal fashion his general ideas about music and some accounts of his own experience as a composer. Every concert-goer and lover of music will take keen pleasure in his notes about the essential features of music, the process of musical composition, inspiration, musical types, and musical execution. Throughout the volume are to he found trenchant comments on such subjects as Wagnerism, the operas of Verdi, musical taste, musical snobbery, the influence of political ideas on Russian music under the Soviets, musical improvisation as opposed to musical construction, the nature of melody, and the function of the critic of music. Musical people of every sort will welcome this first presentation in English of an unusually interesting book.


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One of the greatest of contemporary composers has here set down in delightfully personal fashion his general ideas about music and some accounts of his own experience as a composer. Every concert-goer and lover of music will take keen pleasure in his notes about the essential features of music, the process of musical composition, inspiration, musical types, and musical exe One of the greatest of contemporary composers has here set down in delightfully personal fashion his general ideas about music and some accounts of his own experience as a composer. Every concert-goer and lover of music will take keen pleasure in his notes about the essential features of music, the process of musical composition, inspiration, musical types, and musical execution. Throughout the volume are to he found trenchant comments on such subjects as Wagnerism, the operas of Verdi, musical taste, musical snobbery, the influence of political ideas on Russian music under the Soviets, musical improvisation as opposed to musical construction, the nature of melody, and the function of the critic of music. Musical people of every sort will welcome this first presentation in English of an unusually interesting book.

30 review for Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons

  1. 4 out of 5

    Barnaby Thieme

    There are composers like Arnold Schoenberg and Pierre Boulez who are also gifted communicators and insightful students of music history and theory. Then there are composers like Igor Stravinsky, whose genius of expression lies purely in non-discursive domains. This series of lecture transcripts gives the impression of an animated but disorganized speaker extemporaneously speaking on vague topic areas without preparation. His basic unit of thought seems to be about the size of a sentence, and Str There are composers like Arnold Schoenberg and Pierre Boulez who are also gifted communicators and insightful students of music history and theory. Then there are composers like Igor Stravinsky, whose genius of expression lies purely in non-discursive domains. This series of lecture transcripts gives the impression of an animated but disorganized speaker extemporaneously speaking on vague topic areas without preparation. His basic unit of thought seems to be about the size of a sentence, and Stravinsky never gives a sense of developing ideas. Occasionally his observations have anecdotal value, and there are buried gems, but there is much chaff and little wheat in this slender book. The best thing I got out of reading it is a mild sense of personal connection to one of the great musical minds of the twentieth century, but he gives little insight into the nature of his genius or his method.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emma Nolan

    When I first got into architecture school they gave us a list of recommended readings for the summer before our first year. Of those, this was my favorite, and the only one that wasn't exactly about architecture. It's been a while since I've read cover to cover, but I often scan if for some of the quotes I underlined (one of the few books I own I've actually done that to!) When I first got into architecture school they gave us a list of recommended readings for the summer before our first year. Of those, this was my favorite, and the only one that wasn't exactly about architecture. It's been a while since I've read cover to cover, but I often scan if for some of the quotes I underlined (one of the few books I own I've actually done that to!)

  3. 4 out of 5

    James Henderson

    In his preface to this collection of lectures Darius Milhaud says, "Poetics of music is like a searchlight turned by Stravinsky on his own work on one hand, and on music in general on the other." This comment provides an excellent introduction to this short book. Given as part of the Charles Eliot Norton lectures, these compact essays provide an insight into the mind of one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. Half the book is concerned with music in general,focusing on the phenome In his preface to this collection of lectures Darius Milhaud says, "Poetics of music is like a searchlight turned by Stravinsky on his own work on one hand, and on music in general on the other." This comment provides an excellent introduction to this short book. Given as part of the Charles Eliot Norton lectures, these compact essays provide an insight into the mind of one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. Half the book is concerned with music in general,focusing on the phenomenon of music, its composition, the various types of music and aspects of musical style. His argument regarding critics who ignore his own music is interesting as he looks back at earlier composers like Bach and Beethoven who suffered from similar disregard before being crowned as great masters. Further commentary includes a more specific look at Russian music in particular and a discussion of the interpretation of music. These lectures by a great Russian master whose own style evolved significantly over his lifetime make great reading for all who love music.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Eda

    A glimpse into the mind of a great creator. I feel like there is inspiration for all types of creative minds in his lectures. It was a wonderful read for the most part, the last three lectures require a little bit more than basic knowledge of music though.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dave Lawrence

    Great composer and musician. Bad lecturer/writer and thinker. Thoughts disjunct. Sentences rambling. Ideas ill-defined and nonsensical. It’s like he started believing all the hype around himself and his music and gave up his improvement. I’ve browsed a couple other books of Stravinsky’s lectures, letters, and interviews and it appears that the older he got, the lower the quality of his thinking. I don’t understand the other reviews, but maybe this would help explain the 4-5 star ones: 1. He might hav Great composer and musician. Bad lecturer/writer and thinker. Thoughts disjunct. Sentences rambling. Ideas ill-defined and nonsensical. It’s like he started believing all the hype around himself and his music and gave up his improvement. I’ve browsed a couple other books of Stravinsky’s lectures, letters, and interviews and it appears that the older he got, the lower the quality of his thinking. I don’t understand the other reviews, but maybe this would help explain the 4-5 star ones: 1. He might have gotten a good review because after all, he is Stravinsky. 2. Other reviewers might be swayed by the high sounding language in this book. Or 3. Maybe I just didn’t get it. If your are a composer like me or even an artist, don’t think that this book will give you any insights about the creative process. Probably better to study his works instead.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Stravinsky represents another high point of creativity for me. After listening to his "Rite of Spring", you can be sure he was channeling something from a different plane. Pure genius. You should also give his violin concerto and ballet "Agon" a listen. One of those rare, protean spirits that comes along only once or twice a century. Stravinsky represents another high point of creativity for me. After listening to his "Rite of Spring", you can be sure he was channeling something from a different plane. Pure genius. You should also give his violin concerto and ballet "Agon" a listen. One of those rare, protean spirits that comes along only once or twice a century.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    the man has strong opinions, and does speak poetically about music, and in a way that could apply to more than just the subject at hand. an interesting meditation on the process of art-making in general.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    Wildly poetic, in a sense that is still understandable. However I did have to Google certain words to know for sure I understood the meaning of the sentence. Read in one day by the pool at the hotel on Mallorca.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Keith Kenniff

    Excellent (albeit short) lecture from an always articulate Stravinsky at Harvard. Stravinsky's compositional approach changed a lot over the years, and it's intriguing to hear about his approach to composition, and his thoughts on the motivation behind his constant exploration and exploration of music, as well as where music had been and where it was going. He was one of the few composers (especially of his time) that simultaneously having a reverence for music of the past, was firmly committed Excellent (albeit short) lecture from an always articulate Stravinsky at Harvard. Stravinsky's compositional approach changed a lot over the years, and it's intriguing to hear about his approach to composition, and his thoughts on the motivation behind his constant exploration and exploration of music, as well as where music had been and where it was going. He was one of the few composers (especially of his time) that simultaneously having a reverence for music of the past, was firmly committed to pushing music forward. It is interesting to compare his thoughts to those of his contemporaries (specifically Shoenberg) and the later generation of experimental musicians in the 50's, as well as the reemergence in the 60s/70s of more secular-influenced composers like Arvo Part/Gorecki/John Tavener.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Brilliant - found his ideas on composition most enlightening. Just re-read again, this was a book dug out of the "shool days" chest. -s Brilliant - found his ideas on composition most enlightening. Just re-read again, this was a book dug out of the "shool days" chest. -s

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Kinsey

    Essential in the understanding of Stravinsky the man. Like the Bible, it should be taken seriously but not literally.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Igor Stravinsky's Norton lectures (at Harvard) from 1939-40 clarified the classical system in composition, conducting, performing and typology at just the moment the European conflict was about to break it all down and Stravinsky himself about to begin the long unraveling of his own ideas in order to accomodate the information coming from Schoenberg, Boulez and the Americans Cage and Cunningham. Stravinsky's last "Lesson" on the performance of music is a strong apology for music as a fine art, e Igor Stravinsky's Norton lectures (at Harvard) from 1939-40 clarified the classical system in composition, conducting, performing and typology at just the moment the European conflict was about to break it all down and Stravinsky himself about to begin the long unraveling of his own ideas in order to accomodate the information coming from Schoenberg, Boulez and the Americans Cage and Cunningham. Stravinsky's last "Lesson" on the performance of music is a strong apology for music as a fine art, entrusted to an elite trained to embody composition as the "will to expression." This, Stravinsky's kind of music (the composer of Le Sacre du Printemps is quite funny in his antipathy to the word "modern") running not parallel to "ontological time" but ahead of it, "dislocates the centers of attraction and gravity and sets itself up in the unstable; and this fact makes it particularly adaptable to the translation of the composer's emotive impulses." Just so, Balanchine felt Stravinsky "an architect of time," his music "a dancer's floor. It's the reason we move. Without the music we don't want to move." Cunningway, for one, unswayed by that subjection of ontology to architecture, thought the floor was the floor -- to hell with the trope. In a performance, there was a quite literal time dance shared with music and that was all the two need share; but for Stravinsky, coming out of a revolutionary period in which program music had been co-opted through Soviet social realism, too much was at stake to repudiate as well the theatrical space of the dance in which the will to express was the ontological basis for a "potential music."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    In this series of lectures, Stravinsky goes through ideas about the artistic process, some ideas about classical music and the traditions of Russian music, and also how music is to be performed. While I was at first surprised about Stravinsky’s conservative views about the construction of music, it made more sense thinking about his music itself. In particular, I liked how he explored the idea of creativity, the idea of having a purpose when moving forward, even though one does not have a partic In this series of lectures, Stravinsky goes through ideas about the artistic process, some ideas about classical music and the traditions of Russian music, and also how music is to be performed. While I was at first surprised about Stravinsky’s conservative views about the construction of music, it made more sense thinking about his music itself. In particular, I liked how he explored the idea of creativity, the idea of having a purpose when moving forward, even though one does not have a particular plan in mind. He also take some nice pot shots at Beethoven and John cage as well as other indeterminists to bring A snarky tone along with his serious endeavors.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mario

    A tough one to review. You definitely get a sense of the composer himself through his lectures, and get a very good idea of how he thinks, but he doesn't really succeed in translating that into an argument. He opines throughout, and his thoughts are interesting, but he doesn't go deep enough to justify them to the audience. This might have worked better as an interview with someone who was willing to challenge his pronouncements. This feels like a one-sided debate, and I just wasn't always on hi A tough one to review. You definitely get a sense of the composer himself through his lectures, and get a very good idea of how he thinks, but he doesn't really succeed in translating that into an argument. He opines throughout, and his thoughts are interesting, but he doesn't go deep enough to justify them to the audience. This might have worked better as an interview with someone who was willing to challenge his pronouncements. This feels like a one-sided debate, and I just wasn't always on his side. It is worth reading, but it is missing something.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bjorn

    "We have a duty to music, and that is to invent it." I love to listen to (or in this case read) creative people trying to get at the root of what creativity actually is. Not everything in Stravinsky's lectures is something I agree with - his contempt for using music for anything beyond itself feels both admirable and a little naive today - but he's never less than interesting, and frequently very funny. I'd probably have loved it unreservedly if I knew more about classical music. "We have a duty to music, and that is to invent it." I love to listen to (or in this case read) creative people trying to get at the root of what creativity actually is. Not everything in Stravinsky's lectures is something I agree with - his contempt for using music for anything beyond itself feels both admirable and a little naive today - but he's never less than interesting, and frequently very funny. I'd probably have loved it unreservedly if I knew more about classical music.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Miguel Márquez

    I finished reading this book about a year ago and somehow forgot to write a review about it. While making my way across these lectures born in the mind of one of the most revolutionary household names in music I quickly understood how a man such as Stravinsky was able to write music so complex yet so full of aesthetic value. A very talented and intelligent man. That's who you picture in your head when you read this book. I finished reading this book about a year ago and somehow forgot to write a review about it. While making my way across these lectures born in the mind of one of the most revolutionary household names in music I quickly understood how a man such as Stravinsky was able to write music so complex yet so full of aesthetic value. A very talented and intelligent man. That's who you picture in your head when you read this book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    clauds

    as pompous as oscar wilde's witticisms, as convoluted as polisci readings at times — stravinsky makes some great points but often without enough explanation/examples for me to fully understand them. could be more coherence at times which maybe a reordering of lessons could help (thought his pov on the evolution of russian music would have benefited from popping up sooner than later) lol boy does he not like wagner as pompous as oscar wilde's witticisms, as convoluted as polisci readings at times — stravinsky makes some great points but often without enough explanation/examples for me to fully understand them. could be more coherence at times which maybe a reordering of lessons could help (thought his pov on the evolution of russian music would have benefited from popping up sooner than later) lol boy does he not like wagner

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Hill

    These are Stravinsky's Eliot Norton Poetry lectures at Harvard from the 1930s. For someone so modern, he has a deep understanding of the music of the past, particularly Brahms and the Romantics. Hates Wagner. Fiercely opinionated, but everything sounds reasonable and is presented with brevity and clarity. The perspective of an artist on his field. These are Stravinsky's Eliot Norton Poetry lectures at Harvard from the 1930s. For someone so modern, he has a deep understanding of the music of the past, particularly Brahms and the Romantics. Hates Wagner. Fiercely opinionated, but everything sounds reasonable and is presented with brevity and clarity. The perspective of an artist on his field.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lianna

    I will have to try to read this again in a few years. I feel like my historical knowledge is not developed enough to really understand everything that is being discussed in this book. A few gems of quotes here and there but nothing totally memorable.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pipebre

    a must if you love to "think music" a must if you love to "think music"

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    An excellent resource for learning about the creative process in music composition and even all other art forms. Appetite comes first then the idea. NOTE: I read this for HUMA 6300

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    It was a trip reading one of my favorite composers talking about music. Very cool.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gualju

    This book is totally amazing.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Conan Aksnes

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. these book is very great.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sean Tom

    Just finished this and I'm conflicted - the three stars I give it don't capture how thought provoking I find this lecture series. I'm puzzled by how much this man hates Wagner and the leitmotif, as creating a mode of musical interpretation that deviates from the intentions of musical expression. This same man is the patron saint of "Fantasia". (Stravinsky was still alive and kicking when Disney turned his Rite of Spring into a prequel to the Land Before Time.) His body of work and his polemic ide Just finished this and I'm conflicted - the three stars I give it don't capture how thought provoking I find this lecture series. I'm puzzled by how much this man hates Wagner and the leitmotif, as creating a mode of musical interpretation that deviates from the intentions of musical expression. This same man is the patron saint of "Fantasia". (Stravinsky was still alive and kicking when Disney turned his Rite of Spring into a prequel to the Land Before Time.) His body of work and his polemic ideology are difficult to reconcile for me, and I'd like to be helped to understand. I'm concerned that my confusion comes from the fact that our world has very much gone the way that is inchoate at the time of the lecture, that Stravinsky seems terrified will consume our musical culture. We are now a culture that accepts and even champions the musical drama and the tone poem. Perhaps I am just so indoctrinated by this current state of cultural affairs that I resist his notion that tone poems and musical dramas and overt musical symbolism are somehow antithetical to musical expression. My confusion aside, there are some real gems in his lectures. Particularly when he steps back from criticism and waxes philosophical on the difficulties in striking phenomenological balance, for instance regarding fantasy: "for imagination is not only the mother of caprice but the servant and handmaiden of the creative will" (63). Later, he summarizes his concerns regarding harnessing the rapacious creative instinct, warning of the pitfalls of letting a curious mind wander free, a quote which is greatly more pertinent in our contemporary age of information tech: "That is why I find it pointless and dangerous to over-refine techniques of discovery. A curiosity that is attracted by everything betrays a desire for quiescence in multiplicity. Now this desire can never find true nourishment in endless variety. By developing it we acquire only a false hunger, a false thirst: they are false, in fact, because nothing can slake them. How much more natural and more salutary it is to strive toward a single, limited reality than towards endless division!" If only Stravinsky could have been more influential in holding back the cultural forces that have brought us to our kaleidoscopic, schizoid pop cultural landscape.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Simon Mcleish

    Originally published on my blog here in May 1998. This book consists of a series of six lectures delivered in Paris, translated from the original French. Considering how much I like Stravinsky's music, and how much the music he made influenced the development of twentieth century classical music, his views about music turned out to be somewhat disappointing. He subscribed to the idea that there was little of any intellectual content in romantic music, for example, and is extremely dismissive of it Originally published on my blog here in May 1998. This book consists of a series of six lectures delivered in Paris, translated from the original French. Considering how much I like Stravinsky's music, and how much the music he made influenced the development of twentieth century classical music, his views about music turned out to be somewhat disappointing. He subscribed to the idea that there was little of any intellectual content in romantic music, for example, and is extremely dismissive of it. The introduction, by George Seferis, is a probably best skipped, being both pretentious and uninteresting. By far the most interesting part of the book is the section on Russian music, where Stravinsky naturally has a particular personal viewpoint.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Adam Cherson

    I rate this book a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being best. As someone once said writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but if anyone can do it Stravinsky is the one. "The function of tonality is completely subordinated to the force of attraction of the pole of sonority. All music is nothing more than a succession of impulses that converge towards a definite point of repose." "Well in art as in everything else, one can build only upon a resisting foundation: whatever constantly I rate this book a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being best. As someone once said writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but if anyone can do it Stravinsky is the one. "The function of tonality is completely subordinated to the force of attraction of the pole of sonority. All music is nothing more than a succession of impulses that converge towards a definite point of repose." "Well in art as in everything else, one can build only upon a resisting foundation: whatever constantly gives way to pressure, constantly renders movement impossible. My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Ian Savage

    Stravinsky is not poet, philosopher, or speaker. Even viewing this collection of lectures in that light, Stravinsky does not present a strong or coherent case for himself. Most of these essays are extremely opinionated and very musically conservative, which is ironic considering his place in the canon of classical music as a rebel. As asinine and self-ingratiating as Stravinsky was in this text, his viewpoint is at least historically relevant, especially in the last chapter. Here, he formulated Stravinsky is not poet, philosopher, or speaker. Even viewing this collection of lectures in that light, Stravinsky does not present a strong or coherent case for himself. Most of these essays are extremely opinionated and very musically conservative, which is ironic considering his place in the canon of classical music as a rebel. As asinine and self-ingratiating as Stravinsky was in this text, his viewpoint is at least historically relevant, especially in the last chapter. Here, he formulated the basis of contemporary performance-practice and laid a foundation from which contemporary classical music exists. Overall, this book, while important, is a very frustrating read, one that I could not read without constantly finding faults with.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Maura

    I found Stravinsky's comments on melody. improvisation, musical snobbery, and the State's influence on Russian music particularly helpful. I also enjoyed his writing style. From time to time, I pick up this book and randomly reread bits. It never fails to make me reconsider some aspect of performance or an attitude that I've taken for granted for too long. As another reviewer mentioned, I found myself underling bits for future consideration. It pisses me off when i see underlining in books. I gu I found Stravinsky's comments on melody. improvisation, musical snobbery, and the State's influence on Russian music particularly helpful. I also enjoyed his writing style. From time to time, I pick up this book and randomly reread bits. It never fails to make me reconsider some aspect of performance or an attitude that I've taken for granted for too long. As another reviewer mentioned, I found myself underling bits for future consideration. It pisses me off when i see underlining in books. I guess this means I'll be keeping this one. I'm looking forward to reading"the Chronicles of My Life."

  30. 5 out of 5

    Craig

    Igor Strakvinsky distills several centuries of musical development into this small, but insight packed, set of Harvard lectures. Originally delivered in his preferred French, I read the English translation. I most appreciated his boiling down concepts such as economy of means, into wonderfully cristallized examples, using the works of composers of various periods. Must read for any musician, amateur or professional, looking for a brief but rich summary of how music (from medieval times up to 194 Igor Strakvinsky distills several centuries of musical development into this small, but insight packed, set of Harvard lectures. Originally delivered in his preferred French, I read the English translation. I most appreciated his boiling down concepts such as economy of means, into wonderfully cristallized examples, using the works of composers of various periods. Must read for any musician, amateur or professional, looking for a brief but rich summary of how music (from medieval times up to 1947) came to be as it is. Va bene.

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