Igor Stravinsky was certainly the most celebrated Western composer of the 20th century and possibly the greatest as well. The essays in this volume, spanning more than forty, address the dynamics of Stravinsky’s music from a variety of analytical, critical, and aesthetic angles. Underscored are the features of melody, harmony, rhythm, and form that would remain consistently a part of Stravinsky’s oeuvre regardless of the changes in “stylistic” orientation from the Russian period to the neoclassical and the early serial. Works such as The Rite of Spring (1913), Les Noces (1917–23), the Symphony of Psalms (1930), and the Symphony in Three Movements (1945) are discussed in detail, as are many of the circumstances attending their conception. Other major concerns include the composer’s formalist aesthetics and the strict performing style he pursued as an interpreter and conductor of his music.
- The analytic-theoretical approach to Stravinsky’s music introduced in the opening four chapters of this volume became the standard in theoretical and musicological circles during the past several decades. The features of the approach were adopted and expanded upon by numerous scholars: see Richard Taruskin, Stravinsky and the Russian Period (1996); Jonathan Cross, The Stravinsky Legacy (1998); and Stephen Walsh. Working independently from an historical perspective, Richard Taruskin came to many of the same conclusions regarding Stravinsky’s musical language.
- Entirely unique is the discussion of the rhythmic emphasis of Stravinsky’s music, the metrical displacement of repeated themes and chords, and the disruptive effect of displacement on the listener. Brought into play is the evolutionary history of meter and its entrainment by the listener; the concept of “sensorimotor synchronization” as advanced by the psychologist Bruno Repp, and that in turn of the “contrametric” nature of Stravinsky’s music as introduced by David Huron. Explored is the relationship between African polyrhythm, as discussed by Kofi Agawu, David Locke, and Steve Reich, to the polyrhythmic stratifications in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
- Of major concern are the critical and aesthetic issues arising from the interpretation and performance of Stravinsky’s music.
- The aesthetic views not only of Stravinsky himself but also of critics such as Theodor Adorno, Richard Taruskin, and Robert Craft are discussed at length.
- Accompanying the essays are over 100 musical illustrations and analytical designs, set and processed with consummate skill by Andre Mount.
- The essays are prefaced by a newly composed Introduction and then concluded with a lengthy unpublished chapter on the individual work and its classification; “Reflections on the Post-War years of Babbitt, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky”. Interactions between the three composers are discussed, as is the relocation, by the early 1940s, of the Paris-Vienna split between Stravinsky and Schoenberg to Los Angeles, California. Even in the twilight years of their respective careers, Stravinsky and Schoenberg remained at a distance from one another.