If I was nominating for the MacArthur fellowships…
In advance of The Bad Plus’ world premiere of The Rite of Spring, Ethan Iverson drops this monster blog post about Stravinsky, 20th century music, and writing. You should read the whole thing.
On a piece called the Ebony Concerto:
While the Ebony Concerto is not jazz, it is a deconstructed big band piece, and therefore a great introduction to Stravinsky for a jazz musician.
It is barely a concerto, though, for the clarinetist is featured only occasionally. In the middle movement, the soloist only plays a couple of phrases! Clearly Stravinsky didn’t trust the work’s commissioner, Woody Herman.
On the box it is Benny Goodman, a real virtuoso. But he didn’t play the middle movement; Charles Russo stood in instead.
But perhaps because the star was out of the room, it’s the best movement. It is played much slower than the given tempo marking, the saxophones use a real jazz sound and phrase with some swing, and the hapless harpist plays a huge wrong note the second time through. (Perfect.) The final result is possibly the bluesiest classical recording in existence.
On deciphering Stravinsky’s odd meters:
Gah! This is two bars of four, not a bar of five and a bar of four! The best musical point would be make that dry ostinato as grooving, secure, and mysterious as possible — a target that much harder to reach when you have to count a silent “1” and come in on “2” of a bar of five.
Nabokov and Stravinsky
As Andriessen and Schönberger suggest, Nabokov was Stravinsky’s opposite number, a displaced Russian aristocrat enthralled with Paris and America. Many of Stravinky’s and Nabokov’s most celebrated works seem to wander up the same skewed Escher-esque print: “First, you are a perfect technician. Then you parody the effect of technique in an amused way. In doing so, you reveal a new, utterly sincere emotion that requires mastering a new technique. After perfecting this technique, you parody it in an amused way. In doing so, you reveal a new emotion that requires mastering a new technique….”
On Stravinsky’s influence
In The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross says that The Rite of Spring “prophesied a new type of popular art–low-down yet sophisticated, smartly savage, style and muscle intertwined.”
Part of the story of Alex’s book is how that prophesy didn’t really come true. It came true for a lot of thrilling American folkoric music: jazz, rock, hip-hop, musical theatre, etc., etc., etc…but the populist side of classical music never took off.
Reid made me laugh: In rehearsal, I mentioned that Peter Schickele had said The Rite of Spring was so influential that the much of 20th century classical music could be called “The Rewrite of Spring.” Reid shook his head. “No: The Rite hasn’t been influentialenough.”