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1930 __ « ... to create music specifically for the phonograph ... »
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Comment : [I]n 1930, Igor Stravinsky penned a brief position paper that encouraged composers to write music conceived idiomatically for recording technology. "It would be of the greatest interest to create music specifically for the phonograph", he noted in German journal "Kultur und Schallplatte", "music whose true image -- its original sound -- could only be preserved through mechanical reproduction. This would indeed be the ultimate goal for the phonographic composers of the future". This article reveals an intriguing connection between the renowned composer and the little-known concept of "Grammophonmusik". unfortunately, Stravinsky did not explain how a composer might write such music, nor did he lead the way with phonographic works of his own. He may have known about some of the experiments taking place in Paris, but he seems not to have commented publicly on them. At the time, he was certainly unaware of the "Grammophonmusik" of Hindemith and Toch, for the article was published before the works were first heard; if he later learned of the music, he left no account of it. Yet knowingly or not. Stravinsky shared a sentiment held by many proponents of "Grammophonmusik". Like Stuckenschmidt and others, Stravinsky saw in the phonograph a means to prevent what he saw as the willful distortion of his music by performers. As he wrote in his 1936 autobiography, "I had always been anxious to find a means of imposing some restriction on the notorious liberty, especially widespread today, which prevents the public from obtaining a correct idea of the author's intentions. The possibility was now offered by the rolls of the mechanical piano, and, a little later, by gramophone records". Stravinsky's solution, to conduct (and occasionnaly perform) his works for recording, could not, however, eliminate the performer altogether. (Mark Katz)
Original excerpt : « Chapter VII.After the first few performances I returned to Biarritz, where I settled with my family and where we stayed for the next three years. There I worked all the winter at Mavra. It was at this time that my connection with the Pleyel Company began. They had suggested that I should make a transcription of my works for their Pleyela mechanical piano. My interest in the work [was] twofold. In order to prevent the distortion of my compositions by future interpreters, I had always been anxious to find a means of imposing some restriction on the notorious liberty, especially widespread to-day, which prevents the public from obtaining a correct idea of the author's intentions. This possibility was now afforded by the rolls of the mechanical piano, and, a little later, by gramophone records. The means enabled me to determine for the future the relationships of the movements (tempi) and the nuances in accordance with my wishes. It is true that this guaranteed nothing, and in the ten years which have since elapsed I have, alas! had ample opportunity of seeing how ineffective it has proved in practice. But these transcriptions nevertheless enabled me to create a lasting document which should be of service to those executants who would rather know and follow my intentions than stray into irresponsible interpretations of my musical text. [...]Chapter VIII.[...] In America I had arranged with a gramophone firm to make records of some of my music. This suggested the idea that I should compose something whose length should be determined by the capacity of the record. I should in that way avoid all the trouble of cutting and adapting. And that is how my Serenade en LA pour Piano came to be written. I had started it as early as April, beginning with the last portion, and now at Nice resumed its composition. The four movements constituting the piece are united under the title Serenade, in imitation of the Nachtmusik of the eighteenth century, which was usually commissioned by patron princes for various festive occasions and included, as did the suites, an indeterminate number of pieces. Whereas these compositions were written for ensembles of instruments of greater or less importance, I wanted to condense mine into a small number of movements for one polyphonic instrument. In these pieces I represented some of the most typical moments of this kind of musical fete. I began with a solemn entry, a sort of hymn [for] this I followed by a solo of ceremonial homage paid by the artist to the guests [for] the third part, rhythmical and sustained, took the place of the various kinds of dance music intercalated in accordance with the manner of the serenades and suites of the period and I ended with a sort of epilogue which was tanta mount to an ornate signature with numerous carefully inscribed flourishes. I had a definite purpose in calling my composition Serenade en LA. The title does not refer to its tonality, but to the fact that I had made all the music revolve about an axis of sound which happened to be the LA. Working at this did not tire me much, and did not prevent me from enjoying a rest which I felt that I deserved, and which included various amusements, mainly that of motoring about the Riviera. As soon as my Serenade was finished I felt the necessity for undertaking something big. I had in mind an opera or an oratorio on some universally familiar subject. My idea was that in that way I could concentrate the whole attention of the audience, undistracted by the story, on the music itself, which would thus become both word and action. With my thoughts full of this project, I started for Venice, where I had been invited to play my Sonate at the festival of the Societé Internationale pour la Musique Contemporaine. I took advantage of this opportunity to make a little tour of Italy before returning to Nice. [...]Chapter IX.About this time I signed a contract for several years with the great Columbia Gramophone Company, for which I was exclusively to record my work both as pianist and conductor, year by year. This work greatly interested me, for here, far better than with piano rolls, I was able to express all my in tentions with real exactitude. Consequently these records, very successful from a tech nical point of view, have the importance of documents which can serve as guides to all executants of my music. Unfortu nately, very few conductors avail themselves of them. Some do not even inquire whether such records exist. Doubtless their dignity prevents others from consulting them, especially since if once they knew the record they could not with a clear conscience conduct as they liked. Is it not amazing that in our times, when a sure means which is accessible to all, has been found of learning exactly how the author demands his work to be executed, there should still be those who will not take any notice of such means, but persist in inserting concoctions of their own vintage? Unfortunately, therefore, the rendering recorded by the author fails to achieve its most important object that of safeguarding his work by establishing the manner in which it ought to be played. This is all the more regrettable since it is not a question of a haphazard gramophone record of just any performance. Far from that, the very purpose of the work on these records is the elimination of all chance elements by selecting from among the different records those which are most successful. It is obvious that in even the very best records one may come across certain defects such as crackling, a rough surface, excessive or insufficient resonance. But these defects, which, for that matter, can be more or less corrected by the gramophone and the choice of the needle, do not in the least affect the essential thing, without which it would be impossible to form any idea of the composition I refer to the pace of the movements and their relationship to one another. When one thinks of the complexity of making such records, of all the difficulties it presents, of all the accidents to which it is exposed, the constant nervous strain caused by the knowledge that one is continuously at the mercy of some possible stroke of bad luck, some extraneous noise by reason of wilich it may all have to be done over again, how can one help being embittered by the thought that the fruit of so much labor will be so little used, even as a document, by the very persons who should be most interested? But, no matter how disappointing the work is when regarded from this point of view, I do not for a moment regret the time and effort spent on it. It gives me the satisfaction of knowing that everyone who listens to my records hears my music free from any distortion of my thought, at least in its essential elements. Moreover, the work did a good deal to develop my technique as a conductor. The frequent repetition of a fragment or even of an entire piece, the sustained effort to allow not the slightest detail to escape attention, as may happen for lack of time at any ordinary rehearsal, the necessity of observing absolute precision of movement as strictly determined by the timing - all this is a hard school in which a musician obtains very valuable training and learns much that is extremely useful. In the domain of music the importance and influence of its dissemination by mechanical means, such as the record and the radio - those redoubtable triumphs of modern science which will probably undergo still further development make them worthy of the closest investigation. The facilities that they offer to composers and executants alike for reaching great numbers of listeners, and the opportunities that they give to those listeners of acquainting themselves with works they have not heard, are obviously indisputable advantages. But one must not overlook the fact that such advantages are attended by serious danger. In John Sebastian Bach's day it was necessary for him to walk ten miles to a neighboring town to hear Buxtehude play his works. Today anyone, living no matter where, has only to turn a knob or put on a record to hear what he likes. Indeed, it is in just this incredible facility, this lack of necessity for any effort, that the evil of this so-called progress lies. For in music, more than in any other branch of art, understanding is given only to those who make an active effort. Passive receptivity is not enough. To listen to certain combinations of sound and automatically become accustomed to them does not necessarily imply that they have been heard and understood. For one can listen without hearing, just as one can look without seeing. The absence of active effort and the liking acquired for this facility make for laziness. The radio has got rid of the necessity which existed in Bach's day for getting out of one's arm chair. Nor are listeners any longer impelled to play themselves, or to spend time on learning an instrument in order to acquire a knowledge of musical literature. The wireless and the gramophone do all that. And thus the active faculties of listeners, without which one cannot assimilate music, gradually become atrophied from lack of use. This creeping paralysis entails very serious consequences. Oversaturated with sounds, blase even before combinations of the utmost variety, listeners fall into a kind of torpor which deprives them of all power of discrimination and makes them indifferent to the quality of the pieces presented. It is more than likely that such irrational overfeeding will make them lose all appetite and relish for music. There will, of course, always be exceptions, individuals who will know how to select from the mass those things that appeal to them. But for the majority of listeners there is every reason to fear that, far from developing a love and understanding of music, the modern methods of dissemination will have a diametrically opposite effect - that is to say, the production of indifference, inability to understand, to appreciate, or to undergo any worthy reaction. In addition, there is the musical deception arising from the substitution for the actual playing of a reproduction, whether on record or film or by wireless transmission from a distance. It is the same difference as that between the ersatz and the authentic. The danger lies in the very fact that there is always a far greater consumption of the ersatz, which, it must "be remembered, is far from being identical with its model. The continuous habit of listening to changed and sometimes distorted, timbres spoils the ear, so that it gradually loses all capacity for enjoying natural musical sounds. All these considerations may seem unexpected in coming from one who has worked so much, and is still working, in this field. I think that I have sufficiently stressed the instructional value that I unreservedly ascribe to this means of musical reproduction, but that does not prevent me from seeing its negative sides, and I anxiously ask myself whether they are sufficiently outweighed by the positive advantages to enable one to face them with impunity. [...] »
Source : Katz, Mark (2004), "Capturing sound: how technology has changed music", Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 99-113.
Source : Stravinsky, Igor (1936), "Chronicle of My Life", London : Victor Gollancz; and also, “Igor Stravinsky - An Autobiography”, New York : W W NORTON & COMPANY INC, Simon and Schuster, Inc, 1936, pp. 99-100, pp. 123-125, pp.150-154.
Urls : http://www.archive.org/stream/igorstravinskyan002221mbp/igorstravinskyan002221mbp_djvu.txt (last visited )

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