Sunday, September 8, 2019

Footnote to Salonen Collection

The main thing I take away from the Salonen collection, which was, on the whole, a very enjoyable listening journey, is that Igor Stravinsky really is the most important composer of the 20th century. Previously I tended to discount his later neo-classical and serial works, but I am starting to think that that is a mistake. The Symphonies of Wind Instruments was a work that always attracted me and puzzled me, but I am starting to understand what is going on there. It is really a kind of experiment with moment form, i.e. music with intentional discontinuities and lacking the traditional dramatic narrative. It doesn't look anything like moment form, but it actually fulfills a lot of the definition. 

Another question of how exactly Stravinsky's neo-classical works relate to tradition and how they contradict tradition is probably one that is far from being answered.

Two years ago I did a long series of posts on how Stravinsky came to compose the Rite of Spring, mostly titled "The Road to the Rite" that started with this post. Now I see I need to do another series on his neo-classical music. The Salonen box, apart from its other virtues, is like an implicit argument for aesthetic quality. Stravinsky is rated very highly--at seven CDs, the highest of all. Also highly rated are Lutosławski, Bartók, Ligeti, Schoenberg, Sibelius, Debussy, Messiaen and Nielsen. But all these are well below Stravinsky. And the collection makes the argument very well. It is really Stravinsky that sticks in the mind. Not every piece, of course, but the Rite of Spring, Petrushka, the Symphony in Three Movements (and the Symphony of Psalms which is not in the box for some reason), the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, Oedipus Rex, L'Histoire du Soldat (also not in the box) and several other pieces demonstrate that Stravinsky was the most interesting, the most capable and the most inventive composer of the century with a range of expression that no-one else quite matched.

Here is a performance of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments with the score. Salonen conducting the London Sinfonietta:

No comments: