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Stravinsky on expression in music

October 10, 2008

In these extracts Stravinsky discusses the meaning of music.

Most people like music because it gives them certain emotions such as joy, grief, sadness, and image of nature, a subject for daydreams or – still better – oblivion from “everyday life”. They want a drug – dope -…. Music would not be worth much if it were reduced to such an end. When people have learned to love music for itself, when they listen with other ears, their enjoyment will be of a far higher and more potent order, and they will be able to judge it on a higher plane and realise its intrinsic value.

Igor Stravinsky, An Autobiography, 1935, Calder and Boyars ed., 1975, p.163.

I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, or psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc….Expression has never been an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence.

Igor Stravinsky, An Autobiography, 1935, Calder and Boyars ed., 1975, p.53.

For the phenomenon of music is nothing other than a phenomenon of speculation…..The elements at which this speculation necessarily aims are those of sound and time…..consequently music is a chronologic art……All music is nothing more than a succession of impulses that converge toward a definite point of repose.

….my freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each of my undertakings.

I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles…..The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.

Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music, Harvard University Press, 1970 ed. (original edition 1942), pp. 35, 36 & 49.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2012 9:58 pm

    The first quote in this column, “Most people like music….” appears in a book I am preparing for publication. I want to contact the owner of that copyright to secure permission to use those three sentences. Any help you can give would be much appreciated.

    • June 7, 2012 11:23 am

      As far as I am aware the quotation is from Stravinksky so the citation would be from the book as detailed in the reference at the foot of this post.

  2. December 25, 2013 1:58 pm

    Music and Emotions

    The most difficult problem in answering the question of how music creates emotions is likely to be the fact that assignments of musical elements and emotions can never be defined clearly. The solution of this problem is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says that music can’t convey any emotion at all, but merely volitional processes, the music listener identifies with. Then in the process of identifying the volitional processes are colored with emotions. The same happens when we watch an exciting film and identify with the volitional processes of our favorite figures. Here, too, just the process of identification generates emotions.

    An example: If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will “I don’t want any more…”. If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will “I don’t want any more…” with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words “I don’t want anymore…” the first time softly and the second time loudly.
    Because this detour of emotions via volitional processes was not detected, also all music psychological and neurological experiments, to answer the question of the origin of the emotions in the music, failed.

    But how music can convey volitional processes? These volitional processes have something to do with the phenomena which early music theorists called “lead”, “leading tone” or “striving effects”. If we reverse this musical phenomena in imagination into its opposite (not the sound wants to change – but the listener identifies with a will not to change the sound) we have found the contents of will, the music listener identifies with. In practice, everything becomes a bit more complicated, so that even more sophisticated volitional processes can be represented musically.

    Further information is available via the free download of the e-book “Music and Emotion – Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration:

    http://www.willimekmusic.de/music-and-emotions.pdf

    or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:

    http://www.eunomios.org

    Enjoy reading

    Bernd Willimek

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