Commonplace Book: Igor Stravinsky

Some choice bits from Chapter 3, “The Composition of Music” from his Poetics of Music in the form of six lessons, which befuddled me in college but now makes sense.

stravinskyAll creation presupposes at its origin a sort of appetite that is brought on by the foretaste of discovery. This foretaste of the creative act accompanies the intuitive grasp of an unknown entity already possessed but not yet intelligible, an entity that will not take definite shape except by the action of a constantly vigilant technique.

This appetite that is aroused in me at the mere thought of putting in order musical elements that have attracted my attention is not at all a fortuitous thing like inspiration, but as habitual and periodic, if not as constant, as a natural need.

The premonition of an obligation, this foretaste of a pleasure, this conditioned reflex, as a modern physiologist would say, shows clearly that the idea of discovery and hard work is what attracts me.

The very act of putting my work on paper, of, as we say kneading the dough, is for me inseparable from the pleasure of creation. So far as I am concerned, I cannot separate the spiritual effort from the psychological and physical effort; they confront me on the same level and do not present a hierarchy. The word artist which, as it is most generally understood today, bestows on its bearer the highest intellectual prestige, the privilege of being accepted as a pure mind–this pretentious term is in my view entirely incompatible with the role of homo faber.


We have a duty toward music, namely to invent it. I recall once during the war when I was crossing the French border, a gendarme asked me what my profession was. I told him quite naturally that I was an inventor of music. The gendarme, then verifying my passport, asked me why I was listed as a composer. I told him that the expression “inventor of music” seems to fit my profession more exactly than the term applied to me in the documents authorizing me to cross borders.

Invention presupposes imagination but should not be confused with it. For the act of invention implies the necessity of a lucky find and of achieving full realization of this find. What we imagine does not necessarily take on a concrete form and may remain in the state of virtuality, whereas invention is not conceivable apart from actual working out…

Reasonable Ideas: “By Hand”

One of my (many, many) unfulfilled video series ideas is to do something on the explosion of interest in activities you do by hand (no computer, electronic media, or digital element involved). The elaborate tableau-like (and mesmerizing) analog photography of the Parke-Harrisons is an example (as are many other photographers in the “new antique photography” movement.)

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A Parke-Harrison work (everything is built by hand and staged for the picture). (Although their more recent work looks like they have moved on to digital techniques.)

Knitting, many aspects of food and cooking, and in some ways the whole search for authenticity in certain kinds of music fit into this “by hand” category for me. (At some point I’ll get around to writing about my–somewhat shaky–thesis about the advent of the CD as the trigger for the spread of the early music movement in classical music, a study in ironies that one. Early music was emphatically about bringing back ways of playing and listening that were not of the 20th century, but in fact only reached musicians and listeners through CDs, which by definition could never be an authentic acoustic experience.)

Wall of Type at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum

Printing and type, in particular, affords a lot of opportunities for thinking about “by hand” pre-digital work, and I just learned that the era of wooden type is preserved in a museum in WI, the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum. A piece in Design Observer tipped me off, and it includes the droll fact that Matthew Carter (genius type designer of Verdana and thus probably somebody whose work you will be using today) designed a type face for the Hamilton, Van Lanen Carter Latin, expressly to be made out of wood. I hardly need to add that, of course, you can also buy a digital version of Carter Latin.

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