lunes, 18 de enero de 2010

STRAVINSKY ON VERDI & WAGNER

Here are some quotations from the
Poetics of Music, Robert Craft’s diaries, and Stravinsky’s published
conversations with Robert Craft.

***

Nothing shows more clearly the power of Wagner and the kind of storm and stress that he unleashed than this decadence that his work actually consecrated and that has developed apace ever since his time. How powerful this man must have been to have destroyed an essentially musical form [opera] with such energy that fifty years after his death we are still staggering under the rubbish and racket of the music drama! For the prestige of the Synthesis of the Arts is still alive.

Is that what is called Progress? Perhaps. Unless composers find the strength to shake off this heavy legacy by obeying Verdi’s admirable injunction: “Let us return to old times, and that will be progress.”
[Stravinsky, Poetics of Music, 1939]

***

Think of how subtle and clinging the poison of the music drama was to have insinuated itself even into the veins of the colossus Verdi.

How can we help regretting that this master of the traditional opera, at the end of a long life studded with so many authentic masterpieces, climaxed his life with Falstaff, which, if it is not Wagner’s best work, is not Verdi’s best opera either? I know I am going counter to the general opinion that sees Verdi’s best work in the deterioration of the genius that that gave us Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Aida, and La Traviata. I know I am defending what the elite of the recent past belittled in the works of this great composer.
I regret having to say so; but I maintain that there is more substance in the aria, “La donna è mobile,” for example, in which this elite saw nothing but deplorable facility, than in the rhetoric and vociferations of the Ring.

Whether we admit it or not, the Wagnerian drama reveals continual bombast.
Its brilliant improvisations inflate the symphony beyond all proportion and give it less real substance than the invention, at once modest and aristocratic, that blossoms forth on every page of Verdi.
[Stravinsky, Poetics of Music, 1939]

***

Richard Wagner’s music is more improvised than constructed in the specific musical sense. Arias, ensembles, and their reciprocal relationships in the structure of an opera confer upon the whole work a coherence that is only the external and visible manifestation of an internal and profound order.

The antagonism of Verdi and Wagner neatly illustrates my thoughts on the subject.

While Verdi was being relegated to the organ-grinder’s repertory, it was fashionable to hail in Wagner the typical revolutionary. Nothing is more significant than this relegation of order to the muse of the street corners at the moment when one found sublimity in the cult of disorder.

Wagner’s work corresponds to a tendency that is not, properly speaking, a disorder but one that tries to compensate for a lack of order. The principle of the endless melody perfectly illustrates this tendency. It is the perpetual becoming of a music that never had any reason for starting, any more than it has a reason for ending. Endless melody thus appears as an insult to the dignity and the very function of melody, which, as I have said, is the musical intonation of a cadenced phrase.
[Stravinsky, Poetics of Music, 1939]

***

What is most irritating about these musical rebels, of whom Wagner offers us the most complete type, is the spirit of systemization, which, under the guise of doing away with conventions, establishes a new set, quite as arbitrary and much more cumbersome than the old. […] [A traditional convention] offers the musician the possibility of using it as a commonplace. Verdi, in the famous thunderstorm in Rigoletto, did not hesitate to make use of a formula that many a composer had employed before him. Verdi applies his own inventiveness to it and, without going outside of tradition, makes out of a commonplace a perfectly original page that bears his unmistakable mark.
[Stravinsky, Poetics of Music, 1939]

***

[In the first of the so-called “conversation books,” which was published in 1959, Craft asked Stravinsky if his opinion of Falstaff had changed.]

R.C. Do you still feel as you once did about the late Verdi
(in The Poetics of Music)?

I.S. No. In fact, I am struck by the force, especially in Falstaff, with which he resisted or kept away from what had seized the advanced musical world. The presentation of musical monologues in Falstaff seems to me more original in Falstaff than in Otello. Original also are the instrumentation, harmony, and part writing, yet none of these has left any element of the sort that could create a school -- so different is Verdi’s originality from Wagner’s; but even more remarkable than the gift itself is the strength with which he developed it from Rigoletto to Falstaff, to name the two operas I love best.
[Igor Stravinsky & Robert Craft, Conversations with Igor Stravinsky (1959)]

***

[On the occasion of a Washington Opera Society revival of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex with the composer conducting, Stravinsky looked back on the genesis of the work, which critics had typically described as a pastiche of any number of other composers, most often Handel. Stravinsky locates the work within a completely different tradition.]

I do not now recall any predatory attractions to other composers at the time, though, if another composer is suggested in my score, it is Verdi. […] I know that the Oedipus music is valued at about zero by present progressive-evolutionary standards [-- he has Boulez in particular in mind --] but I think it may last a while in spite of that. I know, too, that I relate only from an angle to the German stem (Bach - Haydn - Mozart - Beethoven - Schubert - Brahms - Wagner - Mahler - Schoenberg), which evaluates largely in terms of where a thing comes from and where it is going.
[Stravinsky & Craft, Dialogues and a Diary (1963)]

***

The opera repertory is more extensive than the symphonic, after all -- compare Verdi with Brahms as material.
[Stravinsky & Craft, Themes and Episodes (1966)]

***

[After a poor performance of Don Carlo at the Vienna Staatsoper in 1963, as Robert Craft records in his diary, “Stravinsky is rapturous nevertheless,” remarking:]

Verdi could give such grand scale to his people only because his own scope and vitality were unmatched; how I would like to have known him! His was the true spirit of Libertà, too, and he, not Wagner, was the true progressive, not the man Verdi of the Risorgimento and Cavour’s parliament but the composer of the Don Carlo duet [for Don Carlo & Rodrigo, “Dio, che nell’alma infondere”], which is more likable, you must admit, than that other Blutbruderschaft music that fat people in horns and hides howl by the hour. [Stravinsky & Craft, Themes and Episodes (1966)]

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