The later half of Stravinsky’s first lesson is a passionate defense for the restoration of basic musical values.
“Gratuitous excess spoils every substance, every form that it touches. In its blundering it impairs the effectiveness of the most valuable discoveries and at the same time corrupts the taste of its devotees – which explains why their taste often plunges without transition from the wildest complications to the flattest banalities.”
He uses the word ‘revolutionary’ as an example but I imagine it could be applied to any adjective that’s used carelessly, excessively and as a result, habitually. He speaks about a culture of snobbery, elitism and sham artists who exploit this, but his main point is that “there are no limits to the mischief wrought by arbitrary acts.”
This is probably the most significant issue facing present-day artists. I would add that this isn’t just about gratuitous excess; it’s also about lacking a means to express oneself; it’s in defense for the pursuit of expression in all its forms and valuing the perfect hue in an infinite pool of grey.
All artists involved in this pursuit probably wrestle with this issue on some level. We’re all trying to communicate with the general public and cope with their criticisms; how do we help them understand and appreciate our music? We all have a list of charlatans that haunt us; should we ignore them, or defend our cause? We’re all dealing with how our art relates to the past, present and future; is everyone’s ability to express getting worse over time, or is it adjusting?
Answering these questions would take me beyond Stravinsky’s Poetics. There’s a lot at stake here; I am humbled by its scope. So I’ll pose them just for our present consideration and come back to them in future posts. We’ll also see if Stravinsky addresses them more specifically in future lessons.
But that being said, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a few more adjectives right?
Further reading: A great post by Peter Hum – Jazz Connotations (some meta-blather about shifty, loaded, lazy and vague words) (Link)