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Two Trends of Modern Music in Stravinsky Work
Rudhyar D. Chennevèire
Written in New York City; 1917.

First Published
Musical Quarterly; April 1919.

The Early Musical Writings of Dane Rudhyar are made available for students of musical history and for scholarly research. Rudhyar was concerned that composers, students and scholars should not regard his earliest writings and articles - written while he was still a young man - as his most significant literary contributions to music. The reader is referred to Rudhyar's book The Magic of Tone and the articles The Transforming Power of Tone and When Does Sound Become Music for his mature and fully developed contributions.

Archived Music Articles
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» Dane Rudhyar's Vision of American Dissonance, by Carol Oja. American Music, Summer 1999.

Musical Works

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Musical scores 5 Stanzas and Granites are also available from

Also of Interest

Click to order this great recording at
Four Pentagrams, Paeans, Granites, Prophetic Rite
Ron Squibbs, Piano.

Rudhyar Paris-X. Click to order this great recording at
The Music of Rudhyar & Satie
Musica Obscura

Richard Cameron-Wolfe, Piano.

Hear a sound clip

Rudhyar's String and Piano Compositions.
Piano and String Compositions
Marcia Mikulak, Piano
and The Kronos Quartet

Masselos Plays Rudhyar Piano Music.
An Earlier Recording of Rudhyar's Music Now on CD

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Two trends in the new music of Stravinsky.

A perpetual recreation of itself is an attribute of genius. Once a height attained, the eternal ascension toward sum mits yet unscaled again begins. Hence nothing is more disconcerting to the crowd than genius. Those who after much effort have gained an understanding of the work of a certain year, find themselves replunged the year following, into lack of comprehension by its new work. An instance in point was when after the tardy triumph of the Sacre du Printemps, his le Rossignol baffled Stravinsky's most ardent partisans.

And, in truth, the abyss stretching between these two works is a profound one: the pieces for string quartet which succeeded even accentuated the new path which Stravinsky was following. One feels that for him the Sacre represents a point of arrival, the perfect expression of one kind of music. Yet this music does not satisfy him: he seeks to go beyond it, to penetrate into domains unknown. And of these researches his latest works have been born, works no doubt as yet incomplete; yet which surely will end in some typical score such as the Sacre du Printemps was of its kind.

The Sacre, in fact, is a formidable, a magnificent work. One knows what an impression of intoxicating stupor (this is the correct term) it produced in Paris, when given by Pierre Monteux at his concerts, separated from its plastic presentation, which the public did not understand and which, nevertheless, was so fine in its ritual animalism.

Here music, carrying along beyond the borders of romanticism the tragic thought of Beethoven, is essentially "elementary" or "cosmic." In the mad hammering out of themes of primordial simplicity, born of the people, in some sort out of man's purely animal spontaneity; in the prodigious orchestral inflations whose notes burgeon forth like seed beneath the germinating urge of Spring; in the violent super-position of a hundred incongruous voices, cosmic voices of the winds, the forests, the birds, of all these living forces exalted by the nuptial hour; in the delirium of the final dance of terror, in which the woman, hunted like a beast, dances the spasmodic dance of agonizing flesh; everywhere there leaps forth a primordial vitality, cynical, tragic; life not anti-human, but an-human.

And as in Pétrouchka the great passion drama of humanity had already been cynically staged as a tragic farce where marionettes hysterically disport themselves manipulated by the finger of ironic fate, in the Sacre man is no more than some sort of animal, tossed about and crushed by indifferent cosmic forces.

These two works, incidentally, are strictly limited. Pétrouchka is the music of the human crowd: the Sacre is the elemental music of the crowds of a universe. In both cases it is "mass" music, denying the individual, music extraordinarily "vital," music of instinct. In a word, in the broad sense of the phrase, it is physical music.

Of course Stravinsky could have continued to follow this path. He might have doubled his orchestra, already large; invented new instruments using, for instance, the formidable music of steam, visioned by A. Sax, which the steamer siren has made vocal; let loose an outburst of sonority, or, if one prefers, ten times more noise; superimposing, instead of two or three tonalities double the number. He could have done this. Yet he did not, and without doubt will not do so; since it must have become clear to him that, once a certain balance is overpast, the greater augmentation as regards quantity the less the factor of quality makes itself felt.

Hence it is that abandoning a tremendous instrumental fracas, he has turned to the miniature orchestra, to the "string quartet," in order to reveal to the world the secrets of a music more earnest and profound; no longer glorying in the cosmic whirlwind; but concentrating in order to succeed in expressing the human soul in its essential tragedy and serenity.

And thus it is that after having, if not created, at least brought to its highest pitch of realization and actual power this cosmic or elemental music, Stravinsky has entered upon the occult and unknown pathway of psychic music.

Here Stravinsky found he had an immediate predecessor in Debussy — I will not speak of Beethoven, the initiator of all modern music, who in his last quartets recreates the genuine soul-music which died with Palestrina. It has already been said that Schoenberg and those who follow him more or less closely tend toward what is known as "pure sonal music." This is very true; yet, possibly, the whole value and meaning of the term "pure sonal music" has not been grasped altogether.

In order to define it, it becomes necessary to take a bird's-eye view of the evolution of music at its beginning. The musical "note," as well as the "scale" or ladder of tones established with regard to fixed intervals, is a something which has not always existed in music. During thousands of years before the abstract theory of music came into being, men had a music without "notes" and without "scales." We too often forget this, owing to the mania which musicologists have of ignoring all music anteceding Pythagoras, and including the greater part of the music of the Orient, which nevertheless had in India, some centuries ago, at tained a degree of perfection which we are far from realizing today.

Man has invented nothing. He has merely examined himself and the universe. All there is in Nature expresses itself in music. And the prodigious cosmic symphonies of the winds, the oceans, the forests, the sounds of many waters and the song of birds, every song of multiple life made man new-born aware that he was alive, that music was. Blinded by a ridiculous vanity, we have denied the genuine musical value of this infinitely rich and multiple music of nature. We are so accustomed to our scales, to our mathematical sounds accorded to the diapason, so habituated to this intellectual, scientific music of ours, that it is difficult for us to understand that it is not all music, that in reality it is only a small portion ot universal music, just as man himself is only part of the universe. We are habituated to such a degree to this discontinued music of ours, to our melodies "in scale", leaping from step to step, from note to note, that the continuous music of the elements, the melodies of Nature herself, flowing without breaks, without leaps, with a great sustained impetus, rising by insensible crescendos and dying away in glissandos which never stop at points conventionally determined (such as notes); that this music not of the intellect seems to us to be mere incoherent noise. This is a lamentable error due to a sterile anthropomorphism.

This continuous music was the first music of humanity; its priaitive melopoeia, its magic incantation which — as Jules Combarieu has so well demonstrated — was the original source and synthesis of human music. This musical stadium is reproduced in all its purity by the Eskimos. Phonographic records have been made of magic ceremonies, at which the priest-sorcerer imitates with his voice the voices of the elements, the cries of animals, in order to lure their souls and lay a spell on them, to conjure the spirits of nature. This music is a torrent of sustained sound, which ignores notes and scales. And it would be silly to deny the artistic value of such ritual ceremonies wherein are expressed a complete synthesis of life. The magic incantation, the well-spring of sacred music — the only music which is really enduring — vibrates with so intense a vitality because the priest in his will for empire over the soul of things, insists on identifying himself with the life of earth; not only does he penetrate to the musical soul of living beings; but he commands them to live according to his law, he binds them with their own lives whose secret he has surprised. He creates life by making himself at one with life: and that is the supreme goal of all art.

True, the religion of the primitive magician is largely external, largely formal, and the means of expression employed by him are uncouth. Yet his art is comprehensive and complete in its essence. And the magic chant, the carmen, is yet, though on an inferior plane, a perfect creation.

Man, who has a horror of continuity in which his dearly cherished individuality is dissolved, found in the stylization of animal cries points projected from the great current of continuous music, flowing from high to low pitch like some magnificent stream. These cries, approximately reproduced by the aid of instruments, became fixed points of departure for their subsequent union, which formed a kind of primitive scale. Thus the Chinese scale came into being: the "Annals" inform us that it was based upon reeds of varying length, forming a sort of archaic flute. In the case of the other races it may have been the bow which was the origin of instrumental music. And at once "discontinued" music presents itself and sound acquires an independent and individual value. And from this source there comes that "pure sonal music" which is born of the juxtaposition of individual sonorities more or less complex.

Nevertheless, for centuries and even, in the Orient, at the present day, the fixed sounds established, which in their entirety make up the scale, were no more than guiding-points among which the melody moved freely and continuously without fixed intervals. Hence we have all these vocal glissandos, all these infinite melodic palpitations of Hindoo music. which represent what remains of "continuous" music, which are the direct melodic expression of life itself, in its infinite variety, its subtle and many-hued spontaneity, and not, as they are so ridiculously termed "musical ornaments."

Without any doubt at all, a struggle between "continuous" and "broken" music, the constant progress of individualism, intelligence and scientific reasoning, all inter-related factors, little by little destroyed "continuous" music or, rather, this type of music subsisted as an appanage of priest and temple; while the people in their individual gladness created the primitive folk-song, using for it no more than a few very simple sounds, the expression of a no less simple mentality. A similar development took place during the Middle Ages, when the artless folk and popular song distorted and killed the plain chant, that marvellous Byzantine creation, amalgamate of all the sacred song of the Orient and of Palestine, and whose anatomical outline alone has come down to us, deprived of the inner musical continuity which was its living flesh.

"Broken" or "discontinued" music triumphs in counterpoint and scientific classic music until Beethoven who is the first, in his "infinite melodies," to aspire to genuine continuity. Wagner seeks continuity in dramatic action (the linking together of leading motives); Debussy in his evocation of harmonic atmospheres; Stravinsky, finally, in the Sacre du Printemps piles up, one upon the other, the most contradictory tonalities to break them down by ceaseless friction, creating the illusion of a perpetual and un broken generation of sound. And hence it is that this work of his is the apex of a great musical effort of the XIX century, an effort toward the realization of a cosmic music, that of elemental voices.

Schoenberg opposes this trend. It is the "pure sonal music," discontinued music, which he exalts. Yet this opposition is unquestionably no more than a desperate quest for a means of out-flanking an insurmountable obstacle, the obstacle which our scale (that is to say the entire musical system actually in use, maintained by the very conformation of the majority of instruments, especially the keyboard instruments) opposes to "continued" music. Schoenberg, in fact, ignores rather than struggles against tonality. He has his being in an atmosphere of absolut! comaticism, tending to enharmonism (insisted upon by human musical futurists), and he forges sounds unknown, mysterious "cries." He makes the impression of stuttering in a language which he himself hardly knows, one whose resources he is continually busy discovering. He ignores all lines of sonority. He is preoccupied, one might say, with musical soundings. He casts out his plummet into the depths of the soul and draws up with it strange shapes, fantastic gleams. Yet these shapes have no vitality. He is unable to grasp the secret of their existence. Not that this disturbs him: he worships them because of their inexplicable radiance. And he depicts them; for before all else, Schoenberg is an analysist. Before him there existed a concept of the musical line, of melody. He feels that this conception ends in a cul de sac (this blind alley being the polytonality of the Sacre du Printemps). Then, daringly, he abandons all, and goes on at random ranging the whole domain of known music. Scapel in hand, he dissects the soul of man. And he discovers prodigious psychic outcries, exclamations which he notes with fidelity; yet almost without connection, for their vital bond of union escapes him. It is thus that he records these unknown sounds, whence come no one knows. One might term them onomatopoeia of the soul. And, no doubt, as at the dawn of humanity, the Word leaped forth in these inarticulate cries, in which are expressed the reflex emotions of man confronted with life, a music will be born of all these strange, scattered tones, to form the incomparable melody whose song will be that of the all-embracing life of the soul.

It is toward this goal that Stravinsky's purpose is directed. For the Sacre du Printemps is the perfect expression of elemental music, of instinctive psychic music. Yet it is not the great sacred music of humanity's mysteries which the future insists upon in order to sing the cult of Conscience and of Man Divine. In lieu of physical continuity, there must be born psychic continuity, the continuity of the soul. And in place of the fragmentary, analytical notation of Schoenberg, there must rise up a vital synthesis of the soul.

This is the task reserved for the music of the future. And in anticipating it we should invoke the name of that great musician who has vanished, Scriabine. In the dawning of this animastic synthesis which music will express, he stands forth as the great mystic, visioning the tremendous emprise. Dying, perhaps, because of its actual impossibility of realization, he towers in extatic serenity on the threshold of the music of tomorrow. More then any other, with his far-flung gaze which penetrated the soul of the universe, he could foresee that which was to be. His last Preludes are incomparable tentatives, surpassing in perfection all that Schoenberg has written, the beginnings of a new day, in which Man, weary of the battles of materialism, turning to introspection, will meditate on the Infinite, won over to that vast, illimatable Wisdom so long forgotten by him.

Yet who is he who will arise to accomplish the great work which Scriabine did not realize?

-Translated by Frederick H. Martens.

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