Friday Quickie: Stravinsky best used to remove lingering flavors, avoid heartburn and promote good digestion

Opinions are important. They make a critic, or a critique, what they are -- an educated, reflective review and discerning examination of the relative value of a given piece of music or concert. They can also be fun, primarily in challenging standard orthodoxies and bringing new perspectives to common pieces and experiences.

Then again, some opinions are just...inexplicable.

Review | Chamber orchestra season has powerful conclusion

John Heuertz, Kansas City Star, June 13, 2010

The Kansas City Chamber Orchestra’s last concert of the season featured Mozart’s last work. The Mozart piece, his 1791 Requiem Mass, was preceded by Igor Stravinsky’s 1938 “Dumbarton Oaks” chamber concerto.

An interesting combination of pieces. While certainly accessible for a chamber ensemble, the Mozart Requiem (with a very sizable choral component) seems a very large scale work by comparison to the Stravinsky. But, whatever...I'm game.

Conductor Bruce Sorrell kept the 15 or 16 instrumental voices in the score in good balance.

That's good. Plus specifics are overrated.

He conducted with precision and gave the music an appropriately playful feel.

Appropriate is nice.

This cheery little item...

the Stravinsky?

...is often compared to Bach’s Brandenburg concerti.

Yes, I've heard that. In fact, I think Stravinsky even mentioned this himself:

“I played Bach very regularly during the composition of the concerto,and I was greatly attracted to the Brandenburg Concertos. Whether or not the first theme of my first movement is a conscious borrowing from the third of the Brandenburg set, however, I do not know. What I can say is that Bach would most certainly have been delighted to loan it to me; to borrow in this way was exactly the sort of thing he liked to do."


Anywho, so one would do well to compare to this piece to the Bach Brandenburg concerti I would say. Go on...

A better comparison might be to music from the mid-18th century Mannheim school.

A better comparison, eh? Even better than the piece the composer even admitted he stole, er...borrowed themes from?


Mannheim composers wrote the same kind of elegant, polished,...

Elegant, polished...yes yes. These were indeed traits of the neo-classical style, which was the style at the time, that Stravinsky embraced while composing this piece. What else...?

...the same kind of elegant, polished, commercially successful music that Stravinsky did.

Yes, commercially succ...wait...what?

Stravinsky wrote commercially successful music? "Dumbarton Oaks" is a commercially successful piece?

I have no idea what this means. I guess compared to Henri Pousseur Stravinsky wrote commercial music...

figure pousseur: Was always secretly disappointed that his Dichterliebesreigentraum (1992-3) didn't even crack the Billboard Hot 100, but UB40's crappy remake of "Can't Help Falling in Love" was #1 for 7 weeks.

And, like Stravinsky’s music, Mannheim music is easy to forget before intermission.

Forgettable?! Stravinsky's music is forgettable? I apparently don't know what the word 'forgettable' means.

Are we talking about the same Stravinsky?

But that matrix of forgettable music has to be there for unforgettable music to be written — and Mozart’s Requiem is unforgettable.

Whew. I thought you were being a tad dismissive at first, but I think I get it now. We need Stravinsky's forgettable music so we can fully appreciate good music from a composer who never wrote forgettable music.

Good call. Really, we should have a term for music like this. Any thoughts?

Thus Sorrell aptly described the Stravinsky as a “palate cleanser” for the Mozart.

Perfect. Stravinsky's music is like an unsalted cracker, or even better, a fruit sorbet.

figure palate cleanser: Bottled Stravinsky. Available in 6, 12 and 24 packs.


Sator Arepo said...


AnthonyS said...

Well, hmmmm. Stravinsky wrote a lot of music, some of which I suppose is forgettable; but I would hardly put Dumbarton Oaks in that category. Plus, I'm a little uncomfortable with the term. Is something forgettable just because it isn't played enough to be part of the canon? Is it not part of the canon because it is forgettable? Kind of a chicken and the egg thing, and the whole legitimation process that happens in the orchestral canon. In any event, I'm not sure why (since he offers no real explanation) Dumbarton Oaks is, in his esteemed opinion, forgettable.

Gustav said...

Excellent points, AnthonyS. It's hard to tell from the context whether the critic is referencing just this particular piece or all of Stravinsky's output as forgettable.

But I suppose we can give the author the benefit of the doubt that he just finds Dumbarton Oaks forgettable. But I'm quite confused by this idea that his music (or this piece) was commercially successful. Compared to what?

Anonymous said...

As someone who will program concerts in the future, it's really important for me to know that what I've learned about consistency, balance, playability, and all that crap that goes into programming is more easily reduced to two words: forgettable and unforgettable. Whew.

Didn't Mozart tend to copy himself writing all those concerti? It probably wasn't out of financial necessity or anything; likely he just forgot...

Danny Liss said...

For what it's worth, I really liked that review, but admittedly, I hate Stravinsky. Calling Dumbarton Oaks forgettable wouldn't be a bad description if it weren't wishful thinking...

Gustav said...

A good point, Danny. It's not a bad review at all, just incredibly curious. It's also a rather short review, which I know will sometimes call for arguments and opinions that aren't fully supported. But like AnthonyS points out, it's not clear that he's just talking about this one piece, but says that Stravinsky's music, like that of Mannheim composers, is "easy to forget". That's quite the statement, especially when taking on probably one of the three or four most prominent composers of the 20th c., and not say, a Howard Hanson or even Elgar level composer.