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Must-Read: Stravinsky on Film Music

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Interesting, but his views are not mine.

Also, he is talking about film music from upto the 1940's. The genre was still in it's infancy then, and indeed little more then a copy of European classical music set to film. That is something that cannot be said today.

So the views are interesting, even valid...if seen in context of the decade it's written in. But it doesn't say very much about film music today.

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Yes, Stravinsky's thoughts on the subject must be framed within the historical context of the time in which they were exposed. We should also take into account his own very adamant views on music in general and his constant rebuttal about any kind of expressive explanation ("Music doesn't have to mean anything other than itself" was one of his mantra). Also, as Raksin points out in his reply, it's quite ironic that Stravinsky's music always seems to go against the principles themselves he stated so adamantly.

It's however fascinating (well, at least it is for me) to read his reasoning about this particular form of musical expression. One can only wonder what he could have done in film music.

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("Music doesn't have to mean anything other than itself" was one of his mantra).

This is a common belief. Art can only be art if it has no function other then it's own existence.

It's an interesting, if flawed concept IMO. Many paintings were commissioned for a particular reason, Many of the great classical works were written for a commemoration of something, or someone, therefore had a practical purpose of some kind.

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Since he wrote for the ballet, I'm sure the genius that was Stravinsky was well aware of the fact that many famous works of art were made to be part of a bigger whole or were created to operate in conjunction with something else. It seems to me that he's only saying that art doesn't have to mean anything, which is a statement I can only agree with. Too often film music is used to explain things to the audience.

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David Raksin's rebuttal is really quite a delightful read: lucid, eloquent, poignant and even witty. In contrast, Stravinsky comes across as bloated, narcissistic and self-serving, and curiously out of touch not only with film music, but with the entire history of music!

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Too often film music is used to explain things to the audience.

That is actually it's primary function. But in the 1940's this was done without any subtlety whatsoever.

If you listen to Max Steiner and Korngold now....pretty obvious and crude in what they convey emotionally in the film. Herrmann was already more inventive though.

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It was interesting reading Stravinsky's perspective, and I can see to some degree where he's coming from, when considering the music of that time period. But like Steef said, this "critique" of film music hardly seems to hold an relevance today.

I would love to see what he had to say if he were today, with film music having clearly evolved into an art form of its own, being very different to the nature of film music at his time.

And I love the last line of David Raksin's rebuttal!

"Music," says Mr. Stravinsky, "probably attended the creation of the universe." Certainly. It was background music.

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It really doesn't surprise me to read this. Stravinsky was an egomaniacal old crank and compulsive liar who was constantly on the offensive about one composer or the other. He didn't even come around to liking Beethoven until he was well into his 80s.

He was also a film composer himself. Most people don't know this because Stravinsky's music never made it into any released film. But in 1942, Stravinsky was watching jingoistic propaganda films and gunning for the composer position on The Song of Bernadette. He eventually was passed over for Alfred Newman. But all of these endeavors went into the Symphony in Three Movements of 1943-45. The second movement is a complete score cue intended for The Song of Bernadette.

Stravinsky went on to pursue a number of other film projects, none of which came to fruition. He did write The Flood: a musical play for CBS in 1962, but that was a project in which the music came first, so it's not really scoring.

What I take from Stravinsky's weird conceits is that artists are often not the most trustworthy witnesses.

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I didn't realize Stravinsky had secret ambitions to be a film composer. I also think sometimes great composers are terrible at articulating their thoughts non musically. They can come across as arrogant especially if they reaped tremendous acclaim while very young. I know some of these people and one has to ignore their sometimes intolerant banter and somewhat lacking social grace.

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This lovely piece was also supposed to be for a film called The North Star, which ended up being composed by none other than Aaron Copland (!) In those days, you rejected Stravinsky and still got Copland somehow...

And let's not start talking about what Stravy thought of Fantasia! ;)

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Too often film music is used to explain things to the audience.

That is actually it's primary function. But in the 1940's this was done without any subtlety whatsoever.

If you listen to Max Steiner and Korngold now....pretty obvious and crude in what they convey emotionally in the film. Herrmann was already more inventive though.

What has changed? Listen to film music now. It's precisely as predicatable and formulaic as Electronic Dance Music. It's all about recognizability, so much so, that the audience is confused when it hears something different or offbeat. I think Stravinsky would still not think very highly of it.

I wonder if it has not become its primary function. Apparently, when it comes to music being more and more used as a narrative, Stravinsky had the same problems with opera.

Alexandre

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I didn't realize Stravinsky had secret ambitions to be a film composer.

He had no secret ambitions, he was schmoozed and courted by the likes of MGM and Warner Bros. because they lusted for the prestige of a classical composer's name on their movies. Most of these famous emigrants, be it Schoenberg or Strawinsky, were pragmatic enough to realize that however crass they may have found the movies, it brought in money they could only dream of earning with teaching or having their works performed at some concert venue.

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