There are many points of resemblance between Louis Andriessen’s music and Igor Stravinsky’s. Both are pianistic composers who treat the orchestra like a piano—or, relatedly, like a big percussion instrument. Both find original and precise timbral expressions of intervallic relations, which show up as a certain “bite” in their orchestrations. Both use rhythm as a structuring element in ways typically associated with melody. Both are open-minded to the point of eccleticism in their approach to musical form and style. Andriessen’s “terrifying twenty-first century orchestra,” as he likes to call it, often includes saxophone, electric guitar, electric bass, synthesizer, and drum kit, evidence that the instrumentation of the jazz ensemble and the rock band have made their way into his imagination. In a video on the website of Andriessen’s current publisher Boosey & Hawkes, he remembers his composer brother Jurriaan returning from America with a stack of Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton records, and how, aged twelve, the sound of the great big band groups made a deep impression on him; elsewhere Andriessen says he is part of a generation of composers “influenced by be-bop and Stravinsky.” In 1966 he arranged four Beatles songs for soprano and piano, satirically indulging in the most bewigged operatic filigree. Famed mezzo Cathy Berberian recorded some of these in 1967, as Beatles Arias—an avant-pop prank that manages to stay interesting even after the joke has worn off. (Andriessen has said in interviews that he doesn’t dig the Beatles, much preferring instead the funky electro-pop of Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan.) Pieces from the seventies like Hoketus (also the name of his amplified ensemble at the time) and De Staat (based on Plato’s Republic) sound like stripped down and electrified versions of the additive push-pull of Le Sacre du printemps (while the 2002 recording of the first of these, by Andriessen disciples Bang on a Can, sounds like abstract, factory-assembled postpunk). A slightly later work like De Stijl (1985) has something of the spare, primary angularity of the Dutch aesthetic it names, its saxophone, low-end piano, and electric bass staggered to reveal sharp gradients of color. De Stijl has moments where something like backbeat comes in, veers into spare, swaggering boogie-woogie and, at one point, a John Barry-like spy riff. De Stijl was later included as the third part of a larger work, De Materie (1984-88), whose first section seems like an extrapolation of the metallic chimes that end Les Noces (1914-23)—a color then built up into a dialogue with comparatively warm clouds of keyboard and bass. Bebop syncopation is more conspicuous in a 1990 work for amplified string quartet, Facing Death, full of protracted triplet runs of the sort you find in a Charlie Parker solo. But jazz in Andriessen’s music is usually threaded through Stravinsky’s own borrowings from jazz (and more fleetingly, Darius Milhaud’s). The saxophone section in De Stijl, for example, reminds one of the stiff, robotic syncopations of the opening bars of the Ebony Concerto (1945), which was originally written for Woody Herman; while Facing Death has moments that echo a few bars toward the end of the Octet (1922-23), where the trumpet is given lines that sound like Henry Mancini scoring a game show.

Louis Andriessen. Image © Francesca Patella

Louis Andriessen. Image © Francesca Patella

Perhaps owing to its motoric propulsion, the severity of the unison writing, and the (knowing) crossovers into film music territory, Andriessen’s music has sometimes been aligned with American minimalism. I must confess I am not convinced by the minimalism tag, though I would be hesitant even to lump Philip Glass and Steve Reich together, since their music sounds nothing alike. The point might be made in explicitly Stravinskian terms: there is a ton of Stravinsky in Reich’s music—for example, the opening bars of his 1995 City Life, whose chord voicings and shifting accents are an obvious tribute to the closing chorale of Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920/1947)—whereas there is almost no Stravinsky in Glass. (If you were really looking for it, I suppose you could claim an affinity between the undulating tableaux of Music in Twelve Parts and the static panels of sound in Petrushka (1910-11) or Le chant du rossignol (1917), but that is an abstract formal equivalence and far from the kind of direct appropriation you hear in Reich.) Musicologist Jonathan Cross, who contributes an introduction to the 2006 edition of The Apollonian Clockwork, took up some of these questions in his 1998 study The Stravinsky Legacy, where he says a piece like De Staat “fuses Stravinsky, rock and minimalism.” The authors of the Apollonian Clockwork themselves acknowledge the link between Stravinsky’s music and a certain strain of minimalism when they point out an affinity between the “Pas d’action” section of Orpheus (1947) and the music of “Reich and his followers.”

The most compelling link between Andriessen and minimalism lies in his ongoing connections to film. Like Glass, Terry Riley, and Michael Nyman, Andriessen has worked consistently with filmmakers, and at one point he and Glass seemed to be arriving simultaneously at the invention of a new genre of “filmic opera,” albeit from different angles. While the Philip Glass Ensemble performed new operatic scores to films, syncing them in live performance (most interestingly and successfully with Jean Cocteau’s La belle et la bête)Andriessen has collaborated on three pieces with director Peter Greenaway, one a film hybrid, M is for Man, Music, Mozart (1991), and two film-operas: Rosa: The Death of a Composer (1993-94), a mystery involving a conspiracy to murder composers (some of them real, like Anton Webern and John Lennon, most of them made up), and Writing to Vermeer (1997-98), with a libretto by Greenaway, undertaken in conjunction with the opening of a Vermeer exhibition at the Hague in 1996, for which Greenaway created “tableaux vivants” based on Vermeer canvases. The music in both features Andriessen’s characteristic saxophone-piano doublings, woodwind-and-brass blasts, electric guitar, lapidary synth highlights, and, in the case of Writing to Vermeer, a section that moves from electronic enhancements (by former pupil Michel van der Aa) to stretches of Baroque pastiche to a direct quote from the “Danse sacrale” section of Le Sacre. (Meanwhile, Rosa’s concluding “Index Singer” section sounds like Prince in his ’90s New Power Generation period.) The most recent film-opera, the recipient of the 2011 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, is arguably Andriessen’s most ambitious: La Commedia (2004-08)a setting of Dante undertaken in collaboration with director Hal Hartley. The Nonesuch recording comes packaged with a DVD featuring live action performances by the singers in what is almost a music video-like setting, bringing to mind an atmosphere you can find in some of Robert Ashley’s “TV operas.”

The Apollonian Clockwork: On Stravinsky by Louis Andriessen & Elmer Schönberger trans. Jeff Hamburg (Amsterdam University Press, Dec. 2006)

The Apollonian
Clockwork: 
On Stravinsky
by Louis Andriessen & Elmer Schönberger
trans. Jeff Hamburg
(Amsterdam University Press, Dec. 2006)

That Andriessen seems more and more to resemble something like an immovable object on the international new music landscape—giving us one of the more plausible (and pleasing) aesthetic syntheses of the entire spectrum of musical aesthetics in the second half of the 20th century—is only one reason to take a fresh look at The Apollonian Clockwork, the idiosyncratic book on Stravinsky he co-wrote with composer, musicologist, and critic Elmer Schönberger back in 1982. One of its chapters—simply called “Stravinsky”—takes up the convenient shorthand of thinking of 20th-century musical invention as developing along contrastingly parallel Stravinskian and Schoenbergian paths (a tendency no doubt helped along by Adorno’s Philosophie der neuen Musik). Andriessen and Schönberger begin with a grouping of quotations by Stravinsky about his own work, one of which considers the meaning of the adjectival form “Stravinskian” differently in relation to Russian, French, and English usage. A few of the other Stravinsky quotes: “Everybody who makes something new does harm to something old” (1968); “Play a scale in C major metronomically and ask someone else to do the same. The difference in the playing is proof of the presence of personality” (1930); “I have never consciously analyzed any musical situation and I can follow only where my musical appetites lead me” (1968); “Whatever interests me, whatever I love, I wish to make my own (I am probably describing a rare form of kleptomania)” (1962); “Composition begins with an appetite, or taste, for discovery, and the emotion is born after the discovery, following rather than preceding the creative process” (1945); and some ten or twelve more. A group of quotations like this certainly amounts to a principled negation of Schoenbergian aesthetics, whose top-down theoretical principles are the very reverse of Stravinsky’s ad hoc experimentalism. It is fitting then that in this chapter Andriessen and Schönberger include a chart divided into two columns, representing the Stravinskian temperament on one side and the Schoenbergian on the other: Stravinsky reacts against “German romanticism” whereas Schoenberg confided to a student in 1921 that in the twelve-tone method he had “discovered something that will assure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years.” Stravinsky made his name as a composer of ballets while Schoenberg said that ballet is not a musical form. Stravinsky composes almost exclusively at the piano; Schoenberg never composed at the piano. Stravinsky strives for a metronomic strictness bordering on rigidity, where Schoenberg indulges in pliable rubato effects. Invoking Isaiah Berlin’s famous dyad we are told that Stravinsky is a fox while Schoenberg is a hedgehog; and so on. It amounts to a fun, lively set of syntheses of the well-established dichotomy between musical modernism as magpie eclecticism on the one hand and systematic theorizing on the other (a tension which becomes much more dramatic when you consider the difference between two representatives of the succeeding generation, John Cage and Milton Babbitt).

Another chapter in The Apollonian Clockwork is devoted to the importance of “montage” as an organizing principle in Stravinsky’s music. While many writers (Stephen Walsh and Cross come to mind) have discussed its modular, cell-like logic, Andriessen and Schönberger distill the significance of this approach to composition in general: in montage the sum is less than the parts. Unlike collage, which creates an overall effect from a diffuse collection of items, in montage “the contrast between the structurally related elements causes one to seek the identity of the separate elements.” A striking example of this idea is the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, where each chordal item seems to radiate its separateness, both defying and enabling contact with its surrounding elements. Such music arises, as Andriessen and Schönberger put it, from the “coolness of the cutting table and the cunning of the scissors” (and “cutting” might just amount to omission: Robert Craft relates somewhere that Stravinsky often said composition happens “avec le gomme”). The discussion of montage then leads to a digression on Stravinsky’s rather bumpy career as a composer of film music. In the case of his cues for Commandos Strike at Dawn (destined to become 1942’s Four Norwegian Moods) and North Star (which became Scherzo à la russe in 1945, after the scoring gig went to Aaron Copland), the authors claim of these abandoned scores—which Stravinsky referred to as his “aborted film music” in an interview with Craftthat they stand up there with David Raksin’s score for Laura as some of the most enticing music to come out of 1940s Hollywood.

In other chapters, small details set off feats of quirky taxonomy. The mysterious dominant seventh chord which closes the first act of Orpheus leads to an inventory of instances of pandiatoncism in Stravinsky’s music. “Even the most mediocre pianist can play it on the piano,” Andriessen and Schönberger say of the ballet’s gorgeous opening Lento sostenuto. “If he were to, he would notice that he actually only needs half of his instrument—even less than half. Since, except for […] one augmented chord in the winds and one C♯ in the cello everything is white. […] Five-part, slowly sliding chords in the strings in which the ‘white’ notes seem to be freely combined, and the harp weaving the descending Phrygian scale through all of this. […] Changing one single note [would] transform this snow-covered landscape into a mudhole.” Anyone familiar with this opening section of Orpheus would have to agree that the tableau’s concluding dominant seventh chord is a stroke of weird genius. It’s a great example of the kind of inventiveness that can come out of Stravinskian montage: after seventeen bars of translucent “white-key” music, we land on a dominant seventh placed in such a way that he has “discovered the chord again.” For the writers this is not merely a matter of a music shorn of chromaticism but of what they describe as Stravinsky’s practice of forming chords or phrases from “notes that belong to [a given] key but are […] none the less foreign to the chord.”

Stravinsky at the podium in 1929

Stravinsky at the podium in 1929

Indeed, all over Stravinsky’s music, from top to bottom, you find stretches where faint hints of traditional voice leading give way to uncertainty and surprise. It is arguably the defining feature of Stravinskian harmony, the fingerprint that makes all the music of a piece rather than neatly divisible into periods. You find it in the chords of the closing chorale in the Symphonies, in the gently syncopated dance-steps of the final bars of the Octet, in the elliptic fanfares of Jeu de cartes (1936), in the dreamy final movement of 1930’s Symphony of Psalms (see especially the oboe’s high E in the last chord), in the diaphanous “Reste avec nous” vocal part of Perséphone (1933-34), in the piano part of the Symphony in Three Movements (1942-45), in the slightly saccharine cowboy tune that shows up in the middle of Scènes de ballet (1944), in the impacted stacks of notes in the “Russian Dance” in Petrushka (a pandiatonic effect that led Adorno to write dismissively of how its “harmony remains perpetually suspended, defying the gravitation defined by the rungs of the chordal progression”), in the exquisite calm of the “Pas de deux” of Apollon musagète (1927-28). Once you start hearing this harmony running through the whole of Stravinsky’s oeuvre, it follows, as Andriessen and Schönberger put it, that “the distinction commonly made between ‘arrangements’ and ‘original compositions’ is not pertinent.” What they mean, I think, is that any piece of music can pass through the prism of this harmonic fingerprint. It’s why we mostly hear “Stravinsky” in his 1955 arrangement of “Happy Birthday” (Greeting Prelude) or in his 1941 setting of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The public performance of the latter in Boston won the attention of the local police and the text of The Apollonian Clockwork includes the passport photo that became the model for an endlessly reproduced (and apocryphal) “mugshot.” Reflecting on his brush with the authorities the arranger concluded that “my major seventh chord in the second strain of the piece, the part patriotic ladies like best, must have embarrassed some high official.”

Given the authors’ sense that Stravinsky was fundamentally a composer of music about other music, it is not surprising that they refer to his one proper full-length opera The Rake’s Progress as a “portrait of an ‘opera’” (“not an opera, but the opera,” as they put it, bringing to mind the sort of auto-critique in Andriessen’s one-time teacher Luciano Berio’s opera Opera). With characteristic sensitivity to the musically interesting (rather than deflatingly reductive) biographical tidbit, they add that its composition, from 1948-1951, marked the first and last time Stravinsky worked continually for three years on a single piece. The Rake is something of an odd duck in Stravinsky’s corpus as it marks both the culmination and endpoint of a near-thirty year experiment in neoclassicism, begun in Pulcinella, continued a few years later in the opera buffa Mavra (1921-22), then in collaboration with Cocteau on a Latin oratorio Oedipus rex (1926-27), in the all-string orchestra Apollon, and in Perséphone, another oratorio-like hybrid which Elliott Carter called a “a humanist Rite of Spring.” In The Rake’s Progress, the recast classicism takes off most obviously from Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which Stravinsky and his librettist W.H. Auden heard in a two-piano reduction in Hollywood in 1947 as they were settling on the topic of William Hogarth’s 1735 series of engraved tableaux (A Rake’s Progress) depicting an indolent country lad meeting his demise in London. Così was just then experiencing its first flush of popularity and period of reevaluation after being ignored and ridiculed (and worse) for 150 years, and their enthusiasm for this score goes hand-in-hand with the reclamation ethos of Stravinsky’s neoclassical turn.

The Rake's Progress at the Metropolitan Opera. Image © Marty Sohl

The Rake's Progress at the Metropolitan Opera. Image © Marty Sohl

I saw The Rake performed at the Met recently and was struck by the beauty and the essential riddle of the music: it is both an 18th-century “numbers” opera and at the same time utterly and unmistakably Stravinsky. It made crystal clear how neoclassicism is far from any kind of conservatism, rather throwing into relief how new things can be made with old things. (Cross, in a nice phrase, calls this Stravinsky’s ability to “cut himself off from the past while alluding to it.”) One of the odder musical moments in this opera full of oddities, and one that would have fit nicely in Andriessen and Schönberger’s taxonomy of Stravsinkian chord types, comes in the Epilogue. The five principal singers return to the stage and, in a Don Giovanni-like address to the audience, explicate the moral of the fable, which turns out to be something like: the devil finds work for idle hands. In the last two bars, the quintet is left unaccompanied and we hear them sing an A major ninth chord with the fifth doubled an octave above. It’s a fun, splashy pop song chord. Had an F♯ been added between the fifths it would have been one of those sweet major sixths that end many of the early Beatles songs. A chord like that coming at the end of a two-and-half hour work of stringent neoclassicism shows another side to Stravinsky’s very real musical open-mindedness: if he heard something interesting, it made its way in, and he was not above Broadway and Hollywood. And while Andriessen claimed that the analogous final section of his Commedia was inspired by Puccini’s earlier Dante adaptation Gianni Schicchi, its jingle-like children’s chorus may just as easily have derived from those pockets of sugary harmony in The Rake (and in lots of other places in Stravinsky).

As might be expected in a book of constant style shifts and self-conscious formal experiment there are many allusions to literary works from the more ludic end of the spectrum. Twice the authors liken Stravinsky’s music to the Alice books, at one point saying that Stravinsky is like “the Cheshire Cat […] whose grin ‘remained some time after the rest of it had gone.’” At another point they go on a search for the Stravinsky “Aleph,” alluding to the Borges tale where, stashed in a rival poet’s basement, the narrator finds a point “about two or three centimeters in diameter [which] contained universal space.” Is there an Aleph in the Stravinsky universe? A single bar from which the whole of the labyrinth may be glimpsed? Andriessen and Schönberger consider a few different possibilities—the Saraband-step from Agon, a chord from Le roi des étoiles (1911-12), the “Great Choral” from L’histoire du soldat (1918) (my vote would be the concluding chord of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments)—each of which yields a moment of euphoric recognition, only to fade away until the next discovery. In the end they decide there is no totalizing interior reflector hidden in the music; Stravinsky is too mercurial, too transient. There is a further link with Borges The Apollonian Clockwork doesn’t mention: Stravinsky gave the manuscript of the score to Perséphone to Victoria Ocampo, the Argentine littérateur who was Borges’ patron and friend and who published “The Aleph” in the Buenos Aries journal she edited, Sur, in 1945. (Ocampo delivered the spoken word part of the oratorio for its Buenos Aires performance in 1936, and Stravinsky was so pleased with her perfectly modulated French that he asked her to tag along for the rest of the tour.)

There is also a discussion of Vladimir Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, his first novel in English as well as his first to be completed after his arrival in the U.S. in 1940. In it a narrator known only as “V” works on a biography about his novelist half-brother Sebastian, at one point summarizing one of his books, an elaborate send up of an Agatha Christie-style country house murder mystery called The Prismatic Bezel in which “the heroes […] are what can be loosely called ‘methods of composition’” (this sounds reasonably enough to Andriessen and Schönberger like a gloss on Stravinsky’s music). In fact, not enough has been written about the relationship of these two exiled Russians who ended up, by way of Paris, working and living in the U.S., both of whom had a mandarin side tempered by an openness to American popular art—detective fiction in the case of Nabokov, in the case of Stravinsky, jazz. One of the few essays I was able to find comparing them, by Leon Botstein, makes note of the different roles “Russianness” plays in the two artists’ work—lasting but increasingly fantastical in the case of Nabokov; temperamental but fortifying in the case of Stravinsky. Botstein also points out how both men became world famous for complex, subtle works that were nevertheless mostly celebrated for their scandalousness (Le Sacre, Lolita).

The authors’ sense that Stravinsky was receptively open-minded about the musical atmosphere of the U.S. also works inversely, as when they dismiss a certain strain of post-Darmstadt conceptualism that “thought to solve all compositional problems at one stroke through half-finished, indistinguishable piano filigree filled with minor ninths.” Passages like these make vivid the authors’ concern to wrest Stravinsky’s wild inventiveness away from any kind of programmatic European modernism, and to bring it closer to a “let’s try it out” American pragmatism. (Adorno is clearly a target here, so in the grip of a tendentious and reductive Hegelianism that he was capable of hearing in the tumultuous inventiveness of Le Sacre the coming of the Third Reich!) This accounts for The Apollonian Clockwork’s repeated reflections on Stravinsky’s relations with American popular music. They note, for example, how the “chain form” of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” (AABBCCD), with its additive, montage-like song structure and lack of refrain, is “rather like the Sacre.” Elsewhere they recall Stravinsky’s first visit to New York, in 1925, and how he declared that in making piano roll versions of his works he sought to create a “‘lithograph’ [of his playing], a full and permanent record of tone combinations that are beyond my ten poor fingers to perform.”

La Commedia by Louis Andriessen Cristina Zavalloni, Claron McFadden, Jeroen Willems (soloists) Synergy Vocals, Children’s Chorus “de Kickers” of Music School Waterland Asko|Schönberg Reinbert de Leuuw (conductor) (Nonesuch, June 2014)

La Commedia
by Louis Andriessen
Cristina Zavalloni, Claron McFaddenJeroen Willems (soloists)
Synergy VocalsChildren’s Chorus de Kickers of Music School Waterland
Asko|Schönberg
Reinbert de Leuuw (conductor)
(Nonesuch, June 2014)

Stravinsky’s relation to the then-emergent technology of the pianola is a fascinating topic. Consider the instrumentation he had originally planned for Les Noces, before arriving at its familiar garb of four pianos and percussion. It was to be played by four mechanically synced pianolas, making it a first step on the road toward MIDI, the computer music interface first unveiled in the 1980s that allows different instruments to play together via a sort of digital lingua franca. His 1917 Étude pour pianola—which he said was inspired by the “rattletrap orchestrinas” he heard in the streets of Madrid—was among the first pieces to be composed exclusively for pianola. (Before there was Conlon Nancarrow, there was Stravinsky!) A sometimes perversely counter-intuitive colorist, Stravinsky was drawn to the pianola’s timbre, which he said “compares with the glossy, emulsified ‘tone’ of the Chopin recitalist’s Steinway somewhat as a Model-T Ford compares with a six-door Cadillac.” (One suspects he was also drawn to the instrument because of the possibility it offered for bypassing temperamental human performers.) Andriessen and Schönberger end the chapter with a Stravinsky quote taken from a gramophone record, “J’estime que le phonographe est actuellement le meilleur instrument de transmission de la pensée des maîtres de la musique moderne” [“I believe the phonograph is actually the best means of communicating the ideas of the masters of modern music”]. Stravinsky’s composerly (rather than merely commercial) interest in phonography finds an analogue in Andriessen’s off-kilter piece for violin and piano, Disco, composed the year The Apollonian Clockwork came out: a composer’s note accompanying the piece begins: “Disco is a poorly rotating disc…”

In another chapter the authors imagine a “young musician who, as an experiment, listens to Britten’s War Requiem after a long night spent with a lot of Talking Heads, David Bowie, the Police and perhaps too much beer.” Andriessen and Schönberger conjecture that in this thought experiment it is unlikely that such a musician will respond to the Britten by saying: “this is it.” But Le Sacre might be another story, since “seventy years after its creation, [it] is still so potent that it can give someone who is hearing it for the first time the feeling that […] his ideas about music are being turned topsy-turvy.” The comments about the pianola as a multi-tracking machine for creating music impossible for humans to play; the phonograph record as ideal medium for realizing and transmitting music; and the thought experiment of the young composer drunk on Ghost in the Machine, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), Remain in Light (this was 1982, after all), Le Sacre, and beer: all lead to the question of how, precisely, we ought to understand Stravinskian montage in relation to multi-track digital sequencing and editing. IRCAM has surely been one attempt at following that path, but at the same time post-serial Boulezian rationalism seems very far from the sort of genealogy sketched in these examples. Closer maybe are gonzo overdub records like Zappa’s Uncle Meat (1969), or more recently, Tyondai Braxton’s Central Market (2009), which sounds like a ProTools Petrushka.

The American dimension of Stravinsky’s art of course cannot be reduced to a simple catalog of his borrowings from ragtime, jazz, Broadway, and film, or for that matter his contracts with American pianola companies like Aeolian and its subsidiary Duo-Art Reproducing Piano. Another consequence of his influence is the way his neoclassical style led to an “American Stravinsky” school. Irving Fine, Arthur Berger, and to some extent Aaron Copland all incorporated Stravinskian touches into their music. But the most plainly epigonal of the American Stravinskians was Harold Shapero. To be fair, the nineteen year-old Shapero was at Harvard during the 1939-1940 term, when Stravinsky was the Norton Professor, and the star-struck teen showed him his Nine Minute Overture (written under the guidance of Walter Piston). Shapero’s Symphony for Classical Orchestra (1947) is indeed a very studious portrait of pandiatonicism in the neoclassical mode. After some complimentary remarks about Shapero’s musical imagination Copland said of the piece that there was nevertheless “something baffling” about it, since he heard in it a young composer who “seems to feel a compulsion to fashion his music after some great model” and who “seems to be suffering from a hero-worship complex.” In a chapter “On Influence” The Apollonian Clockwork tells us that Shapero’s neoclassical mirror music is “how Beethoven would have composed had he known Stravinsky,” adding mischievously in parentheses: “(one hears Shapero thinking).” Of Irving Fine’s Partita for woodwind quintet (which sounds a lot like the opening section of Dumbarton Oaks, from 1937-38) Andriessen and Schönberger say that listening to it is “a kind of illicit joy for the Stravinsky-lover: the right notes, flashy harmony, clever time-signatures.”

Stravinsky's "signature": the image he drew when asked to render his music visually

Stravinsky's "signature": the image he drew when asked to render his music visually

And yet, in concluding the chapter they note that saying that a piece of music sounds like Stravinsky does not say much since “a genuine Stravinsky school cannot, by definition, exist, since Stravinsky’s music has not yielded a musical system that other composers can use.” That is an interesting admission from Andriessen, who has at different moments in his own music taken the music-about-music premise in Stravinsky and radicalized it, giving the older composer a taste of his own medicine. Is Andriessen’s music “about” Stravinsky in ways comparable to the way The Apollonian Clockwork is about Stravinsky? Does musicological immersion in the work of another composer lead to ideas for one’s own work? By what hermetic alchemy does a piece cease to be an exercise in pastiche and become uniquely expressive of its own norms and laws? Does the intervallic fingerprinting of pandiatocism or certain timbral tics—say, the way Andriessen’s De Materie seems an extrapolation of the chroma bells of Les noces or Requiem Canticles (“there are bells for marriage and bells for death,” the authors say)lead to just more Stravinsky music? Do composers like Stravinsky and Andriessen make such questions seem beside the point? Maybe. In any case, all these questions are versions of the arrangement-composition continuum proposed in The Apollonian Clockwork.

The interesting thing about a game is that it has rules, and in the game of music the stricter the rules, the freer the composer, no matter whether it is an ABABCBB song structure or the most diabolic contortions of serialism. This is, I take it, one way to understand what is meant by “Apollonian”: Apollo, god of rules, order, measure. (Though it also occurred to me that A&S nod with their title to one of the first book-length studies of Stravinsky’s music, Eric Walter White’s Stravinsky’s Sacrifice to Apollo, published in 1930 through Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press.) Stravinsky, committed anti-Wagnerian, exacerbates a distinction made by that most famous (albeit belated) anti-Wagnerian, Nietzsche, who thought the great distinction of Greek theatre—tempering the truth of Dionysian chaos with just the right dose of Apollonian order—went south after Socrates arrived on the scene and replaced the mystique of tragedy with pedantic Q&A. Stravinsky’s rule-driven musical discoveries are importantly different from serialism, the latter of which takes Wagnerian chromaticism to extremes of tonal egalitarianism. Pandiatonicism is differently freeing: it levels the playing field so that any kind of chord can show up at any point, but it doesn’t liberate tonality so radically that the ear becomes unmoored. Stravinsky remained an instinctive composer, he never lost trust in his ear, and only when serialism became “history” did he take any interest in it, as he did so brilliantly in his late masterpiece Agon, composed in the years following Schoenberg’s death. Perhaps as a corrective antidote to Adorno’s schoolmasterly scold that Stravinsky was an “infantilismus,” Andriessen and Schönberger tell us that Stravinsky’s art is “childlike”: playful, curious, witty, whimsical. The same could be said of The Apollonian Clockwork, which as major a figure in the study of Stravinsky’s music as Richard Taruskin called the “one book about Stravinsky Stravinsky would have liked.”


Paul Grimstad’s songs and original scores are featured most recently in the films Heaven Knows What, Happy Christmas, and Tired Moonlight. His writing has appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, the London Review of Books, n+1, and other journals and magazines.