Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hearing, Listening, and Ducks: Tracking Down the Source

Yesterday I wrote about my frustration with Google in trying to track down the source of an often cited quote by Igor Stravinsky:
To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.
This morning it occurred to be that a source of that frustration may have been my decision to use Google, rather than Google Scholar; but it turned out that this purported “scholarly tool” was even less useful than “mainstream” Google. As a result, my only recourse was to follow through on the promise I made to go over to the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) in search of Stephen Walsh’s book, Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America, 1934–1971. As is frequently the case with scholarship (at least as I was trained to practice it, realizing that it may well be pretty much a lost art by now), this turned out to be a good-news-bad-news affair. Fortunately, the good news significantly outweighed the bad.

Before getting into the specifics, however, I need to observe that being directed to Walsh’s book turned out to be a matter of dumb luck. For those who did not follow yesterday’s narrative, I only learned about it when I added “Craft” to the search keys for the online SFPL catalog, assuming that the text came from one of the many conversations that Stravinsky had with Robert Craft that were subsequently transcribed and published. In fact Craft had nothing to do in this particular case; but, because Walsh’s book is so thorough, Craft’s name appears in it with great frequency!

The text actually came about thanks to Deborah Ishlon, publicity director for Columbia Records. Columbia saw Stravinsky as a “property” and was determined to have him direct, or at least supervise, the recording of all of his compositions. This resulted in a fancy box of vinyls entitled Igor Stravinsky 1882–1971: The Edition (a rather arrogant subtitle, when you think of it, particularly since it was far from complete), which eventually found its way to a 22-CD collection. This was followed in October of 2015 by a 57-CD box set entitled Igor Stravinsky: The Complete Columbia Album Collection. Both of these were notorious for prioritizing the visual over the auditory; and there have been sources that have suggested that Columbia’s treatment of Stravinsky was pretty much on the same level as how the label handled Thelonious Monk … a road paved with good intentions that led you-know-where!

The good news was that Ishlon was also interested in capturing Stravinsky’s thoughts about making music. Thus, according to Walsh, she ended up tape recording a conversation of her own with Stravinsky (without any appearance of Robert Craft). Walsh observed that Stravinsky probably informed Ishlon in advance of the questions he wanted to answer. Nevertheless, Walsh was struck that the text consisted entirely of Stravinsky speaking English, in contrast to the Poetics of Music lectures he had given at Harvard, which had to be translated.

According to the footnote that Walsh provided, the transcript of Stravinsky’s encounter with Ishlon now resides at the Paul Sacher Stiftung (foundation) in Basle. It is unclear just how long this document is, but Walsh’s book reproduces six paragraphs. These are worth reading in their entirety, at least for my own benefit, if not for the curiosity of others:
To be a good listener you must acquire a musical culture, as in literature. You must be familiar with the history and development of music, you must listen. The person with the subscription ticket for concerts, he is not necessarily a musically cultured person. He is musical only because the music is performed in front of him. To receive music you have to open the ears and wait, not for Godot, but for the music; you must feel that it is something you need. Some let the ear be present and they make no effort to understand. To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.

The larger the audience, the worse. I have never attached much importance to the collective mind and collective opinion. You can imagine what collective opinion looks like. Especially in America, they like to speak and work with masses. But music is not a moral activity, to render the masses more happy. Music cannot deal with such things. Music never was for the masses. I am not against masses. But please do not confuse the value of the music which is addressed from ear to ear with the value of music addressed from one ear to a million ears. That doesn’t mean for millions, but for each of the millions. Don’t make the mistake of merely multiplying.

No audiences are good anywhere, but the major level, the best musical level, is that of the Germans. They have a higher level of listeners because of their musical history and musical culture. You can think how it was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The people who listened to music were much more learned; music was for them a language which they knew well. They knew not only by passive listening but by active playing. Everybody played—harpsichords, organs, flutes, violins. They had the habit of music played with their own hands, not only by ears. Now we hear music by the gramophone. This gives maybe more people a connection with music, but the result is not the same because the passive is not the active.

Accustomcy to music is a fact with which we have to count. We think that very difficult works like all the last works of Beethoven are better understood now. No, people are simply more accustomed to them. It isn’t that they understand better. People are not shocked by dissonances. Otherwise, why should we write them? And shocking really means striking. To be merely shocking is vulgar. It could not be the legal goal merely to be shocking. Music should be striking.

A composer thinks about the audience, but not primarily. If you think about audience, you don’t think about your work. You think about a reaction which will come from certain things. If the audience is yourself, that is quite different. To be yourself the audience is difficult; it is difficult to multiply yourself. To become an audience by imaginary multiplication does not give you new value.

Where is music going? How can we see the direction? Even going very high we can see very little. The higher we go, the less we see, because we are far away. If we are very close we see only a part of the mountain. We can judge about some facts. But to draw a conclusion is another thing. We can never be absolutely right.
That pretty much covers the good news side of the day’s efforts.

However, Walsh’s footnote also specified that a “substantial excerpt” of this text was included in Memories and Commentaries, a book published by Faber and Faber in 2002 that lists both Stravinsky and Craft as authors (in that order). This is basically a “greatest hits” volume of material that had first appeared in the five books that Craft compiled based on his conversations with Stravinsky: Conversations with Igor Stravinsky (1958), Memories and Commentaries (1960), Expositions and Developments (1962), Dialogues (1982), and Themes and Conclusion (1972). Note that the title Memories and Commentaries appears twice, each identified by a different abbreviation in Walsh’s bibliography. The abbreviation in Walsh’s footnote refers to the 2002 edition, but the page number he provides makes no sense. Unfortunately, that was the volume I found on the shelf at the San Francisco Public Library. I now have the card catalog number for the 1960 volume and will have to make another trip to find it (hopefully without having to walk through the rain)! Meanwhile, having the larger body of text that was excerpted for inclusion in Memories and Commentaries is definitely a step in the right direction!

1 comment:

Stephen Smoliar said...

This seemed to be the right place to add a postscript, having just returned from the San Francisco Public Library. The 1960 volume was where it should be. I checked both the page that Walsh had given in his footnote, as well as variety of terms for the book's index. No ducks were to be found during the process of this search, nor anything else related to the distinction between hearing and listening.