Stravinsky Retrospectives

By Ethan Haimo; Paul Johnson | Go to book overview

Stravinsky's "FORTUNATE CONTINUITIES" AND "LEGITIMATE ACCIDENTS," 1882-1982

WILLAM AUSTIN | Cornell University

Are continuities and accidents opposites?

Poetique musicale, the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures delivered in 1939 -- 40, published in French 1942; the translation by Ingolf Dahl and Arthur Knodel appeared separately in 1947. as Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons; with a preface by Darius Milhaud this translation was reprinted in 1956 and thereafter ( New York: Vintage Press). The bilingual edition, with French and English on facing pages, had a new preface, by George Seferis; it appeared in 1970 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press). Page 92 in the 1970 edition is the source of the quotation here. Further references to follow will be identified by page numbers for the same edition (in parentheses in the text).

The adjectives that Stravinsky applies to them suggest an intimate relationship, maybe like yin and yang: "fortunate continuities" and "legitimate accidents." In his Poetics of Music1 he goes a little beyond mere suggestion. He stimulates me to try exploring his idea, to apply it tentatively to his own life and works, and to their reception and interpretation so far, sometimes to turn it against one or another of his polemical thoughts, in order to clear a path for other people in accordance with their own varying knowledge and interests. First, let me summarize Stravinsky's own context for the terms I have picked out.

In parentheses I must acknowledge that the Poetics owes much of its wording and some of its ideas to Roland-Manuel, Pierre Suvchinsky, Paul Valéry, and even Jean Cocteau, along with other thinkers whose contributions have not yet been traced. It would be wonderful to discover Roland-Manuel's notes or drafts. Short of that, it will be wonderful some day to study the books and clippings in Stravinsky's archive, with their marginalia, which not even Robert Craft has yet surveyed. Eventually there will be a better context than anyone can have today for understanding Stravinsky's mind. But now it is permissible, I think, to call the text of the Poetics Stravinsky own context for the terms "continuities' and "accidents."

In the fourth lesson of the six that compose the Poetics, Stravinsky announces his wish to "establish a picture in perspective, a stereoscopic view of the history of my art" (p. 88). He proposes to contribute something toward the "examination of the problem of style" (p. 90). He begins with Mozart and Haydn, whose similarities and differences are both familiar to his listeners, he presumes.

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