Multiple Masks: Neoclassicism in Stravinsky's Works on Greek Subjects

Multiple Masks: Neoclassicism in Stravinsky's Works on Greek Subjects

Multiple Masks: Neoclassicism in Stravinsky's Works on Greek Subjects

Multiple Masks: Neoclassicism in Stravinsky's Works on Greek Subjects


In Multiple Masks, Maureen A. Carr studies Igor Stravinsky's creative process for Oedipus Rex, Apollo, Perséphone, and Orpheus through his musical sketches and other documents--scenarios, librettos, correspondence, reviews, and philosophical commentaries, as well as previously uncited sources for Stravinsky's book Poetics of Music. A clear explanation of Stravinsky's compositional techniques within a broad cultural context emerges for each of these four significant works. Carr concludes that Stravinsky used Greek myths as filters for certain poetic ideas and musical techniques that he developed in his earlier works. At the same time the mythological story lines provided him with the objective stance that he was seeking in these neoclassical works.


The main thesis of this book is that Igor Stravinsky used the musical, literary, philosophical, and artistic sources for his dramatic works on Greek subjects as “multiple masks” for covering up the modus operandi that is characteristic of his earlier works. the phenomenon of “mask” with regard to Stravinsky’s neoclassicism is not unique to this book. Leonard Bernstein used the same term to describe Stravinsky’s neoclassicism in one of his lectures given at Harvard in 1973.

In this lecture, Bernstein asks how it is possible for Stravinsky’s neoclassical works to express “some of the strongest emotional statements ever made in music: pride, submission, tenderness, the fear of death and the love of God. How is this possible, especially in his neoclassic music, which is the extreme case, the very model of that objectivity, that obliquity, that mask we have come to know so well?” Bernstein considers this to be “the great aesthetic question of our time, the one question that must be answered before we can understand the real significance of Oedipus Rex.” This is precisely the question that this book attempts to answer, not only for Oedipus Rex but for all of Stravinsky’s dramatic works on Greek subjects.

Bernstein’s notion of Stravinsky’s objectivity as a mask can be taken one step further and related to Eliot’s definition of the “objective correlative” in his essay on “Hamlet and His Problems.” According to Eliot, Hamlet’s problem was the “absence of [an] objective equivalent.” For Stravinsky the “objective equivalent” can be thought of as existing in many different dimensions, but especially between the dramatic and musical parameters of these works. Stravinsky uses the dramatic as a mask for the musical, and vice versa, depending upon the balance he is trying to achieve. the objective stance that Stravinsky assumes in these works is also related to the Nietzschean opposition between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, and in Stravinsky’s neoclassical works, to the triumph of the Apollonian over the Dionysian.

The metaphor of “multiple masks” is also present in the Bernstein lecture in reference to passages from T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” in Bernstein’s interpretation, “the threnody is sung through the mask of a seamy-elegant life style. … We are now hiding behind the mask of once directly expressed emotion. That is the beginning of neoclassicism.” Nietzsche’s metaphor of “the multiplicity and craftiness of masks” applies so appropriately to neoclassicism both in Eliot and Stravinsky. Stravinsky uses many masks, and he is clever in the various disguises . . .

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