As wave succeeded wave during the 1960s and early 1970s, some composers retained, or reacquired, the ability to stay firmly on their own paths. And where stability in the 1950s had been a strategy of avoiding the freeing of music (a strategy imposed on composers in eastern Europe, chosen by others elsewhere), now the terms were changed, and stability began to become a mechanism of creative survival in the face of the meaningless alteration of fashion. This was a hinge moment, between the era when composers summoned themselves and each other to extend and develop music's possibilities, and the time, beginning in the late 1970s, when the programme began to become more one of self-discovery, of finding an individual music.
It was also a critical time for the concept of the great composer. If to be a composer is to be in search of an individual music, then composers cease to be comparable, and notions of greatness, of historical importance, become groundless. Among the composers considered below, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and Messiaen were perhaps the last to whom the words 'great composer' can be applied without doubt, wariness or embarrassment: they fulfilled the criteria in terms not only of achievement (which can never be demonstrated) but of influence and acclaim (which can be). The case of Barraqué is crucial in the history of the great composer. 'I know', he wrote, 'that today there is room for only one great musician.'1 He composed in that conviction, in the conviction that greatness was required of him. But he composed in the conviction too that greatness now would have to be besieged, dangerous, going into extinction.
With the dispersal of the avant-garde endeavour in the mid- 1960s, musical history as a history of progress seemed to come to an end, and for some composers the death of music became the only subject. In the case of composers themselves nearing death, there were obviously also immediate personal reasons for writing about it. To Messiaen it was not a problem: death was the gate to the afterlife, to which he looked forward jubilantly in his music, particularly his late music. Stravinsky's late works stay rather with those on earth, in ceremonies of mourning and memorial,____________________