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TitleConversations With Igor Stravinsky
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS and thanks are due to Madame de Tinan for permission to reprint letters by
Claude Debussy; to Madame Jacques Rivière for letters by Jacques Rivière; to Monsieur Edouard Ravel for
letters by Maurice Ravel; and to Harold Ober Associates, Incorporated, and the Dylan Thomas Estate for
letters by Dylan Thomas, copyright copy; 1953 by Dylan Thomas.


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December 19, 1914


It's settled: you come and sleep (uncomfortably) in the lumber room, which was the bedroom of my
brother, and which was transformed into a Persian room for you. But come quickly, otherwise you will
not find me here any more. I will be working as a driver. It was the only means for me to get to the city,
where I had to see Daphnis et Chloe. You don't give me news from your brother. I hope he is
completely recovered. Try to hasten your arrival.

Our affectionate thoughts to you.



January 2, 1915

Ainsi, vieux. Everything was prepared to give you, our ally, a proper welcome. The Persian room with
voiles from Genoa, prints from Japan, toys from China, in short a synthesis of the "Russian Season."
Yes, there was even a mechanical Nightingale -- and you are not coming. . . . Ah, the caprice of the
Slav! Is it thanks to this caprice that I received a note from Szántó*, who is delighted to know that I will
be in Switzerland at the end of January? I wrote you that I will soon go away, but I doubt that they will
send me in your direction.
I wait for news from your brother and from you and all your family. Meanwhile, accept all our
affectionate wishes for the New Year (New Style).



September 16,

Dear Igor,

I am heartbroken that I did not see you. Why didn't you phone Durand**They would have given you
my address and my telephone number (Saint Cloud 2.33). Well, I hope to meet you soon, perhaps even
in Morges, because I will try to go there to see my uncle before the end of the fall. I continue to do
nothing. I am probably empty. Give me your news soon and if you go through Paris again try to be a
little bit cleverer and do a little better.

To everybody my affectionate greetings, MAURICE RAVEL
*Pianist and composer, acquaintance of all of us, he made a piano transcription of the Chinese March in my Nightingale.
**The publishers.

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June 26, 1923

Dear Igor,

Your Noces are marvellous! And I regret that I couldn't hear and see more performances of them. But it
seemed already unwise to come the other evening; my foot was again very swollen and I now have to
go back and rest again until next Sunday at least. Thank you, mon vieux,

Affectionately, MAURICE RAVEL


R.C. What do you recall of Erik Satie?

I.S. He was certainly the oddest person I have ever known, but the most rare and consistently witty
person too. I had a great liking for him, and he appreciated my friendliness, I think, and liked me in
return. With his pince-nez, umbrella, and galoshes he looked a perfect schoolmaster, but he looked just
as much like one without these accouterments. He spoke very softly, hardly opening his mouth, but he
delivered each word in an inimitable, precise way. His handwriting recalls his speech to me: it is exact,
drawn. His manuscripts were like him also, which is to say, as the French say, fin. No one ever saw him
wash-he had a horror of soap. Instead he was forever rubbing his fingers with pumice. He was always
very poor, poor by conviction, I think. He lived in a poor section and his neighbors seemed to
appreciate his coming among them: he was greatly respected by them. His apartment was also very
poor. It did not have a bed but only a hammock. In winter Satie would fill bottles with hot water and put
them flat in a row underneath his hammock. It looked like some strange kind of marimba. I remember
once when someone had promised him some money he replied: "Monsieur, what you have said did not
fall on a deaf ear."

His sarcasm depended on French classic usages. The first time I heard Socrate, at a séance where he
played it for a few of us, he turned around at the end and said in perfect bourgeoisie, "Voila, messieurs,
I met him in 1913, I believe; at any rate, I photographed him with Debussy in that year. Debussy
introduced him to me and Debussy "protected" and remained a good friend to him. In those early years
he played many of his compositions for me at the piano. (I don't think he knew much about instruments
and I prefer Socrate as he played it to the clumsy orchestra score.) I always thought them literarily
limited. The titles are literary, and whereas Klee's titles are literary, they do not limit the painting; Satie's
do, I think, and they are very much less amusing the second time. But the trouble with Socrate is that it
is metrically boring. Who can stand that much regularity? All the same, the music of Socrates' death is
touching and dignifying in a unique way. Satie's own sudden and mysterious death-shortly after
Socrate-touched me too. He had been turned towards religion near the end of his life and he started
going to Communion. I saw him after church one morning, and he said in that extraordinary manner of
his: "Alors, j'ai un peu communiqué ce matin." He became ill very suddenly and died quickly and

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an evolution we do not yet see, for us this doesn't matter. Its resources have enlarged the present
language and changed our perspective in it. Developments in language are not easily abandoned, and
the composer who fails to take account of them may lose the mainstream. Masterpieces aside, it seems
to me the new music will be serial.


R.C. Will you offer any cautions to young composers?

I.S. A composer is or isn't; he cannot learn to acquire the gift that makes him one, and whether he has it
or not, in either case, he will not need anything I can tell him. The composer will know that he is one if
composition creates exact appetites in him and if in satisfying them he is aware of their exact limits.
Similarly, he will know he is not one if he has only a "desire to compose" or "wish to express himself in
music." These appetites determine weight and size. They are more than manifestations of personality,
are in fact indispensable human measurements. In much new music, however, we do not feel these
dimensions, which is why it seems to "flee music," to touch it and rush away, like the mujik who, when
asked what he would do if he was made Tsar, said, "I would steal one hundred roubles and run as fast as
I can."

I would warn young composers too, Americans especially, against university teaching. However
pleasant and profitable to teach counterpoint at a rich American Gymnasium like Smith or Vassar, I am
not sure that that is the right background for a composer. The numerous young people on university
faculties who write music and who fail to develop into composers cannot blame their university careers,
of course, and there is no pattern for the real composer, anyway. The point is, however, that teaching is
academic (Webster: "Literary . . . rather than technical or professional . . . Conforming to . . . rules . . .
conventional . . . Theoretical and not expected to produce . . . a practical result"), which means that it
may not be the right contrast for a composer's noncomposing time. The real composer thinks about his
work the whole time; he is not always conscious of this but he is aware of it later, when he suddenly
knows what he will do.

R.C. Do you allow that some of the new "experimental" composers might be going "too far?"

I.S. "Experiment" means something in the sciences; it means nothing at all in musical composition. No
good musical composition could be merely "experimental"; it is music or it isn't. It must be heard and
judged like any other. A successful "experiment" in musical composition would be as great a failure as
an unsuccessful one, if it were no more than an experiment. But in your question, the question that
interests me is the one which implies the drawing of lines: "Thus far and no farther; beyond this point
music cannot go." I suppose psychology has studied the effects of various types of challenges on
various groups and I suppose it knows what are normal responses and when they occur -- in this case,
when one begins to seek defense from new ideas and to rationalize them away. I have no information
about this. But, I have all around me the spectacle of composers who, after their generation has had its
decade of influence and fashion, seal themselves off from further development and from the next

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(As I say this, exceptions come to mind -- Krenek, for instance.) Of course, it requires greater effort to
learn from one's juniors, and their manners are not invariably good. But when you are seventy-five and
your generation has overlapped with four younger ones, it behooves you not to decide in advance "how
far composers can go," but to try to discover whatever new thing it is makes the new generation new.

The very people who have done the breaking through are themselves often the first to try to put a scab
on their achievement. What fear tells them to cry halt? What security do they seek, and how can it be
secure if it is limited? How can they forget that they once fought against what they have become?

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