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Top Five Critiques of Stravinsky

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This season’s Mostly Mozart festival at Lincoln Center doesn’t just celebrate its eponymous figure. It brings an almost equal emphasis to the career of Igor Stravinsky. Though Stravinsky often praised Mozart, the 20th-century Russian was rarely compared to his 18th-century counterpart during his life.

Critics often hated on Stravinsky. As such, we’ve culled Nicolas Slonimsky’s book Lexicon of Musical Invective for the five top written critiques of Stravinsky. We can only imagine people said even worse.

1. “It is probably that much, if not most, of Stravinsky’s music will enjoy brief existence…Already the tremendous impact of Le Sacre du Printemps has disappeared, and what seemed at the first hearing to be inspirational fire is now only a smoldering ember.”

W.J. Henderson writing with the benefit of hindsight in the New York Sun in January 1937, 24 years after the premiere of The Rite of Springs caused riots in the streets of Paris.

2. “I had no idea Stravinsky disliked Debussy so much as this. If my own memories of a friend were as painful as Stravinsky’s of Debussy seem to be, I would try to forget him.”

Ernest Newman reviewing the Symphony for Wind Instruments, written in memory of Claude Debussy, for Musical Times, July 1921.

3. “The first [piece] provides a capital imitation of a bagpipe, which reiterates a scrap of melody … Then something abruptly goes wrong with the bagpipe and the thing stops … Some doleful and very uncomfortable sounds introduce the circus clown; then some light skipping ones; the sadness again and some queer feline squeaks.”

Herbert F. Peyser reviewing the Flozaley Quartet’s performance of Three Pieces in Musical America, December 4, 1915.

4. “[Petrushka] is but a disjointed series of funny sounds, squeaks and squawks, imitations of wheezy hand organ and hurdy-gurdy, grunting snatches of tune from a bassoon, clatterings of a xylophone and whirring noises. If we must have music of this kind in the concert-room let us by all means also have moving pictures to explain it.”

H.E. Krehbiel writing the article titled, “Symphony presents Concert Marred by Burlesque—Petrushka, Played Without Choreographic Setting, Introducing Buffoonery into Pleasing Program,” in the New York Tribune, February 5, 1923.

5. “The History of a Soldier is tenth-rate Stravinsky. It is probably the nearest that any composer of consequence has ever come to achieving almost complete infantilism … Regarded as a sort of musical comic strip, it is abysmally inferior, in wit, comedic power, and salience of characterization, to Mr. Herriman’s ‘Krazy Kat,’ for instance.”

Lawrence Gilman in the New York Herald Tribune, March 26, 1928