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Igor Stravinsky and Disdain for Orchestra Conductors

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Igor Stravinsky and Disdain for Orchestra Conductors essay

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Some people are very skilled at appearing much more proficient at what they do than how qualified they are in reality. From athletes to singers, some people are even able to make a living off of appearing talented even if they lack any talent. Famed composer Igor Stravinsky details this phenomenon by his criticisms of orchestra conductors, who in his eyes lack any actual musical prowess. Through his usage of detail and diction Stravinsky illustrates his annoyance towards orchestra conductors and their outward appearance of false competence.

Stravinsky’s use of detail shows his disdain towards orchestra conductors. For example, he begins his tirade by saying, “conducting, like politics, rarely attracts original minds”. Stravinsky likens conducting to being involved in politics, which he uses as an example since both conducting and politics are both roles where more effort is spent into looking good rather than being innovative or doing anything of significance. Inevitably, Stravinsky claims, no innovation is achieved in conducting much like no major changes are ever achieved in politics. Furthermore, Stravinsky states that, “’great’ conductors, like ‘great’ actors, are unable to play anything but themselves”. Like an actor portraying a musician, composers lack any actual musical talent despite acting like they do. By not being competent at music, conductors can only act like they are more important than they actually are to the orchestra. Finally, Stravinsky states that, “being unable to adapt themselves to their work, they adapt the work, to their ‘style’, their mannerisms”. Due to lacking any musical talent, composers essentially act however they wish and claim it is their “style” of conducting. Detail in the passage displays Stravinsky’s contempt for conductors.

Stravinsky criticizes orchestra conductors in this passage with his usage of diction. Stravinsky first claims that, “The successful conductor can be an incomplete musician but he must be a compleat angler”. This parallel to the sport of fishing suggests that conductors are far better at “hooking” their audience than they are at actually playing music. This shows that conductors compensate, not by becoming better at music, but by making the audience believe they are better at music. Stravinsky describes the job of conducting as an “ego disease”. The job of orchestra conducting, a “disease”, infects everyone exposed to it, from the conductor who believes he is far more important than he actually is, to the audience who is drawn to believe likewise. The infectious nature of an “ego disease” leads to the perpetration of the idea that orchestra conductors are important as the idea infects more and more people. Stravinsky finally describes the position of orchestra conductor as a “purely egotistical, false, and arbitrary authority”. The strong language asserts Stravinsky’s conclusion that the conductors are driven not by musical talent but by their own ego. By describing them as egotistical, false, and arbitrary, Stravinsky concludes that conductors have no other purpose than to stand between the orchestra and the audience and look like the most important person in the room. Stravinsky’s use of diction expresses his utter dislike of conductors.

Through detail and diction Stravinsky shows his frustration in conductors being more skilled than they actually are in reality. As a composer, Stravinsky is typically overshadowed by the actual performers, and more so, the conductor. The conductor, lacking any of his own musical talent, warps composers’ like Stravinsky’s music to fit his purported style and ultimately takes the majority of the credit. However, in his field, this does not necessarily mean that the conductor is any good talent-wise. Therefore, it would probably be best to take Stravinsky’s advice: “If you are able [to hear], you had better not go to the concert”.

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