Stravinsky’s “Funeral Song” Explained

A few interesting tidbits that didn’t make the cut:

  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was like a second father to Stravinsky, who studied with NRK from the ages of 22-26. During that period, Stravinsky’s actual father died, but it was his teacher’s death that inspired the composition of the Chant funèbre.
  • Prior to December 2, 2016, the only time this work had ever been performed was in 1908. It was performed by the private orchestra of a Russian count.
  • In the video I pointed out that Stravinsky pits a modal melody against a chromatic counterpoint, but I didn’t make explicit the connection between this and Stravinsky’s later work: a major innovation in Stravinsky’s music was the simultaneous appearance of two different styles/keys/tempi. Think of the bitonal “Petrushka chord” (C major and F# major sounding together), or the many discreet tempos that overlap in that ballet.
  • The woman who is chatting with her neighbor during the first minute later goes on to check her cell phone, yawn, and strike up several more conversations with the man in the t-shirt (!). She is the worst.

Music, Symbol, Self

What a peculiar thing is music. Sounds, crudely produced and organized into patterns, can beget in us passions that move our bodies and stir our souls. Buzz a lip upon a brass tube and we imagine ourselves conquering heroes. Tap a wooden stick on a stretched skin and we’re agents of war. Scratch horse hair across a gut string and our hearts melt.

Our selves — the series of chemical reactions that take place in the mushy gray matter floating in our skulls — are a process of development and change. We are neither good nor bad; we are endless potentiality.

Art is the direct line to our selves. It is the realm of symbols: sounds, words, images, movements, personas. If we undervalue the power of symbols on our selves, we place our selves and our society in peril.

Now, more than ever, we need great art and great artists.