Esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky and stage fright

microphone Humans are a most adaptable creature. We are constantly encountering new people and new activities; and without missing a beat able to continue about our daily routines. We sample new foods, travel to exotic places, replace old ideas for new, and exchange banter with total strangers. However, in spite of our adaptable behavior, though not always willingly, there is one activity that can make the strongest of persons weak in the knees, terrify the boldest of souls, and mortify the most valiant . No, it is not a ride on a roller coaster or parachuting out of a plane, but simply the mundane task of public speaking.

For some, standing before an audience, regardless of the group’s size; be it on a grand scale as in an auditorium or an intimate gathering of a handful of colleagues, speaking before others can suddenly be converted into a most terrifying experience. And even though there are techniques designed to set these fears aside; even with the color coded notes cards prepared, the power point slides that are waving across the screen, and the overly practiced presentations before a spouse, these so called “tricks of the trade” are still not enough to keep at bay the heightened heart beat, dry mouth, and urgent need to melt into ones shoes and wishfully disappear from sight.

It is rumored that even some of our greatest leaders and entertainers suffered from stage fright, which makes us ponder this notion. Does it help one feel less hungry knowing that there are other patrons equally as famished when you are waiting to be served in a crowded restaurant? So, when you are advised to take a deep breath because even Winston Churchill was so frightened in his early career that he froze up when delivering a memorized speech before Parliament… you may momentarily feel better with the fact that you are in good company, but as you stand before the silent audience it is your wobbling stomach and dumbfounded brain that needs to be reminded!

igor_stravinsky 2 Today’s post reintroduces the esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky, Russian born composer (1882) who brought modernism to the world of music in the early 20th century. As a gifted musician, his compositions ranged from vocal and instrumental pieces, ballet, cantata, to Neoclassical works, oratorio and sacred music. When World War II broke out, Stravinsky fled Europe and came to the United States, where he settled in California, eventually becoming an American citizen in 1940. His influence in music continues to reign today long after his death in 1971 .

I now bring you the composed words from Mr. Stravinsky’s autobiography titled, An Autobiography. Though I have assembled just a few bars and set aside them for your pleasure; they will surely be most enjoyable…

“… While learning by heart the piano part of my Concerto, I had simultaneously to accustom myself to keep in mind and hear the various parts of the orchestra, so that my attention should not be distracted while I was playing. For a novice like myself this was hard work, to which I had to devote many hours every day.

My first public performance of the Concerto took place at the Paris Opera on May 22 at a Koussevitzky concert, after I had played it a week earlier to an intimate gathering at the Princess de Polignac’s with Jean Wiener playing the accompaniment on a piano.

At the beginning of my career as a piano soloist I naturally suffered from stage fright, and for a long time I had a good deal of difficulty in overcoming it. It was only by habit and sustained effort that I managed, in time, to master my nerves and so to withstand one of the most distressing sensations that I know. In analyzing the cause of this stage fright, I have come to the conclusion that it is chiefly due to fear of a lapse of memory or of some distraction, however trifling, which might have irreparable consequences. For the slightest gap, even a mere wavering, risks giving rise to a fatal discordance between the piano and the orchestral body, which obviously cannot, in any circumstances, hold the movement of its own part in suspense. I remember at my first debut being seized by just such a lapse of memory, though it fortunately had no dire results. Having finished the first part of my Concerto, just before beginning the Largo which opens with a piano solo, I suddenly realized that I had entirely forgotten how it started. I whispered this to Koussevitsky. He glanced at the score and whispered the first notes. That was enough to restore my balance and enable me to attack the Largo…”

Esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky

Portrait of Strvinsky Inspiration comes to us when we least expect it. Its provocation can erupt suddenly as if fallen from the night sky while we wander the stars, realized in the chemistry lab mixing and measuring, or found while listening to the roar of Niagara Falls. As unique as a one’s fingerprints or as communal as a view from the Grand Canyon, whatever experience has crossed our path to stimulate us to create, to discover, to invent, to reshape, an inspiration is clearly an unexpected gift.

And though we are enamored by the monumental achievements that some are lucky enough to have endowed through some fortuitous inspiration; so too should the less celebrated accomplishments drawn from our personal and not so personal moments also be rejoiced. Some receive inspiration from the undertakings of others, as when we see a painting or hear a song; while some have harbored their muses since very young, only to have them hatch later in life growing in proportions that did not seem possible from what was believed to be a simple memory.

How and why we are inspired is not easily defined and where it leads us is as much an enigma. For an inspiration cannot be manufactured nor can it be anticipated, rather it is stealth and will find you when you least expect it. Covert, crafty, and often sneaky, it comes through the back door or enters boldly by way of the front….it arrives in many forms and any time… bestowing upon us a souvenir of life for us to manipulate.

stravinsky In today’s post I present to you a most inspirational figure; the esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), born in Oranienbaum, Russia he is considered one of the 20th century’s most influential composers and artistic musicians. Though he grew up in St. Petersburg, he moved to France and then later to the United States, becoming attached to the cultural way of life in Los Angeles, California. Here he felt intellectually alive living among other musicians, writers, and artists. Stravinsky is best known for his unconventional arrangements, where he first earned international fame in Paris for three now well-known ballets: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). Though receiving scathing reviews and harsh criticisms, they are considered today as being some of the most innovative and revolutionary works in music.

From his book simply titled An Autobiography (1936), I have extracted a small piece for your reading pleasure. Here are the motivating words of the great Igor Stravinsky ….

“… Apart from my improvisation and piano-practice, I found immense pleasure in reading the opera scores of which my father’s library consisted—all the more so because I was able to read with great facility. My mother also had that gift, and I must have inherited it from her. Imagine my joy, therefore, when for the first time I was taken to the theatre where they were giving an opera with which as a pianist I was already familiar. It was A Life for the Tsar, and it was then I heard an orchestra for the first time. And what an orchestra—Glinka’s! The impression was indelible, but it must not be supposed that this was due solely to the fact that it was the first orchestra I ever heard. To this day, not only Glinka’s music in itself, but his orchestration as well, remains a perfect monument of musical art—so intelligent is his balance of tone, so distinguished and delicate his instrumentation; and by the latter I mean his choice of instruments and his way of combining them. I was indeed fortunate in happening on a chef d’oeuvre for my first contact with great music. That is why my attitude towards Glinka has always been one of unbounded gratitude…

About the same time I heard Glinka’s second opera, Ruslan and Ludmilla, at a gala performance given to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. My father took the part of Farlaf, which was one of the best in his repertoire. It was a memorable evening for me. Besides the excitement I felt at hearing this music that I already loved to distraction, it was my good fortune to catch a glimpse in the foyer of Peter Tchaikovsky, the idol of the Russian public, whom I had never seen before and was never to see again. He had just conducted the first audition of his new symphony—the Pathetic—in St. Petersburg. A fortnight later my mother took me to a concert where the same symphony was played in memory of its composer, who had been suddenly carried off by cholera. Deeply though I was impressed by the unexpected death of the great musician, I was far from realizing at the moment that this glimpse of the living Tchaikovsky—fleeting though it was—would become one of my most treasured memories…”

First image: Portrait of Igor Stravinsky (1914) by French painter, printmaker and writer Albert Gleizes (MOMA)