The second part of assignment 1 is to write around a 500-word discussion article regarding Stravinsky’s quote: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self…”. Following the four pointers and questions listed in the brief, as well as developing my own ideas, below is the finished mini-essay:
Largely guided by the myth of absolute originality, which stems from Romanticism and further solidified by the 20th-century Avant-garde, in conceptualizing the idea of rules as imposed by a specific style, we often imagine constraints in the act of composing music – rules as one-dimensional enclosing frames, which limit the possibilities of artistic expression that strives for innovation. Questioning this standpoint, I would argue that Stravinsky’s quote suggests a more dynamic, multi-layered aspect to the notion of rules, which performs instead as a background of conventions and traditions, which can be mobilized, manipulated, animated and challenged by different composers in their unique manners, allowing the individuality to be foregrounded as the artist develops distinctive strategies.
Following this line of thought, in the practical sense of completing the exercises in the chapter of the course, the focus on the process of finding solutions instead of fixating on the strictness of the 16th-century music, led not only to my own interpretation in deciphering and understanding the rules, but I discovered that when employed, they functioned rather as pivot points, each with a certain set of choices, entailing my decisions in order to progress through the exercises. As such, discerning what Stravinsky called ‘freedom’ as the wider implication of the stylistic possibilities in the independent decision-making that encompasses the concept of rules, even the rigorous 16th-century counterpoint can demonstrate to a certain extent, in its own fashion, the flexibility and plasticity of the musical language.
In addition to the above, the rules also attach a dimension of historical context to the creative undertaking of music-making and re-conceptualize the idea of inventiveness in relation to historical circumstances. Along these lines, the rules represent blueprints that put us in the shoes of the composers from a particular time, offering us a chance to experiment with the palette of options that was available to them. In this regard, the rules of 16th-century counterpoint presented me with a historical template of creative choices, a distinctive proposal of ways to address musical relations, such as consonance and dissonance, which I will always be able to reference in my own music. Consequently, the stylistic rules of music from the 16th century can supply a unique intertextual layer which can be added to my own stylistic preferences, as a special mode of practice to re-invent under the contemporary context.
In conclusion, Stravinsky’s quote about the constraints as contributors to freedom in music deconstructs the romantic and avant-garde mythical belief of rules as the static limitations that are opposing the inventive potential of an artist. Pointing to the role of rules in furnishing the individuality by choices of interpretation and application, his quote can be used more widely in reference to historical environments, showing the productive nature of the retrospect to the past practices. From this perspective, exploring the 16th-century counterpoint wasn’t an experience of strictness for me, but a dynamic opportunity to experiment with a scope of creative choices that were available to the musicians of the time, presenting me with an intertextual layer that can embellish my own musical practice.
With the short article above, I’ve summarized my experience of the first part of this course-unit. Overall, all the exercises and the topics covered were really enjoyable for me to explore, offering a chance to link in and re-establish my old knowledge. At this place, for now, I’m leaving the Renaissance behind, always having the opportunity to look back, further investigate and draw inspiration from the music of this period. My focus is now shifting towards the Romanticism, which is the focus of the second part of the unit.