BASIC ELEMENTS OF MY MUSICAL LANGUAGE
1. The origins of the nine step
Since my early youth I had the tendency
and the urge to combine major and minor chords. Only a major-minor
tetra/chord gave me the sensation of finality and of stability.
Then gradually I extended the 1½-tone ½-tone
1½-tone row further to reach the octave. By adding
the ascending hexachord with the descending one I found the
nine step scale which evidently guided me instinctively before
I started to theorize it (the first appearance of the nine
step scale is in the Romantic Sonatine, Op. 4, composed in
1918, while the conscious theorization of it came only in
1922 after the theorizing of hexachords that started around
2. Twelve Preludes for Cello and
Piano, Op. 34 (1925-1926) are written in the complete circle
of the 12 nine-step [tonalities]. I called it "Violoncelle
bien tempéré" to underline the equality
of flats and sharps which is characteristic of the nine step
3. Quite early in my life I had
the urge to use pure rhythm liberated from any pitch. The
first application of it was the reduction of the principal
theme (motif) to its purely rhythmic value at the end of Message,
Op. 39: the pianist has to beat it on the wood of the piano.
A far more elaborate application of this urge for pure rhythm
is in the second movement of the First Symphony (1927) which
is for percussion alone. Here the thematic material of the
first movement is reduced to its purely rhythmic value.
4. The "folklore" of bird
calls, of insects ("Katy did Katy didn't" etc.)--
the sounds of nature, the rhythm of the spoken word-- always
had fascination for me. I started to use bird calls as musical
material as early as 1924--the two themes of the last movement
of my First Cello Sonata, Op. 29 (1924) are the calls of a
"merle des roches" that I heard in Monte Carlo and
"transposed" into the nine step scale.
The insects (fourth movement of
the Duo) I heard during early autumn nights in Islip, Long
Island, in the twenties.
I have used the rhythm of the spoken
word on many occasions. The third movement of the Sonatina
for Timpani and Piano uses the prosody of the "Pater
noster" recited in Russian.
5. At the end of the twenties I
embraced the so-called "Eurasian" ideology, which
is based on the idea that the Russian "Empire" inherited
the empire founded by the Mongols, [with the result] that
Mongols became assimilated with Russians (or vice versa).
The opera Hochzeit der Sobeide and the Concertino, Op. 47,
[reflected] this ideology. Then, after a visit to Egypt and
Palestine where I looked for the familiar Orient came the
Third Piano Concerto, [along with] the Duo that I baptized
as No. 1 of Cahiers Eurasiens.
6. Eurasian ideology helped me [to
escape from] the technicalities of my musical thinking which
[had] culminate[d] in the Quintet, Op. 44 (1927). Yet [my
approach] was still quite complex [in the period when] I was
looking for simplification and renewal of my technical vocabulary.
7. Such simplification and renewal
came via Folklore. I felt that, what the anatomy of the human
body is for a painter--folklore is for a composer. The anatomy
of the human body gives the lines of "life survival."
Every great painter has studied it--Michelangelo, Leonardo,
Delacroix, Picasso--each one used it for his purposes (Picasso
for abstract construction). [Similarly], Folklore gives us
the lines of "musical survival." Operating with
themes from Folklore, composers work with eternal material
which they can use for any purpose.
8. My "cure" by Folklore
started with the Russian Dances, Op. 50; then continued in
China and Japan, where I became fascinated by the instrumental,
theatrical and vocal heritage of the Orient; then returned
to Georgian Folklore: as there is a saying "proletarians
of the world, unite!"--I would say that the Folklore
of all countries and all races has the same eternal value.
In my ballet Trepak, which I composed
in 1937 on my return from China, I used musical themes from
Russian Folklore that are pentatonic and treated them in a
9. There was a great decline in
the quality of my production during the war years. To live
through the occupation was not easy and I had to compose lots
of trash--for dancers, for music halls, etc.-- which had to
be signed [with a nom de plume] because I was Russian. This
helped me survive, but little of this war production of mine
10. Immediately after the end of
the occupation, even before the end of the war, my fertility
returned. In one single summer (1945) I composed the cantata
Pan Kéou in the Chinese idiom (which was produced at
the Paris Opera for the celebration of the Chinese Double
X), The Twelve, and the ballet Déjeuner sur l'herbe;
then during the autumn and winter--Jeu de la Nativité,
Showcase, and the ballet Chota Rostaveli.
11. The great change in my life
occurred in 1949 when I came to live in the USA in Chicago;
especially during the time between 1950-1958 during which
I did not leave the USA. Numerous commissions gave birth to
orchestral compositions. I orchestrated the Second Symphony,
produced the Third using some older materials, then-- Divertimento;
12. The new musical language which
I now used to express myself in larger orchestral forms synthesized
all the technical devices of the past--which I outlined in
[the previous pages]-- and became combined with new research
13. I see the profession of composer
as a mission: a mission to serve the community to which he
belongs, which stimulates him, in the first place, to give
back to human beings what he receives from them, shaping it
in the form of a work of art. When I say "serve"
I do not mean to play down; on the contrary, to serve the
community by art is to guide the community, just as a priest
guides his congregation.
14. A work of art (a composition)
as I see it must directly project the message it contains.
Only if it communicates is it worth examining later on to
[determine its principles of] "order," which are
the technical means that the composer has used.
15. The technical devices employed
by the composer can never be a goal in themselves, but only
the means to express the message.
16. Above all is the imagination.
Then comes personal taste that chooses among the products
of imagination and after this the technical means that put
in order the things imagined.
17. There are no "neutral"
technical means. Each new idea needs new means, or extension
18. So it is like building a house,
extending it in all directions. Never reject what one had,
but always add.
19. The greater the ideas--the larger
the form. A large form cannot be filled up by extension of
20. It is the Form and not the musical
language that makes a composition long living. Every musical
language becomes outdated sooner or later, but the message
expressed by it in adequate form survives.
21. I do not believe in the so-called
music of "tomorrow." The music that fully expresses
"today"--which can be identified with the aims and
with the cultural state of human beings in the community to
which the composer belongs--is the music that may survive,
by "fixing" a "memento" of the life of
22. Music is a construction in time:
so many minutes of time put in order and "fixed"
by the composer.
23. The reason why people like to
listen to pieces of music heard before that projected [meaning
to] them is a kind of "nostalgia" for the past.
24. Music is [a] uniting [of] people;
[that] is its ultimate goal: its ultimate raison d'être
is to make people feel united by contributing-- [either] actively,
in performing, or emotionally, in attending a performance
of a work of art.
New York, January 10, 1962