Steve Reich on Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Himself
I recently discovered an interview with Steve Reich, the composer of one of the most easily recognizable pieces that we’ve listened to so far in 1000 Years of Listening “It’s Gonna Rain,” on the website Gothamist. He debuted a new composition called “Radiohead Rewrite” on Saturday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While I’m sure that his reworking of some of Radiohead’s tunes was phenomenal, I was more intrigued by some of the comments that Reich made about various composers of the 20th century. Especially since many of them are composers that we have studied or will study in this class.
One of those composers is Igor Stravinsky who we will be discussing next class. Reich calls him the greatest composer of the 20th century. Reich discusses Stravinsky’s use of Russian folk music in some of his most famous works. He also talks about how Stravinsky felt obliged to use the twelve-tone techniques created by Arnold Schoenberg, but because of his compositional talent Stravinsky was able to bend this technique to his will and create works like the “Canticum Sacrum.” Reich laments that he experienced a similar block on creativity when he was in music school. He says that everyone had to write with no rhythm, no harmony, and no melody or else you were laughed at.
As you could imagine Reich is not the biggest fan of Arnold Schoenberg. Reich says that Schoenberg had some misunderstandings about the quality of his music. According to Reich, Schoenberg thought that people would be whistling his tunes 50 years later, and that obviously isn’t happening. Instead, Reich says people go to listen to Schoenberg’s music in a figurative and literal “dark corner”. Reich also discusses how he believes his music provides a restoration of normalcy as he brings back harmony, melody, and rhythm in a novel way. Reich sees himself as a continuation of the likes of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky.
Here’s a link to the entire interview:
And another link to excerpts from Reich’s “Radiohead Rewrite”:
What do you think about Steve Reich’s comments about Schoenberg? Will you ever travel into Schoenberg’s “dark corner” to listen to his music outside of this class? Do you think Schoenberg’s music will ever be considered enjoyable to future generations? What do you think about Reich’s comments on his own music?