There's an improvisational mindset in the American character which can sometimes be hard on a European musician who composes according to a "system". We are a nation of pragmatic, rather than theoretical listeners. We tend to disregard instruction manuals and learn by getting behind the wheel. We expect music to be ergonomic. Dodecaphony isn't driveable, we find, so we leave it on the lot. The tires are twelve-sided, and all the knobs and levers are in the wrong places. Sorry! No sale. And now we distrust everything cerebral coming down the pike!
In a recent interview the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, remarked that Igor Stravinsky pulled off the greatest camouflage in the history of music. He was referring to the composer’s lifelong stand that music expresses no emotions, indeed, expresses nothing except sound. Behind this mask, Salonen said, lies a man of deep feeling whose music is often as moving as any ever written. I began to think about Stravinsky and his camouflage, which has always baffled me. How could such glittering creations, each commanding your attention, whether as a shout across the primordial steppes or a murmur like the tick-tock of a mantel clock in the Princesse de Polignac’s salon, be about nothing?