“A good composer does not imitate, he steals.” – Igor Stravinsky
to Stravinsky around the web, but the source of it is hard to find.
I wanted to use the quote, but thought I should double-check the source. Well, he didn’t say it. This Google Books result spots it in a T. S. Eliot essay about literary debts. The original quote:
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different”.
And why it gets attributed to Stravinsky:
Due to a spoof feature in Esquire magazine in 1962, “Immature artists imitate; mature artists steal” is sometimes misattributed to Lionel Trilling. Pablo Picasso has been credited with “Mediocre artists borrow, great artists steal” and Igor Stravinsky with “A good composer does not imitate; he steals”.
Ah, so it was a joke. So I’ll quote the Eliot version from here on.
I love the sentiment of it. Indie directors often say to a composer “we want something like a John Williams, or Ennio Morricone, or Nino Rota…” Which is all good. But is the director seeking to imitate the source, or to build on it?
For example, many folks like to criticize Quentin Tarantino’s borrowings from earlier films, but he certainly doesn’t set out to imitate: