“A good composer does not imitate, he steals.” – Igor Stravinsky

You can findthis quote attributed

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:

Posted 9 years ago by John Piscitello

4 Responses to " Phony Composer Quotes in History, Part I "

I am doing a Essay on Stravinsky and Schoenberg. The quote A good Composer does not imitate but steals I still want to use in my essay.I was wanting your sources on the esquire magazine as i have search the internet for but have had no luck thanks.

Commented by: michelle9999
Thu Sep 03, 2009 at 09 am

Awesome. Thanks for doing the research!

Commented by: Jonathan
Mon Feb 17, 2014 at 09 pm

The Stravinsky quote is actually legit; it's from "Twentieth Century Music" by Peter Yates:

Commented by: Francis
Fri May 08, 2015 at 04 pm

Yates was fooled by the same Esquire article as everyone else! The Esquire article appeared 7 years before Yates' book.

Commented by: John Piscitello
Mon Dec 07, 2015 at 07 pm

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