An online composer group is discussing going from Good to Great with our music. And I thought of a Nadia Boulanger documentary (the entire video is on YouTube). Boulanger knew a thing or two about what makes a masterpiece, because she taught many of the leading 20th century composers, including Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Elliott Carter, and Quincy Jones, and arguably had the greatest musical skill of any person alive at the time.

There is a memorable discussion of Stravinsky’s genius, just after we hear a segment from Symphony of Psalms:

Well, I can distinguish music that is well-made and music that isn’t. Yet what distinguishes well-made music and a masterpiece, that I cannot tell….It all comes down to faith. As I accept God, I accept beauty, I accept emotion, I also accept masterpieces. There are conditions without which masterpieces cannot be achieved, but what defines a masterpiece cannot be pinned down.

The exchange starts around 17:36 in the video, but try a little earlier around 16:11 to hear the discussion specific to Stavinsky plus one of the best bits from Symphony of Psalms:


Posted 10 months ago by John Piscitello

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