Igor Stravinsky famously quipped that music is to be written “avec la gomme.” At first glance it seems the sentiment being expressed is one of “less is more”, or perhaps it emphasizes the importance of self-editing and restraint. Either way it seems like sage advice, coming from a wise and masterful composer.
But as it turns out Stravinsky issued this phrase as a criticism about some other composers’ work—as if to say “perhaps they should have used the eraser more often”—rather than as an aphorism concerning his own music or editing process. Suffice it to say Stravinsky’s sense of self-esteem was never in peril, and he has certainly uttered other, less gracious observations.
He was unlikely to retreat when asked to comment on his own status as a composer, too. However Stravinsky can be forgiven these indiscretions—which were more often witty than vicious—given his body of work. Or, like the late, great Jaco Pastorius liked to say: “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”
When asked about a portrait of himself recently broadcast on television, Stravinsky responded: “It made me seem like a musical Rolls-Royce, the best and most expensive composer running.” But he wasn’t without a sense of self-deprecation too, adding: “But it is morally embarrassing to see oneself in a film (and chastening to read one’s talk, in spite of which I seem to be in a perpetual state of interview).”
In the same interview he was asked about the inevitable changes in aesthetics that occur, and how that might eventually affect his rapport with the ‘younger majority’:
“The mere repudiation of the past in favor of the newest and the latest (cupidus rerum novarum) is not a new disease in the body politic, and neither is the rejection by young people of an unacceptable reality. [My road] will soon become a detour, I realize, as newer pavements, newly surfaced and custom built for new vehicles, are laid down, but I hardly mind that. Detours are often pleasant to travel, far more so than those super-turnpikes on which the traffic has yet to discover that the race is not always to the swift.”
Quotations are from Arnold Newman’s Bravo Stravinsky. World Pub. Co. 1967.
Simply going on this picture alone I would have been unwilling to even suggest he’s holding a Blackwing. But given other photographs that prove he used them, I think it can be induced that he’s likely holding one here, too.