Lukas Foss

Lukas Foss 1946An artist who knows what he wants to do never said, "I want to express myself." He wants to do what he loves. For years that may mean imitation. Then, one day, it is like a door opening, and a new thought comes in. Why not try this instead. Suddenly he is doing something original, almost in spite of himself. Even at this point he does not give up being influenced by what he loves, by the music that has made him a musician. Rather, he uses it in the light of his recent discovery. He makes it his own. This is a wonderful English expression that exists in no other language I know: "to make something one's own." Stravinsky probably did not know this expression when he said, "One must always steal, but never from oneself." Right on the mark. Why make something my own that is already my own? Stealing from oneself is indulgent, and one doesn't learn anything new. If I steal from another source, I enrich my vocabulary.

Yes, influences are enriching, and they can be found in every work of art, even the most original. Musicologists and critics always bring them to our attention. They're proud to detect the influence of one composer on another. Little do they realize that detecting an influence is only the first tiny step towards the really interesting research, namely, what does the artist do with the influence? That is why the analogy of stealing does not work. With a thief, we want to know how much money he stole, and from whom. With the artist it is not how much he took and from whom, but what he did with it. Imagine saying, "Never mind from whom the thief stole and how much, but what did he do with the money?" Rather peculiar. The fact that Stravinsky used the classics as a major influence is obvious. What is interesting is how he used them, how he turned Bach into Stravinsky. I strongly suggest that we play down basics like who influenced whom, and instead study the way the influence is transformed, in other words: how the artist made it his own. The prerequisite: love. If one uses music that one does not really love, then one will not succeed in making it one's own.

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