Brilliance in Simplicity: Igor Stravinsky and Kurt Cobain

Igor Stravinsky’s music could be seen as complex. I think, however, that it’s mostly the result of misunderstanding. It’s true that his work introduced new sounds and ideas, taking music forward and making many see him as a revolutionary. Yet, with all his innovations, he maintained the belief that the more constraints are placed on creation, the more the creators are free to fully let their spirits soar. The more we limit ourselves, the more we are free.

In Stravinsky’s music we see this. His Rite of Spring (probably his most groundbreaking work) demonstrates a clarity of sound through brilliant, yet transparent orchestration. His ideas are expressed without the heavy layering of orchestration presented by past masters.

By setting musical constraints (motives, range, variation, etc) and streamlining his orchestration, Stravinsky kept it simple and allowed himself to fully express his particular brilliance.

Kurt Cobain was the frontman and songwriter for Nirvana, whose second album, Nevermind is seen by many as having the same groundbreaking and revolutionary qualities as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Cobain sought to make every song on Nevermind as simple as a children’s song. His approach to simplicity, though different from Stravinsky’s yielded similar results. He created a body of music that completely changed rock and roll.

Igor Stravinsky and Kurt Cobain are radically different musicians, but they shared a philosophy of simplicity that I believe was an important part of their considerable talent which helped them to achieve artistic transcendence.

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