May 31st 2013

Stravinsky Crafted Once Again

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

Robert Craft knew from an early age that his considerable musical gifts would never be quite enough to make him a great composer, conductor or performer. He decided that instead he would attach himself, Boswell style, to a great musician and chronicle the creative process of a truly monumental personage. 

We are all fortunate that he chose Igor Stravinsky as his subject.

Craft describes the moment lightning struck: ”On April 7 1940 I heard a live broadcast of Stravinsky conducting The Rite of Spring with the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall and resolved to dedicate my life to music, particularly his.” 

Craft and Stravinsky made an odd couple in the contemporary arts world for more than 20 years, Craft with his clean-cut, horn-rimmed good looks and the diminutive Stravinsky trotting alongside, becoming more troll-like with each passing year. They lived closely together, sometimes under the same roof, as Craft collaborated with, nudged and protected the awkward Russian genius. Stravinsky’s wives and children came and went.

Stravinsky, who died in 1971 at the age of 88, is acknowledged as probably the greatest composer of the 20th century and even today remains one of the most intensely studied individuals by music academics. The history of music contains no equivalent creative surge to match Stravinsky’s output from age 27 to 29, during which he produced The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. He of course went on to experiment in new, untested areas of composition, rarely stopping to try to please the public. 

Craft’s contributions to these studies have been enormously valuable, despite years of sniping by rival music writers and Stravinsky specialists.  He is accused of “crafting” Stravinsky’s image and protecting him from others while molding some material in a self-aggrandizing fashion. One professor called him a “spin-doctor”.

Beyond dispute is the fact that Craft’s several Stravinsky books, including his volumes of conversations, have offered unique glimpses into his subject’s work methods, intellectual life and musical mind. No other composer in the history of music has allowed such intimate scrutiny of his private and public habits. 

Considering Craft’s long history of Stravinsky-watching, and the abundant biographies and analyses by others, I wondered what might be left to say that hasn’t already been said in some related form.

But now in his 90th year, Craft has done it again. His latest book, Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories, (Naxos Books, $19.99) perhaps his last, is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the premiere of The Rite of Spring, acknowledged today as the turning point in mainstream composition. The book comes from the relatively modest Naxos book publishing arm and includes a CD of The Rite of Spring conducted by Craft. 

The book is a delightfully fresh and witty collection of personal memories and an unapologetic love letter to his subject. He seems to have swept up all his unused memories, many of them delicious, and packaged them for our pleasure.

The author championed the composer when the music establishment still held back. The shocking Stravinsky harmonies and rhythms would change serious music forever but no one knew that in 1913, or even in the 1940s when these two men became associated.  Craft won a scholarship to the Juilliard School in New York but found the atmosphere rooted in the past. “It proved disappointing,” he writes. “Stravinsky was ignored as well as despised as an iconoclast, which redoubled my passion for his music.” 

They made their first connection out of pure chance – a connection that worked because Stravinsky had a superstitious streak. Craft needed the score of Symphonies of Wind Instruments, and his request, addressed directly to the composer, arrived by mail on the day Stravinsky was beginning a revision of the work. To the spiritual-minded Stravinsky, this was a sign.

In short order, Craft was at Stravinsky’s side and a deep and productive friendship had begun. Recalling this convergence, Craft writes, still in disbelief, that “a twenty-three-year-old rustic with a nervous-wreck temperament” ended up sharing the podium with the “world’s most eminent composer-conductor”. 

Craft and Stravinsky developed a mutual dependency but Craft considers himself the lucky one. “I felt as if all my years of formal education were not worth one hour of this man’s company,” he writes, “since everything he said was filtered through one of the most acute sensibilities of the century.”

Craft’s wide-ranging memory, stimulated by his private archives, offers a casual history of the arts in the 20th century as told through the eyes of a premier participant. Anecdotes bring together their central character with Schoenberg, Diaghilev, Nijinski, Webern, Balanchine, Thomas Mann, Picasso, Dali, T.S Eliot, Aldous Huxley, Babbitt, Cage, Carter and Sessions, to name a few. 

The book happened almost by accident. As his publisher told me in an email: “He was going through his archives and came across new material -- material he hadn’t considered for a very long time, which spurred him on to write the book.”

Some of the material may have been held back to observe old standards of propriety now long gone. Stravinsky’s intense physical association with Belgian composer Maurice Delage, which led to three weeks at the Delage gay agapemone (love-cottage) near Paris with the “notoriously homosexual” Russian Prince Argutinsky, whose letters are still in private hands. Craft notes that Stravinsky later sent Delage a nude photograph “with a prominent upwardly mobile nozzle”. Elsewhere, Ravel is described attending a gay evening dressed in a tutu. 

Craft uncovers one love letter written to Delage during The Rite of Spring composition. Craft calls it a “bombshell” because The Rite is “widely regarded as the epitome of masculinity”.

Glimpses of the great man in creative mode are particularly vivid.  “The act of creation was so strenuous that he immediately began to perspire and, discarding his shirt, continually mopped his head and neck with towels. His facial expression during struggles with harmonic combinations could be painful to watch but when he had found one that satisfied him, he smiled radiantly.” This could take long hours of patience but as he told Craft, “I can wait as an insect can wait.”

Craft’s usefulness as a source of Stravinsky material led him to bridle at other writers who borrowed too freely. Exasperated at Stephen Walsh’s Stravinsky: The Second Exile, Craft complained to the New York Review of Books that his work was being unfairly recycled. “As in his Volume I,” Craft wrote, “the pilfering from my work continues, most often distorted to the point of changing the meanings, sometimes with verbatim quoting, and always without acknowledgement.” 

The debate around the reliability of Craft’s work may continue long into the future but the essential corpus of material he produced will always be an indispensable sourcebook of the great man’s life.

 

Related article - please click the title to proceed:

Bostonians find catharsis in Stravinsky

by Michael JohnsonAdded 29.04.2013
BOSTON -- It was supposed to be a festive occasion – the arrival of spring and the centennial of the premiere – but dark undercurrents from the Boston Marathon bombings dominated a recent performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring by...



 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Nov 19th 2021
EXTRACTS: "At a time when the struggle between authoritarianism and democracy is so intense, if not fateful for the future of democracies, NATO and the EU must warn these countries [Editor's note: Poland and Hungary, EU and NATO, Turkey NATO] that they are on the precipice of being kicked out if they do not change their governing practice. They must be required to restore the principles of democracy by upholding universal human rights and abiding the rule of law, or else they will forfeit their membership and suffer from the consequences of their crimes." ------ "A narcissistic leader, such as Trump, whose hunger for power seems to know no limit, has happily sacrificed the good of the country on the altar of his twisted ego. America’s democracy cannot be repaired unless he and those who helped him are held accountable and face the weight of the law."
Nov 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many people who go through intense trauma, for example, become deeper and stronger than they were before. They may even undergo a sudden and radical transformation that makes life more meaningful and fulfilling. Indeed, research shows that between half and one-third of all people experience significant personal development after traumatic events, such as bereavement, serious illness, accidents or divorce. Over time, they may feel a new sense of inner strength and confidence and gratitude for life and other people. They may develop more intimate and authentic relationships and have a wider perspective, with a clear sense of what is important in life and what isn’t. In psychology, this is referred to as “post-traumatic growth”. "
Nov 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Notably, Murdoch thinks that really knowing or understanding another person is a difficult task: “It is a task to come to see the world as it is”. According to the Freudian psychology Murdoch subscribes to in The Sovereignty of Good, humans are prone to “fantasy” – refusing to face the truth because it can damage our fragile egos."
Nov 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "People do not believe false information because they are ignorant. There are many factors at work, but most researchers would agree that the belief in misinformation has little to do with the amount of knowledge a person possesses. Misinformation is a prime example of motivated reasoning. People tend to arrive at the conclusions they want to reach as long as they can construct seemingly reasonable justifications for these outcomes."
Oct 28th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Brood with me on the latest delay of the full release of the records pertaining to the murder of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. That was 58 years ago." -----"Mark my words: ...... No one who remembers 1963 will live to see the US government admit the full truth about Kennedy’s murder. And the American people’s faith in democracy will continue to fade. There is only one way to prevent this, and that is to release every record, withholding nothing – and to do it now."
Oct 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "..... we may defy the warnings of modern medicine, convinced of our own superiority. Researchers at the University of Chicago Divinity School reported half of their participants, all of whom indicated some religious affiliation, agreed with the statement “God will protect me from being infected”. To cope with our dread of death, we delude ourselves into thinking we are invincible: death might happen to other people, but not to me."
Oct 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Wes Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch is about the final issue of a magazine that specialises in long-form articles about the goings-on in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. The film is an anthology of shorts representing three of the articles. A piece by the magazine’s art critic (Tilda Swinton) explores the life and late success of the abstract artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro). Talented from a young age, Rosenthaler pursued art with a dogged determination that drove him to slowly lose his mind." ---- "Like everything else, mental illness is understood within the context of its time. In their study of melancholy and genius Born Under Saturn, the art historians Margot and Rudolf Wittkower show how Renaissance artists embraced mental alienation. This was shown by a withdrawn, slothful gloom. Such heavy sadness was considered both the symptom and the price of divine inspiration." ---- "Today, the association of creativity and mental illness often implies regression from an adult and orderly state of mind to one that is primal, impulsive, or infantile. The artist in Anderson’s film is such an example: he is noisy, impetuous, and extravagantly mad. And it is while he is at his “maddest” that he paints his best work." ---- "Here I explore the work of four painters whose work has been shaped by various mental illnesses, highlighting how the idea of the “mad artist” need not be tied up with a loss of control but rather a bid to gain it."
Oct 21st 2021
EXTRACT: "So much of Succession holds a mirror to real life, and the way that Logan Roy’s hand-picked board members allowed these abuses to continue by turning a blind eye to them is a good example. We have just published research that shows that public companies whose directors are chosen by their CEOs are statistically more likely to be involved in corporate misconduct, along with various other shortcomings. So why does this happen, and what should be done about it? "
Oct 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Born in Zanzibar in 1948, Gurnah came to Britain in the 1960s as a refugee. Being of Arab origin, he was forced to flee his birthplace during the revolution of 1964 and only returned in 1984 in time to visit his dying father. Until his retirement, he was a full-time professor of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent in Canterbury."
Oct 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "As the 25th James Bond film No Time to Die hits the cinemas, we are once again reminded of the way that disability is depicted negatively in Hollywood films. The new James Bond film features three villains, all of who have facial disfigurements (Blofeld, Safin and Primo). If you take a closer look at James Bond villains throughout history, the majority have facial disfigurements or physical impairments. This is in sharp contrast to the other characters, including James Bond, who are able-bodied and presented with no physical bodily differences. Indeed, many films still rely on outdated disability tropes, including Star Wars and various Disney classics. Rather than simply being part of a character’s identity, the physical difference is exploited and exaggerated to become a plot point and visual metaphor for villains" ----- "The British Film Institute (BFI) was the first organisation to sign up and has committed to stop funding films that feature negative representations depicted through scars or facial differences – a step in the right direction."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "The trillions of microbes inside of our gut play many very important roles in our body. Not only does this “microbiome” regulate our metabolism and help us absorb nutrients from food into the body, it can also influence whether we are lean or obese."
Sep 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber. In the chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. It is commonly used to treat decompression sickness (a condition scuba divers can suffer from), carbon monoxide poisoning,......" ---- "Blood flow to the brain is reduced in people with Alzheimer’s. This study showed increased blood flow to the brain in the mice receiving oxygen therapy, which helps with the clearance of plaques from the brain, and reduces inflammation – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s." ----- "The researchers then used these findings to assess the effectiveness of oxygen therapy in six people over the age of 65 with cognitive decline. They found that 60 sessions of oxygen therapy, over 90 days, increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain and significantly improved the patients’ cognitive abilities – improved memory, attention and information processing speed."
Sep 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Hollywood for years called on Charles Boyer to typify one French look –  bedroom eyes, sly maneuverings, the dismissive look. A face of another type, the massive mug and narrow eyes of Charles de Gaulle, provides the same disdain of the foreigner but also a superiority based on his belief in his own destiny."
Sep 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "The burden of loneliness for older people is intimately connected to what they are alone with. As we reach the end of our lives, we frequently carry heavy burdens that have accumulated along the way, such as feelings of regret, betrayal and rejection. And the wounds from past relationships can haunt people all their lives."
Sep 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Gardens help restore the ability to concentrate on demanding tasks, providing the perfect space for a break when working from home in a pandemic. Natural things – such as trees, plants and water – are particularly easy on the eye and demand little mental effort to look at. Simply sitting in a garden is therefore relaxing and beneficial to mental wellbeing."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Whether or not a person achieves remission, reducing blood sugar levels is important in managing the negative effects of type 2 diabetes and reducing risk of complications. But when it comes to choosing a diet, the most important thing is to pick one that suits you – one that you’re likely to stick to long term."
Aug 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "In our latest study, we show that by taking the microbiome from young mice and transplanting them into old mice, many of the effects of ageing on learning and memory and immune impairments can be reversed. Using a maze, we showed that this faecal microbiota transplant from young to old mice led to the old mice finding a hidden platform faster."
Aug 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Fukuyama argued that political struggle causes history. This struggle tries to solve the problem of thymos – an ancient Greek term referring to our desire to have our worth recognised. This desire can involve wanting to be recognised as equal to others. But it can also involve wanting to be recognised as superior to others. A stable political system needs to accommodate both desires." .... "Counter-dominant spite can weaken liberal democracies. During the 2016 Brexit referendum, some people in the UK voted Leave to spite elites, knowing this could damage the country’s economy. Similarly, during the 2016 US presidential election some voters supported Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, knowing his election could harm the US. "
Jul 31st 2021
EXTRACT: "If we want to live in a world that is good for pollinators, as well as the rest of us, big changes are needed in our environment, and our food system. This is why many beekeepers change their diet and their shopping, eating more locally grown vegetables that aren’t treated with pesticides. ...... Being willing to buy fruit and vegetables that may have the occasional insect living in it is better for us and for nature. To live more harmoniously with the natural world, we need to relax about larvae in the lettuce and slugs in the spinach."
Jul 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal."