Igor Stravinsky

Posted on March 7th, 2011 by

Igor Stravinsky – (Samuel Dushkin; Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky by Paul Tanqueray vintage bromide print, 1934)

To hear PSS playing Stravinsky/Dushkin-go to-TANGO

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Stravinsky-Three Pieces for String Quartet (Kreutzer Quartet Peter Sheppard Skaerved/Mihailo Trandafilovski/Morgan Goff/Neil Heyde)

 The communication between composer and collaborator is perhaps the most intimate of any artistic partnership. Dushkin was the adopted child of the American composer Blair Fairchild, and the student of the composer-violinist Fritz Kreisler, who premiered the Elgar Concerto in 1910.  Stravinsky met him in 1930, and their partnership stimulated a number of new works, both chamber and concertante. The young Michael Tippett heard them both:

‘Stravinsky came to play his Capriccio for piano and orchestra, returning somewhat later to conduct his Violin Concerto and to give recitals with Samuel Dushkin: his hard-edged, percussive piano-playing in the Petrushka excerpts made a particularly strong impact on me.

The composer Alexander Goehr also recalls hearing Dushkin with Stravinsky. He told me that, part of the allure of Dushkin’s playing stemmed from a certain technical limitation, which the violinist countered with violinistic felicity.

Stravinsky took ample opportunity to meet the extraordinary cosmopolitan cross-section of creative artists that gathered in London. This situation became more concentrated between 1914-1919, with the large number of refugees, who crossed the channel, mirroring the situation a century earlier. One such dinner  took place at 19 Edith Grove in the summer of 1914, when  Stravinsky met the Polish composer/pianist, Karol Szymanovski, staying with Paul and Muriel Draper. The other dinner guests were Eugene Ysaÿe, Pablo Casals, Arthur Rubinstein and Chaliapin.

Osbert Sitwell remarked that the open-minded situation just before the war never returned, but was replaced by interracial suspicion and prejudice. He recalled an event in 1914, that would be all but unthinkable just a few months later:

‘There was none of the hatred and dissension that has devoured nations and classes ever since 1914…in June of that year Richard Strauss for example, came to London ….To show the high place that London held as a music centre, the Morning Post  was able to announce on 12th June that the Music Club would give a reception to Dr Strauss on the 21st, in celebration of his 50th birthday, and that besides the guest of honour there would be present M. Igor Stravinsky, M. Chaliapin, Mme Karsavina, and M. Claude Debussy; that Mr Thomas Beecham would conduct Strauss’s early Suite for 13 Wind Instruments, and that Mme. Gerhardt would sing a of his songs, accompanied by Herr Nikisch…This particular occasion, I believe, never saw the full realisation of the programme designed for it, but that it could have come so near fruition shows how far, how deep, how bitterly, we have fallen from the standards of those days./ On the evening in question, Strauss did, in fact, join in the performing of this Sonata in E Flat for Pft. and vln. Lady Speyer playing the second instrument….’

In 1913, Stravinsky had provided the music world with its ultimate performance controversy, one which would provide the model for all the rock guitarists’ guitar smashing of the 1960’s. This garnered Stravinsky a new kind of celebrity, partially based on the notoriety of this event. In 1921, the UK Concert premier of Le Sacre alongside works by Ireland and Berners, had almost turned into a fiasco, not because of the music, but because of the delay in the composer’s appearance in the audience at the Queens Hall. The audience also included Iris Tree, Diaghilev, and George Bernard Shaw.

David Matthews reports that the ‘teenage Britten was very impressed by Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’. In his diary (in 1934), he wrote:

“….bewildering and terrifying. I didn’t really enjoy it, but I think it’s incredibly marvellous and arresting.”’

T.S. Eliot and Stravinsky found much common ground, not least because of a shared philoshophy. In 1947, Stravinsky wrote:

‘Tradition is entirely different from habit, even from an excellent habit, since habit is by definition an unconscious acquisition and tends to become mechanical, whereas tradition results from a conscious and deliberate acceptance…Tradition presupposes the reality of what endures.’

This distinction was one that Eliot would have recognised, and perhaps was the substance of their conversations, most of which, of course, went unrecorded. In 1964, the head waiter of a New York restaurant spotted T.S. Eliot and Stravinsky sitting together:

“There you see together the greatest living composer and the greatest living poet”.

However, Stravinsky did recall a moment of social awkwardness, not long after he conducted the Venice premiere of his Canticum Sacrum in September 1956:

‘Last year, Time called my San Marco performance of my Canticum Sacrum ‘Murder in the Cathedral’. Now I don’t mind my music going on trial, for if I’m to keep my position as a promising young composer, I must accept that : but how could Time or anybody know whether I ably conducted a work I alone knew? (In London, shortly after the Time episode, I was at tea with Mr Eliot, being tweaked by a story of his, when my wife asked that kindest, wisest and gentlest of men, did he know what he had in common with me. Mr Eliot examined his nose; he regarded me and then reflected upon himself, tall, hunched, and with an American gait; he pondered the possible communalities of our arts. When my wife said ‘Murder in the Cathedral’, the great poet was so disconcerted he made me fell he would rather not have written his opus theatricum rather than have its title loaded to insult me.)

 Those twentieth century blues, Michael Tippett, Pimlico, London 1994, P.18

 A Musical Gazeteer of Great Britan and Ireland, Gerald Norris, David Charles, Newton Abbot/London, 1981, Pp.59-60

Great Morning, Osbert Sitwell, Macmillan, London, 1948, P.248

Eugene Goossens, Overture and…

Britten, David Matthews, Life and Times/Haus Publication, London, 2003, P.20

Poetics of Music(1947) ch.3

 Conversations with Igor Stravinsky, Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Faber,