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Robert Craft on Stephen Walsh’s Stravinsky: The Second Exile

 

A MODEST CONFUTATION

A blurb for Stephen Walsh’s Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America, 1934–1971 vaunts that “at last the record has been set straight and countless errors have been corrected.” In reality, the record is more muddled than ever and far more mistakes have been added than rectified. Since the book’s principal subject is the American years, during which I lived and worked with Stravinsky as an addition to his family, The Second Exile has pried open memories infrequently revisited, particularly when focusing on subjects heretofore unexplored in my own published work. The book is also disturbing, more for its unacknowledged and distorted use of my writings than for its countless erroneous assumptions, blatant bias, and the limitation of sources to long-discredited marginal figures, including Stravinsky family heirs who saw little of him during the final quarter-century of his life.

The blame for the rift between Stravinsky and his children does not lie with me, and certainly not with his second wife, but with the great composer himself. Already in 1916, Nijinsky recognized that by nature and temperament Stravinsky was ill-suited for parenthood: “Stravinsky treats his children like soldiers,” he wrote, and others observed that his autocratic rule continued even when the children reached maturity. The composer’s correspondence includes letters from friends imploring him to be more patient and understanding with his sons. But his concert life kept him away from his family for much of the time, as did the confinement of his first wife and four children in tuberculosis hospitals for extended periods. He was deeply attached to all of them but at the same time severely critical and demanding. A letter to his fifty-five-year-old son Theodore reveals an asperity more likely to be found in a letter to a fractious adolescent: “What thoughtlessness! Reply immediately but explain this stupid misunderstanding.” He could also be remarkably inconsiderate of his younger son, Soulima. In the 1930s, for example, the composer, electing not to attend the young man’s debut piano recital, asked Vera Sudeykina to go in his place. Again, more than twenty years later, after agreeing to a reunion with him in Venice, but being preoccupied with completing Agon, he sent  a mutual friend, Lawrence Morton, as a substitute, with the warning “he is very stupid.” Walsh ignores this, but Morton bequeathed a note about it in his diary.

Intent on clearing Soulima’s name, both as a World War II collaborator and as a professional pianist, Walsh should have consulted more informed and less prejudiced witnesses. The only one he quotes, Pierre Souvtchinsky (described as “a musical egghead”), virtually faded from Stravinsky’s life in 1934 when the composer moved his family from Voreppe to Paris. After hearing Soulima play, Souvtchinsky wrote candidly to the composer, advising him to discourage his son from pursuing a pianist’s career. Apropos the father–son joint concerts, the mother’s letters are always protective of the parent: “Did he play out of phase? Did he suffer memory lapses?” I might add that I conducted three concerts on Boston Common in 1957 with Soulima as soloist, and noted that his performances embodied much of his father’s personality. No matter that a list of places where he might require cues was given to me; he did not need them. I liked Soulima personally and still treasure the manuscript of an epiphanic passage in Mozart’s C-minor Mass that he copied as a gift for me. I was also the first person in America to greethim, his wife, and son upon their arrival in New York in 1948.

*****

At times the Stravinsky of Walsh’s book reminds me of the biography of Lycurgus, about whom absolutely nothing is known, but who is nevertheless the subject of one of Plutarch’s Lives. The present case is something like the reverse. “Everything” known about the subject is gathered into a gallimaufry of “oral history” (gossip), apocrypha, clippings from unedifying reviews, scraps of correspondence, unqualified opinions, guesses and suppositions, with the result that nothing new of significance is offered either about the music or the man, who in Walsh’s book is all but unrecognizable from the one I knew. For some perverse reason, the author has relied most heavily on long-discredited sources and on people who knew the composer only superficially. His primary reference, it seems, was Denise Stravinsky (Mrs. Theodore), whose memoir of Stravinsky Walsh translated. But she first met the composer in the mid-1930s, saw him not at all between 1939 and 1951, and only rarely participated in his later life, being ill herself much of the time. The other family source, John Stravinsky, the composer’s grandson, now in his sixties, knew him only as a small child and saw him no more than on a dozen occasions thereafter. The testimony of The Second Exile is secondhand, stale, and unilluminating.

Simply to read the more than seven hundred pages of Second Exile is a considerable chore. The tone is mean-spirited, righteous, and ex cathedra, no statement ever being conceded as an opinion. The writing is verbose, pompous, and condescending. We are sneeringly reminded that there are “drab, run-of-the-mill people” in the world as well as distinguished biographers; that Los Angeles’s “Drive-In Dinners [sic] are … one of its contributions to civilization”; that Chicago is beset with “provincial vanities” and “discommoding, unpracticed ears.” The Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, which Walsh never heard, is dismissed as “dreadful,” even though to play Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto to the standards of the composer and of the soloist, Itzhak Perlman, requires a high degree of competence. The author is also over fond of imponderables: What does “a tone of pious apoplexy” sound like? What is the meaning of “uncomplicated it may be, but transparent it remains”?  How can the harp and mandolin in Agon be“the two most disembodied yet the least cerebral instruments in Stravinsky’s orchestra”? (Incorporeal musical instruments?) Pronouns are often a problem: In Cincinnati, the audiences “were so enthusiastic that, after The Rite of Spring, in the second concert, they went on cheering and refused to leave. By the 26th of November they were in New York.” Referring to the Stravinsky parents’ reaction to the engagement of their elder daughter, Walsh writes: “As for Mandelstam, whom equally neither of them had yet met.” The reader must further endure countless redundancies—“nubile young girls,” “troublesome perturbations”—and such preposterously remote analogies as “Stravinsky was so fascinated by Krenek’s manipulations on a serial chart [that he] added connecting lines and arrows on it, as if plotting cavalry movements at Austerlitz.”

*****

In March 1952 Stravinsky gave a sketch page from his Cantata to me, inscribing it “To Bob, whom I love.” The text set to music here, “Through the glass window shines the sun,” marks a crisis in his creative life a month earlier. This manuscript is my most precious possession. But Walsh, pathologically unable to accept the word “love,” changes it to “lob,” which makes no sense, despite his bluff that it was intended to rhyme with “Bob.” The page has been reproduced numerous times before without such a misreading imposed on it.  

I know nothing of the origins of the author’s obsession to remove me from countless events, though the obvious diagnosis would be Freud’s equation of odium and envy. Whereas I spent twenty-three years living in close daily contact with Stravinsky, Walsh never met him. He provides dates, places, rumors, but is unable to supply contexts, circumstances, and descriptions of what actually happened. Throughout the new biography, gaps occur whenever I was too tired to keep my diary up to date. Walsh even captions a photo taken in January 1947: “Studying the score of Perséphone with James Fassett [the producer] and Robert Craft, who has sneaked into the photograph.” In reality, the undoctored original of this picture shows several other people, now airbrushed out, standing between Stravinsky and me; in fact, I was at the end of a queue, positioned there by the photographer herself, and did not come close to Stravinsky.

The author impugns me for encouraging the composer’s travels in later years, but this shows no understanding of the man’s willfulness, and no realization that he always did what he wanted to do. He greatly enjoyed being wafted to Kruger Park; to the Sydney Zoo, where he was famously photographed cuddling a Koala bear; and to Copenhagen, where, in 1959, he took time between rehearsals, and lunches with Niels Bohr and the Baroness Blixen, to pose with a giraffe. His love of animals and birds—his Hollywood home was an aviary of parrots and parakeets—is well known. When in Venice, he walked to San Fantin every noon to feed the cats; a picture of him doing so was reproduced on affiches throughout the city during the week of his funeral.

Enmity is Walsh’s most conspicuous sentiment toward Stravinsky. Without a clue to his inner thoughts, the author insults the composer for inserting newspaper obits of friends in the sketchbook of his Requiem Canticles, as “a self-conscious act, a gesture to the movie cameras of posterity.” In fact, these were deeply felt tributes. Walsh says that Stravinsky could not have had any feeling for Evelyn Waugh, but in truth the composer greatly admired the writer’s wit and mastery of English, and was much upset by the premature loss of the artist. And who could possibly describe In Memoriam: Dylan Thomas, one of the most moving pieces Stravinsky ever wrote, as “brief and impersonal”? The author’s jejune argument for this is that the composer had met the poet only once, which, in Aristotelian logic, sounds like a syllogism without the minor premiss that deep emotion can be generated only as a result of repeated meetings. Stravinsky, immediately attracted to Thomas, extended a room in his Hollywood house, The Dylan Thomas Room, where the poet was to have lived during their planned collaboration.

With his constant references to me as the composer’s “alter ego,” while simultaneously regarding me as an object of vilification, Walsh relates that “on one occasion, in a rage about something, Craft hurled a score at Stravinsky.” This scenario is completely out of character, as is the further depiction of the creator of Le Sacre du printemps “shrugging helplessly.” As for myself, I am incapable of rage and, when others indulge in it, my instinct has always been to leave the scene. Obviously, I never “hurled a score” at Stravinsky, and I do not believe that Milene Marion, his daughter, and Walsh’s presumed source, with whom I was always on affectionate terms, made this accusation. A little further on in the same paragraph, Walsh changes the identity of the “witness to the score-throwing incident” to Denise Stravinsky (in Switzerland?).

In another example of the confounding of identities, Walsh informs the reader that at the end of Stravinsky’s 1954 European tour, “he left for Baden-Baden and, a few days after that, London … Theodore went with him.” After the London concert Stravinsky “flew back to Geneva [not with Theodore but] with Milene.”

Attempting to account for Stravinsky’s attachment to me, Walsh offers an inventory of my shortcomings, concluding with an unintended compliment: “Craft is edgy, quick, complex, almost Jewish.” He adds that I have “a lateral brain,” which, since this does not exist in physiology, I take to mean an inclination to “lateral thinking,” as distinct from “vertical thinking,” an out-of-date distinction in the world of neurones, dendrites, and axons. Perhaps running short of personal characteristics to criticize, he attacks my “way of addressing Igor and Vera as ‘Mr. Stravinsky’ and ‘Madame.’” But how could a Stravinsky biographer be unaware that no one except the composer’s wife was allowed to call him by his first name, which she pronounced “Eager”? She was “Vierochka” to him and “Madame” to everyone else. For myself, I was brought up to address all of my elders as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and taught that this was proper.

Walsh’s hidden-camera eavesdropping on my amorous life does not sound like the Hollywood fantasy intended. Vera Stravinsky, he says, “can hardly have enjoyed seeing the talented, attractive, yet deeply vulnerable Craft courting and being courted by lovely girls with titled mothers and rich fathers …” This reverie is introduced with speculations about my “trail of affairs … one or two of which did in fact come close to marriage.” None came anywhere near that and I did not marry until after Stravinsky’s death, knowing that he could manage a trio but not a quartet. Only once, a glamorous Roman woman spent some weeks with me in a hotel room next to the Stravinsky suite in the St. Regis Hotel in New York, without friction.

Music

A major shortcoming of the book is that the biographer lacks an acute musical ear.  This is always apparent, but most prominently in his suggestion that Stravinsky should have made The Flood into a pantomime “… along the lines of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors … Menotti’s music, after all, is modern, if not quite in Stravinsky’s sense.” (“Not quite,” indeed.) Walsh also remarks that Stravinsky’s “re-recording” of Movements, “to judge from the result, went smoothly …” In fact, it contains important mistakes that Walsh does not hear. And, when a Chicago reviewer judges Stravinsky’s Variations on its premiere as “a brilliant work,” we are bewildered by Walsh’s conclusion that it was “immaculately played.” Who, after a single hearing, and with or without score, would dare comment on the exactitude of a rendition of this intricate and dense piece? But Walsh dismisses all of Stravinsky’s late music as “an odd bunch of works, dislikable to many, to others evidence of failing powers and technical epigonism: the works of a master, no doubt, but masterworks, hardly.” (What, if anything, does “technical epigonism” mean?) This confession of the author’s inability to follow a new musical language now more than a half-century old explains his comment that in Abraham and Isaac, the richest in symbolisms in all of Stravinsky’s creations—think of the melodic tenderness of the music accompanying Abraham’s retirement at the end—there is “nothing picturesque.” Is the author, now in his sixties, unaware that the musical elite of younger generations takes the opposite view?

“Stravinsky’s interest in ‘old music’ long predated his association with Craft,” Walsh assures the reader, but without divulging the kinds of this music that most engaged the composer. His library of Machaut, Josquin, Okeghem, and Lasso, as it now survives, was acquired for him by me. Here Walsh actually credits

… the intensity of Craft’s enthusiasm and its practical outcome in concerts that Stravinsky attended for making [the actual sound of the music] a sudden presence in his creative ear in a way it had seldom been before.

Perhaps I should add that when I met Stravinsky in 1948 he treasured some recordings of music by Matteo da Perugia that had been given to him by Manfred Bukofzer in Berkeley in 1944, which, Stravinsky told me, had influenced his own Mass, as in the four-against-three cross-rhythms and the instrumental beginnings and endings of the Agnus Dei.

Walsh writes, on what grounds no one knows, that at the 1966 Lincoln Center Stravinsky Festival, “Stravinsky broadly approved of [Leonard] Bernstein’s way with the Rite … In [Stravinsky’s] box after the performance, he embraced Bernstein and remonstrated with him good-humouredly, almost in a single gesture.” This is fallacious on all counts, and would have required flying from the stage to the box. Actually, Stravinsky criticized the performance throughout, expressing his complaints in periodicgroans. At the end, when Bernstein, from his podium, saluted the composer in his loge, the decibel-breaking applause compelled Stravinsky to take a deep bow to the standing, cheering, screaming audience. We then left the box, he on his wife’s arm, trembling and perspiring, climbing the steps to the corridor, and walking from there to the conductor’s green room. The reason for the abrupt exit was to escape a barrage of flashbulbs. Backstage, Stravinsky sat at a table, while an assistant brought Scotch, and Bernstein continued to bow. When he finally left the stage and embraced Stravinsky, the composer asked to see the score, turned to a page toward the end of the Danse sacrale, pointed to the six-note melody in the horns, and remarked brusquely, “There is no allargando here.” Bernstein, who had lingered too long on each note, answered that he loved this music passionately and was simply following Stokowski in the overemphasis. This fuelled Stravinsky’s fury, of course, though as the Scotch began to take effect, his natural graciousness returned.

A Sampling of Corrections

Most of the book’s several hundred errors seem to appear in thickets. I begin with two paragraphs exposing simple examples of them, then turn to more important mistakes. “Stravinsky’s last tenor aria before the Rake had been for Oedipus about a quarter of a century before.” No. The tenor arias in Perséphone, particularly the one with trumpet obbligato, composed in the decade after Oedipus, are as great as any Stravinsky ever wrote. Another of Walsh’s errors is that Auden had chosen La Fenice for the premiere of the Rake. Actually Stravinsky specified this theatre when he invited me to the event in August 1949.

Walsh’s account of Stravinsky’s 1964 concert series with the Philadelphia Orchestra is a random specimen of his incompetence as a fact-finding historian. He says that the composer conducted four concerts “in Philadelphia itself, with the fifth to follow in New York.… Vera had stayed in her beloved New York.… Twice, Stravinsky, Craft, and Lillian Libman drove the 120 miles to Manhattan and back.…”  A glance at Stravinsky’s contract would have informed Walsh that there were six concerts, three in Philadelphia, one in New York, one in Washington, and, after an interval, a final one in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Moreover, Vera was with her husband from the second trip to Philadelphia, whose distance aller-retour is considerably greater than Walsh’s estimate. But the unexplained point of the two trips from New York is that Stravinsky could not endure his Philadelphia hotel (soon to become infamous as a source of Legionnaire’s disease), and saw no reason to remain there during a long concert-free weekend. Second, Vera Zorina, who was performing Perséphone, the feature of the concerts, returned to New York for the same reason, but wisely came back to Philadelphia on Sunday night. No driving was entrusted to Libman or myself during either of these trips. On the following Monday a blizzard cancelled all means of transportation back to the Quaker city, but a daredevil driver brought us through the snowdrifts in an especially large and heavy limousine, avoiding or removing roadblocks. The Orchestra was already on stage when we arrived and I had to change into evening dress while it was tuning up, then dive into Stravinsky’s Symphony in C and Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for an audience of six people, one of them Eugene Ormandy.

*****

In Hollywood, in 1940, “Stravinsky met Thomas Mann for the first time since the twenties.” In fact, the two men had dined together at the Mann home in Munich in February 1933, the day before Hitler seized power. This is important evidence that a writer so politically involved, and sharing the present presentiments of the calamity to come, was not prepared for the suddenness of the Nazi move. It also exposes the political naivety of the composer in not foreseeing the interdiction of his music in Germany that the coup d’état would soon bring about.

Walsh believes that “It is difficult to establish when Stravinsky read Theodor Adorno’s Philosophie der Neuen Musik.” In fact Stravinsky never read it. Soon after its German publication in 1949, Ingolf Dahl informed him about it and lent his copy to Stravinsky, who read a few pages before setting it aside, saying, indifferently, “He doesn’t like my music.”

Walsh places me in Los Angeles, December 1949, “attending a Schoenberg matinée concert in the County Museum; but Stravinsky stayed at home.” The illative here implies that Stravinsky did not wish to go to the concert, when in truth he had planned to attend with me but received an unanticipated visit from his longtime Russian friend, Baron Osten-Sacken, who had flown in from Mexico City. The concert took place on January 22, 1950, not in December 1949.

“In September 1951, the Stravinskys [and Craft] had tea with the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, at the Villa Malcontenta,” the Palladian palace on the River Brenta of my California landlady, the Baroness d’Erlanger. Walsh goes on to say that the Stravinskys’ “chauffeur” on this occasion was “another Russian aristocrat, Baron Raffaello de Banfield Tripcovich.” Actually, Marie Pavlovna died in 1936. The royal guest was the last Tsar’s sister, the Grande Duchess Olga Nikolayeva. The Baron, a student of Nadia Boulanger, was better known simply as Maestro Banfield, the composer of the ballet The Duel, which the Stravinskys had seen the previous year at the Fifty-Fifth Street Mosque Theatre, at which time they became friends with the composer. (Incidentally, the Baron’s mother had been tutored in English by Joyce in Trieste and in German by Rilke in Duino.)

The chronicle of Nicolas Nabokov’s Paris May 1952 Arts Festival adds nothing to what is already well-known about it. First, Walsh neglects to mention that the sensation of the ballet programs was Jerome Robbins’ The Cage, constructed on Stravinsky’s String Concerto; surprisingly the Parisian audience considered it risqué, to the extent that no one noticed or complained that the music was tonal. Second, Jean Cocteau told the Paris press, on seeing Stravinsky after a thirteen-year separation: “As soon as you begin talking to this man, everything is numbers, and disorder ceases.” (Bertrand Russell: “The pure mathematician, like the musician, is a free creator of his world of ordered beauty.”) Walsh says that the composer and the poet dined alone at the Grand Véfour, on May 5, and that “Cocteau explained his staging [of Oedipus Rex] to the composer, with the help of diagrams on the tablecloth.” In truth, they were not alone, and the drawings, not diagrams, were executed on high-quality Sennelier drawing paper, each sheet of which Stravinsky handed to me under the table. Walsh also says that “the Stravinskys … went to a concert … at which Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez played the latter’s Structures Ia for two pianos.” But I accompanied Stravinsky, not his wife. I refuse to be erased.  

Walsh’s account of Nabokov’s 1954 Rome festival is also garbled. He says that the composer “heard Peter Racine Fricker’s second violin concerto,” and that just before the performance, “Stravinsky slipped a warning to his neighbor, Stephen Spender, to ‘fasten your seatbelt.’” Actually, the note was passed to Spender a moment before the beginning of a piano concerto by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, a good friend of Stravinsky and the only reason he attended the concert. Stravinsky’s own concert with the Rome Radio Orchestra was enthusiastically received, which obligated him to appear at a supposedly intimate reception. The Elliott Carters drove us to it, but on entering the hall and seeing a gathering of at least five hundred, Stravinsky turned to Elliott and asked, “Where is your car?”

Walsh conjectures that “The saturation with the sound and atmosphere of Italian churches” during this Roman spring would become “influences on the Canticum sacrum.” But Stravinsky did not hear music in any Roman church at that time, and, indeed, entered only one of them, to see a Caravaggio. Most of his time in the city was spent socializing with friends: Helen and Elliott Carter; Mimi Pecci-Blunt, the music-loving niece of Pope Pius XII; and Roffredo Caetani (the Duke of Sermoneta and an illegitimate son of Liszt, or so Diaghilev had convinced Stravinsky—and there was a remarkable physical resemblance, warts and all). Stravinsky also met Gertrud and Nuria Schoenberg, returning from the triumphant premiere of Moses und Aron in Hamburg, and we dined frequently with our new friends the Pannis of the Filarmonia, and the Vlads, he the leading Stravinsky scholar in Italy, she, his elegant Ferrarese wife, the Director of the Istituto Restauro, working at the time on Antonello’s Ecce Homo and Duccio’s Maestà, to which she gave us hours of private access.

(I have been amused to find mistakes in my own 1954 Roman Chronicle faithfullyincorporated into the text of this chapter. To mention only one, Stravinsky himself did not visit Bomarzo and Caprarola with me, the steps being too steep for him.)

Walsh tells us that “In August 1954, the Stravinskys drove to Las Vegas, for some reason with the composer’s doctor, Max Edel,” which seems to hint at a medical concern, though he was only the designated driver. The purpose of the trip was to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, two of the geological wonders of the American West, but without accommodation, hence the Las Vegas hotel. Edel is described elsewhere in the book as “a classic example of the old-fashioned cultivated physician with a personal touch and a beautiful bedside manner.” He was in fact an aggressive character, the product of a USSR medical college in the 1930s, lacking allbedside manners, except a cocksure gift for inveigling attractive young women into the lap of this piece of furniture. One wonders why Walsh defends him against Vera Stravinsky for discharging Edel in 1967 after he had misdiagnosed her husband’s thrombosis as gout.

A measly three lines are allotted to Spain in the 1955 tour, though Stravinsky’s experience of the country at that time and as always was intensely meaningful to him, and the visit to the Escorial, hosted by Prince Eugenio Bourbon, awakened the composer’s memory about a trip there in 1916 with Diaghilev and their friend King Alfonso XIII. Spain, like Mexico, held a mystique for Stravinsky, as had been the case with other Russians. “From Madrid they flew to Rome,” Walsh continues: “The composer promptly took to his bed with ’flu [actually colitis] and missed the opening of his wife’s vernissage at the Obelisco Gallery.” Walsh ends with a peculiarly remote and out-of-place remark: “It was thirty years almost to the day since Katya [Stravinsky’s first wife] had been hospitalized in the Eternal City with the pleurisy that heralded the final onset of her long-drawn-out terminal illness.” Surely he must mean “presaged,” not “heralded” (a flourish of trumpets), and since she would live for fifteen more years, “final onset” is premature.

The error concluding the last paragraph of the chapter must be corrected before it becomes a myth. Stravinsky did not visit Webern’s grave at Mittersill. He was in Lugano with the Marions, his daughter and son-in-law, where I joined him before his concert with the Radio Svizzera Orchestra.

In 1956, the Stravinskys “sailed, as [in] the previous year, for Lisbon.” Not so. In 1955 they had flown there, with a stop in the Azores, where they discovered that a painter they admired, Bill Congdon, was a fellow passenger, the beginning of a fifteen-year friendship. Greece was our destination in 1956, and Walsh pictures Stravinsky “struggling around Delphi” and “staggering up the Acropolis”—the gaucherie of the description hardly suits the elderly Stravinsky, who did, however, see both monuments from below. He spent most of his time in Athens listening to tape-recordings by new Greek 12-tone composers, and in his hotel with Samuel Dushkin and family, an unexpected but welcome encounter.

“At the end of the year [1960, the Stravinskys] were in Washington, DC, for a few days … for a concert performance and recording of The Nightingale and Oedipus Rex.” In truth, The Nightingale was performed in December 1960 on a double bill, in which I conducted Schoenberg’s Erwartung, in addition to the second of the three performances of The Nightingale. Both pieces were then recorded. Oedipus Rex was presented by the Washington Opera two years later, in January 1962, on a double bill in which I conducted Ravel’s L’heure espagnole. The later event took place at the time of Stravinsky’s visit to the Kennedy White House. I do not mind being erased from most of Stravinsky’s concert appearances throughout the book, but I think that no reader could have believed him capable of conducting and recording The Nightingale and Oedipus on the same day.

One of Walsh’s major gaffes is in his description of Stravinsky in 1965 playing the Rite on a piano in his 1913 Clarens home, “Les Tilleuls,” for CBS film cameras. Actually, this scene was taped in his studio at 1218 N. Wetherly Drive, Hollywood, much later in 1965, after CBS realized that not enough footage of Stravinsky talking had been culled from his European tour.

*****

On September 30, 1968, while staying at the Dolder Hotel, Zurich, Stravinsky gave the full-score manuscript of The Rite of Spring to his wife as a Nameday present. On no grounds whatever, Walsh claims that “Nobody saw Vera’s husband give it to her, not even Robert Craft, though he later described the scene as if he had been there.”  But I most certainly was there, as certainly as Walsh was not—how else could I have described it, and who else could have carried the heavy score to my room, across the corridor from Stravinsky’s, where the gifting (and the composer’s adding of a paragraph on the last page) took place? Theodore Stravinsky, in his father’s suite, did not witness the writing, which explains his mistaken testimony that it was in French (it is in Russian). Theodore’s deposition further disqualified him as a witness because he claimed that Pierre Souvtchinsky was also there, whereas he had returned to Paris the day before precisely to avoid Theodore, whom he had long regarded as a “mouffle.” My diary account of all this has been accepted as legal evidence in the New York Surrogate Court suit instigated in the 1970s by the Stravinsky children.

Walsh claims that the composer “had not set eyes on the original manuscript score of The Rite of Spring since giving it to Diaghilev almost fifty years before.” But Stravinsky never gave the score to Diaghilev, and the composer saw it several times while correcting proofs in 1921–1922, 1926, and 1930. Walsh also assures the reader that the composer had seen The Rite “staged no more than once or twice since 1920,” but the biographer is forgetting that the ballet, rechoreographed by Massine, was kept in the Diaghilev repertory through 1929, and that Stravinsky had attended some of the performances. According to Stravinsky, the 1963 staging by the Budapest Opera was the only one that followed his and Roerich’s original conception.

Knowing nothing about the 1970 summer months in an Evian hotel, Walsh fills the gap with landscape prose and misinformation about the composer’s health. But the Theodore–Denise letters to the Marions, in California, confirm my diary entries that “Papa’s” health steadily improved during his nearly three-month stay. On August 18, after administering a series of seven blood transfusions in a hospital at Thonon-les-Bains, the Geneva doctor Della Santa told us that the patient was cured of polycythemia, and that this phantom disease that had plagued him for twelve years should now be put to rest as a misdiagnosis. Even though Walsh cannot tell us about this, in Evian Stravinsky received physical therapy daily, went on drives to his former residences across the lake, and led a full social life, with a constant stream of visitors and relations. On most evenings he listened to Beethoven recordings, or to test-pressings of his own late music for his Swiss friendthe pianist Nikita Magaloff.

*****

Walsh’s most foolish decision was to rely on Lillian Libman’s long-since trashed memoir as a source. Consider the death scene: “Before leaving the room, Lillian closed Stravinsky’s eyes,” he writes, then a few lines down admits that she added this claim at a later date. In reality, while she was waking the intern, a Dr. Berger, to hurry with his stethoscope, I had entered the room and noted that Stravinsky’s eyes were open, and that I felt “there was life in them and even a flicker of recognition.” The truth is in the diary of Rita Christiansen, Stravinsky’s nurse, who arrived very soon after and actually did close his eyes. When Libman publicized her account of this scene, Ms Christiansen, deeply upset by Libman’s lie, tried, without success, to obtain a public recantation. Walsh fatuously concludes that in the office “Libman was already steeling herself for the world’s media.” In fact, she had been looking forward with ravenous appetite to that crowning event, the binge of telephone calls to the global press, beginning with the Times, to which she had been calling every hour for the last three days, when she had a bed installed in Stravinsky’s office, and a list of VIP telephone numbers.

Walsh’s perfunctory account of the Venetian funeral does not conjure up the intense emotion of the thousands who observed the service in and through the open doors of the church, and who followed the recessional and the funeral gondola to the lagoon. Even some of the paparazzi were respectful and seemed genuinely moved. Ignoring Stravinsky’s remark after first hearing the recording of Requiem Canticles, “This is for Venice,” Walsh, seeking motivations, questions the choice of the burial site: “Why Italy, not France, where his first wife and daughter are buried, and why not the Nevsky Cemetery in Leningrad, beside his father and younger brother”—as if an American citizen of twenty-six years could be interred in the Soviet Union. Walsh had not understood Stravinsky’s continuing anti-French feelings following the hostile reception of Threni in Paris in 1958, and his refusal to conduct in that country again. The author does not mention the charismatic figure of Ezra Pound attending the service. He had arrived with Olga Rudge in the early morning and sat for hours in a front pew, both of them in deep bereavement.

*****

“Vera had bought back the publication rights [to Stravinsky’s archives] from Boosey & Hawkes in 1977,” Walsh says, but in truth she never sold the rights. The publishers nevertheless obliged her to pay $90,000—a “punitive” amount, Walsh agrees—that they had squandered on the project, before realizing that it was neither feasible nor affordable.

Apropos the 1970s litigation, Walsh frenziedly charges that “Craft writes … all the time as if he thinks that the fact of Marion’s name on the Basle account made him the composer’s heir. It is hard to believe that Craft really believes this, yet the alternative conclusion, that he is fabricating the whole assumption in order to present Marion as a swindler, is even more incredible.” During the deposition of the Marions, April 27–28, 1977, by Martin Garbus, Mrs. Stravinsky’s attorney, Milene Marion produced a letter she had sent to her brother Theodore in 1969:

… [Montapert] managed, through a great many acrobatics to take out of the Basel account the money that was there … by combining his own Power-of-Attorney with those of Andre [Marion], who warns you to be very careful when using the above information. No one must be able to accuse Andre and Montapert to have plotted together, especially at the time when Montapert was the parents’ attorney.

On July 24, 2006, Mr. Garbus reiterated that

According to sworn, uncontested testimony, on August 18, 1969, Stravinsky’s two sons and daughter, in collusion with the composer’s California attorney, W. Montapert, signed an agreement to remove the composer’s monies ($450,000) from the Swiss Bank Verein, Basel, and divide them 50 percent for themselves and 50 percent for Montapert. Walsh denies any criminal motive in this action, but it is uncontested that Montapert did remove the money and only returned it to avoid charges of embezzlement.

Garbus’s final affidavit states: “The total amount the Marions took from Igor Stravinsky in the 1960s will never be known.”

Some Omissions

The biography is the poorer for the author’s failure to interview Rita Christiansen, Stravinsky’s chief nurse in attendance on him during the last three years of his life. She kept a diary that could have contributed much factual material to a genuine, historical account.

Walsh is evidently unaware that Judith Sutherland Drew, our young housekeeper at Dartington in 1957, knew more about the beginnings of the “Conversations” books than anyone else. In August of that year, in the Dorchester Hotel, London, and on its stationery, she typed several pages from Stravinsky’s handwriting and was the only person ever who actually observed the Stravinsky–Craft collaboration in action.

Walsh mentions an aspiring composer, Earnest Andersson, who received nearly two hundred lessons in composition from Stravinsky in 1941–1942. Stravinsky, in difficult financial straits, received a generous $25 per lesson, negotiated by Sol Hurok. This information is taken from a book of mine, but Walsh evidently did not think it worthwhile to examine the manuscript of the Andersson–Stravinsky Futura Symphony, that in 1942 Stravinsky recommended to Dimitri Mitropoulos for performance. Of perhaps even greater interest to a biographer is the diary in which Andersson preserved Stravinsky’s comments on composition.

Another figure in Stravinsky musical history missing from Walsh’s book is the rock-’n’-roll composer–performer Warren Zevon. After hearing my Webern recordings, he wrote asking to become my pupil. Having no teaching experience, I despaired of this idea, but nevertheless fixed an appointment for a late-afternoon meeting. Opening the Stravinsky front door, I was astonished to see a bright thirteen-year-old boy. We listened together to a recording of Stockhausen’s Gruppen, which enthralled him. Suddenly Stravinsky entered the room, whereupon Zevon retreated toward the front door. But the composer called him back and invited him to drink Scotch with him. Zevon accepted and politely answered the composer’s questions. Stravinsky made him feel at ease, with help from the anodyne, no doubt, which at Zevon’s age was against the law. The contents of his glass soon evanesced but were swiftly replenished by the composer. Pop-music historians now tell us that this was the zenith of Zevon’s early life, but, from the drug-addiction perspective, it may also have been the beginning of the end. Being obliged to leave for Europe, I was his teacher for only seven or eight lessons, and when I next saw him, he had become a world-renowned rock star. Newsweek and other such publications were representing him in cartoons together with Stravinsky. But Zevon’s interviews always credited me for the connection, and he said that he learned more from me than from anyone else. He died in his early fifties (2003) of drug poisoning and lung disease, and has since been immortalized in a poem to his memory by Paul Muldoon:

… That must have been your first brush
with greatness, in Chicago, before the mean
streets
of LA where your Moses met with the bulrush
of Stravinsky and every chord became a cordon sanitaire
against the bum’s rush
… that Wanderjahre
with Stravinsky …

Robert Craft, Copyright © October 2006

 










 
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