Robert Craft was assistant, companion and confidant to Igor Stravinsky for the last two decades of the composer's life, an intimate working relationship that is unique in musical history. Now, in his 90th year, Craft has produced a book of astonishing freshness, warmth and wit as he surveys through the lens of his own distinctive position Stravinsky’s relationships with others – from family members to fellow composers to some of the greatest writers, philosophers, politicians and artists of the time.
Craft has written often of this period, but in Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories, he explores areas of the composer’s life that he has never before touched upon. Peppered with delightful anecdotes, it is at times revelatory, showing sides of Stravinsky that only now Craft feels able to consider.
The years have given Robert Craft a balanced view of the composer he knew so well. Not only was he present at important meetings, rehearsals and premieres as well as numerous dinners and parties, he was also there when Stravinsky reminisced about the early years; the composer trusted him and gave him unique access to his archives.
In the centenary year of the notorious Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories presents a vivid picture of one of the greatest composers in living memory.
‘Yet more Craft on Stravinsky. The composer’s long-term assistant and confidant is touching 90 (thereby nudging ahead of Stravinsky) but the production line rolls on.
This new volume is essentially a collection of essays on a wide variety of subjects, but grouped under generalised headings: music and musical inspiration (with particularly interesting looks at Stravinsky’s connections with Schoenberg and Webern); insights into the man, including religious and family dimensions; and finally, a collection of vignettes covering ‘Friends and Acquaintances’ which are as enjoyable as anything, featuring not just obvious musical names, but the likes of Sir Kenneth Clark, Edwin Hubble—and Mussolini.
The chapter with the teasing title of ‘Amorous Augmentations’, embracing the alleged homosexual dimension to Stravinsky’s make-up (as evidenced, says Craft, in his relationships with the likes of Diaghilev, Ravel and Belgian composer Maurice Delage) has inevitably, if rather depressingly, been leapt on by reviewers—in at least one case with stern refutation of Craft’s claims. If the author is correct, does this in any case offer genuinely useful insights into contemporaneous works such as The Rite of Spring? Opinions will vary but the music remains what it is.
The detail here and elsewhere on Stravinsky’s apparently voracious sexual appetites shouldn’t distract from the wealth of other material, from the composer’s interest in early music to his passion for art (he loved visiting London galleries and greatly admired Turner). And you get plenty of fine details for your money—for example, information that two types of drumsticks specified for use in The Soldiers Tale have become extinct, and the fact that Stravinsky pored over Britten opera scores while working on The Rake’s Progress.
Some will find Craft’s inevitable self-incorporation into the various narratives a shade too blatant at times, but it’s a fair price for getting closer to this fascinatingly complex composer. The volume is well-illustrated with Craft’s own recording of The Rite of Spring.’
– Andrew Green, www.classicalmusicmagazine.org, September 2013
‘Gossipy, occasionally waspish, the book represents a direct connection with one of the greatest composers of the 20th century’
Adam Lively, The Sunday Times, 24 November 2013