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Stravinsky: End of a Chronicle

In forty minutes the doctor arrives—if only he had been as quick on Sunday!—and soon after him, I.S.’s attorney, to advise V. of her financial and property rights and direct her to begin the inventory of the effects. Soon, too, attendants from the funeral home arrive for the “transferal of the decedent.” Meanwhile, telegrams have gone off to I.S.’s children by his first marriage, and minutes later the news is on the “media,” after which cables, telegrams, flowers, and hand-delivered messages arrive in overwhelming quantities, while the telephones are so busy that one of our two lines breaks down and requires emergency repair (by a young man who says, “Stravinsky is my favorite composer”). But this world-wide response, instead of helping to confirm the reality, only makes it less believable.

The regular morning mail brings two supremely ill-timed letters, one from the lawyer of I.S.’s elder son proposing that a committee of custodians be formed to supervise I.S.’s affairs; the other, a ghost from the past, from lawyers representing the estate of Vaslav Nijinsky and claiming a share of the royalties from Le Sacre du printemps on the basis of a Société des Auteurs “déclaration,” signed by I.S., Nijinsky, and Roerich, June 9, 1913.

At 6 PM, in a daze, we go to the funeral home, where the flower-decked coffin seems unreal, a grotesquerie in no way related to I.S., and where a prayer service is held for the family (i.e., V.) and a few friends (among them, Lincoln Kirstein, weeping like a child, and Balanchine, very calm, who embraces and thanks me for “everything you did for him”). All of us are shaky, including the choir, and V. is able to stand for only a few minutes. But the service is long, and the room small and stifling, while Bishop Dmitri’s extremely liberal dispensing of incense nearly asphyxiates us. Then a wondrous thing happens. An unseasonable snow has begun to fall just before the service, and the winds to howl. And now, as the bishop pronounces I.S.’s name, there are three great bursts of thunder, as if Nature herself were proclaiming the departure of a true natural force from the world.

It is terrible to read about in the late newspapers, and to see and hear it reported on television. Worst of all are old film clips of him conducting. To us they seem like an attempt to make him remote, to say that he is no longer ours.

We talk half the night, afraid of sleep, of forgetting in sleep, and remembering again.

April 7. We do sleep, but at exactly 5:20 wake like bolts to the agony of memory, which is worse today than yesterday. We don’t want him to be with Bach and Mozart, as commentators and messages of condolence are saying he is: we want him in the next room, old, frail, and weak as he was, but more wonderfully alive than anyone in the world. And I want to hear his voice calling “Hello”; or, to give egoism its due (though I feel no “ego identification,” no “guilt,” and no other application of transference theory), “Where’s Bob? Can we have some music?” (“What music, Maestro?” one of his nurses used to ask, and not wanting to say “Josquin des Près” to her, he would say “Bob’s music.”) And I want to hold his hand, in which the pulse between the right thumb and forefinger throbbed almost nakedly. And laugh with him; and provoke one of his inimitable ripostes; and raise a glass to him, for he never failed to smile and raise his in return. And I want to look into his eyes, always so full of questions, though we always felt that he knew most of the answers, and at the moment of death knew it was that. I cannot believe and cannot accept that he is not and will never again be there.

V. is worse, too, for her deeper reactions are always delayed. Yesterday she was simply numb, having gone to bed Monday partly believing he would be well in the morning, as he was so often before. But today she is suddenly aware of the monstrously cruel joke of the “new apartment.” For she has spent months in planning and preparing this new house for him, reconstructing his room after his old California studio, filling it with his music, icons, pictures, photographs, books. His piano is exactly as it was there, with the manuscript drawing board over the keys, and, on top, the portraits of Monteverdi, Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, whose Welltempered Clavier, Book I, is still open to the Prelude in E-flat minor, which he had been playing on Saturday. No wonder V. can hardly bring herself to pass the door of the room. And no wonder she says she cannot live in the “new home” now, even though the few happy days that he lived here bless the house as much as the death darkens it. Or so I argue. But she says, “It is as if he only came to pay a visit, for my sake.”

And R. What must she feel, having washed his body almost every morning for two and a half years, and dressed him and brushed his hair, and read to him, and played cards with him, and pampered him, and wheeled him in the Park, and joked and fought with him?

Once again we sit around talking half the night, dreading to be alone, and fearing to fall asleep, to wake again, to remember.

April 8. And again we wake at 5:20, but do nothing all day except read some of the cables and letters from a thousand friends known and unknown. One of the latter says that “No other contemporary composer passes the test of a one-man concert but Stravinsky survives about twenty of them.” Another says, “He was keeping so much alive besides himself.” And still another: “This is its first time since Guillaume de Machaut that the world is without a great composer.” Claudio Arrau cables: “Now he joins the immortals where in any case he has already been for fifty years.” But perhaps the most perfect of them all, from Luciano Berio, simply says, “Adieu père Igor et merci.”

V. is now obsessed with the thought that he knew he was dying, and that, caressing her cheek Monday night, he was already consoling her.

April 9. It is Good Friday, the one day in the Church year that I.S. observed, keeping a strict fast, except for music (the Couperin and Tallis Tenebrae, the Schütz and Bach Passions—Bach’s St. John being the last music he heard before being taken to the hospital on March 18); but he would not work (i.e., compose) on that day, which is now the day of his funeral.

We fear for V. and the strain of the ceremony. She can hardly walk, and has been ordered by Lax to stay in bed and see and talk to no one. But I.S.’s children have arrived, and his elder son has asked to see her and will take her refusal in bad grace. “Why didn’t they come to see him when he was alive?” V. asks. And, in truth, while she has not been away from him for more than two hours in two years, the children, except for the same son, have not been as much as two hours with him. His death has no doubt grieved them, but they were remote from him at the time, and for a long time; and their loss, at a distance, is simply not comparable to V.’s, who, moreover, after all the anguish, still has to face decisions relating to the Venetian funeral and interment. The children, on the other hand, have little to do except “talk turkey.” Which is what, for two hours before the funeral, they do talk, with I.S.’s attorney and two of their own. All of which betrays a presence of mind reminding me of

Some natural tears they drop’d
but wip’d them soon….

Shortly before three o’clock we go to the funeral home at Eighty-first and Madison, where a crowd is gathered in front of the door and a line stretches around the block. We are ushered into a waiting room, then to the front row, right side of the chapel—the children are on the left—where we are given candles to hold throughout the service. The hardest moments, for me, are the sound of I.S.’s own Pater Noster at the beginning, and the sound of his first name, “Igor” (as if he were a little boy), in the mouth of the priest, near the end. (But how dare he mention I.S.’s “transgressions”? Has anyone left the world a richer legacy of love? For if music isn’t a form of love, what is it?) It is also painful to hear the “Gospedi pomilui” (“Kyrie eleison“), which reminds me of the Russian services I used to attend with him in Hollywood two decades ago; and the three “alleluias,” which, as he once acknowledged, were part of the inspiration for the Symphony of Psalms.

After the service, V., more restless than I have ever seen her, says she cannot return to the apartment. Accordingly, R., E., and I fly with her to Boca Raton and spend the night in the giddying glassed-in top of the Tower, a neighborless skyscraper that, even to a mild acrophobe, is like trying to sleep at the top of the Tour Eiffel.

April 10. And again, even here, we wake at 5:20 and are still unable to comprehend, but at least manage for a time to talk about something else. I rent a car, drive it a short distance to an empty beach, skid while trying to turn around, and bury it axle-deep in a dune. Walking far enough from the bogged vehicle—which looks as if it is sinking in quicksand—to rule out the suggestion of any link between it and my own circumstances, I attempt to hitchhike back to the hotel. But inspire no confidence and am obliged to walk all the way; which I blame on my Fellini-like apparel: red bedroom slippers, wet-through checkered pants, two large suitcases (from the trunk of the sand-swamped car). At the hotel, V., more restless than yesterday, is anxious to return to New York, which we arrange to do tomorrow from Miami.

April 12-13. New York, Rome, Venice. V. has the flu, but insists on being in the same airplane (a 747 flying auditorium, large enough for a memorial concert) as I.S.’s body. Also aboard is a man carrying I.S.’s passport, a Gogolian requirement of the Italian government. The landing at Rome is very late, and our connecting plane to Venice has to be recalled from the runway. A motoscafo meets us at Marco Polo Airport, and we cross the lagoon thinking of our last trip here with I.S., in 1962. (And of many others, the most memorable being to Chioggia in 1951, the day following the Rake première, when he was applauded in the streets louder than the noise of the clogs which the women there still wore.)

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