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Stravinsky

In response to:

Fit to Print: The Changing "Times" from the April 6, 1972 issue

To the Editors:

As editor of Lillian Libman’s personal memoir of Igor Stravinsky, may I comment briefly on the efforts of one of your constant contributors in the issue of April 6?

When, at the length of two pages in NYR, a literary lion such as Robert Craft proclaims the insignificance of a mouse, we may well wonder if his prey is not in fact a rather more formidable creature than he is letting on. But even literary lions are subject to the territorial imperative, and it is not difficult to discern in your columnist’s cries of anguish something clearly akin to alarm about the advent of competition on what has hitherto been exclusively his turf. Despite Mr. Craft’s self-admittedly “arrogant” claim (to the Times) that nobody but he can write Stravinsky’s biography, Lillian Libman is entitled—and eminently qualified—to tell the story as she witnessed it. If this story differs, in fact and opinion, from Mr. Craft’s, that may even be considered an advantage (especially by later biographers, with less vested interest than the apparently “official” chronicler).

Indeed, what Mr. Craft casually neglects to tell his NYR readers is that he has elsewhere publicly conceded the truth of some important points raised by Miss Libman, including the proprietorship of the celebrated literary style (“Stravinsky spoke and I put the words together. I don’t say they were his words”). And he has owned up to what may be charitably described as an ingenuous redefinition of an English word, averring that the recording of Stravinsky’s Capriccio could legitimately be labelled as “under the supervision of the composer,” although that composer was not even present at the recording session, “because I was there. Stravinsky trusted me.” By this principle, Stravinsky will be able to “supervise” future recordings of his oeuvre for years to come, in quadraphonic, dodecaphonic, and interplanetary sound, or whatever other inanities of planned obsolescence remain to be devised.

Besides nothing that your scrivener, in his attempts to suggest that he has smoked out another Chief Red Herring, has attributed to Miss Libman several remarks made by the interviewer, readers of the Times story will also have observed that she was more than generous in her acknowledgment of Mr. Craft’s services to Stravinsky and to posterity. Her book is equally generous, and will stand as it was written, despite Mr. Craft’s barefaced attempt at pre-censorship by character assassination. Entitled And Music at the Close (the allusion is not to the novels of Paul de Kock, which may explain why Mr. Craft missed it), it will be published later this year by W. W. Norton & Company (and in England by Macmillan).

David Hamilton

Music Editor

W. W. Norton & Company

New York City

Robert Craft replies:

What my interim review of Miss Libman’s book “assassinated” were her claims, facts, observations; it is just possible, of course, that these things do reflect on character. Mr. Hamilton fails to take issue with this, however, and his letter may be the first in these columns that does not even attempt to refute any statement in the article it criticizes. It merely asserts that Miss Libman “was entitled—and eminently qualified—to tell the story as she witnessed it.” But the substance of what I wrote was precisely the difference between the story she witnessed and the one she told.

Mr. Hamilton would like to pretend that it is all simply a matter of my facts versus Miss Libman’s. But the absurdity of Miss Libman’s claim that in 1962, Stravinsky, having conceded to old age, was “permitting life to be lived for him by others” is a public fact verifiable by people still living. And the untruth of her claim that until she came along Stravinsky did not receive large sums for his appearances is a documented fact. He received proportionately larger sums from Koussevitsky, back in the Forties, as he did again in the last three years of his concert life when he switched from Miss Libman to an agent in San Francisco. These are not “my” facts but those of contracts—documents of the sort that, contrary to Mr. Hamilton’s information, I spend a good deal of time making available to researchers and biographers.

But Mr. Hamilton himself was one of those who received help from me, in connection with his discography of late Stravinsky, and with whom, some years ago, I collaborated in an attempt to set that “record” straight. Apparently he does not know that I enjoined CBS’s use of the formulation “supervised by the composer” on the Capriccio record, but the legal ruling was that my long experience with Stravinsky in conducting the work justified the claim of supervision regardless of his presence.

As Stravinsky’s archives were accessible to others, so would they have been to Miss Libman, had she asked. Why didn’t she? Fear of the discovery of errors like those her public action forced me to correct publicly? Intrusion of opinion? But when Miss Libman showed a short segment of her work to Mrs Stravinsky and me early last fall, neither of us objected to interpretations radically different from ours. (One was that Miss Libman construed Stravinsky’s avoidance of her at the beginning of their association as a strategy of mine; but it was purely his, for he had great difficulty in understanding her aurally, and would have written no music if he had answered her barrage of telephone calls, telegrams, and letters himself.) In that brief segment I also identified a pattern of misunderstanding due to the Stravinsky’s superabundant hospitality, exceptional even for Russians. They were forever taking in strays, who, in consequence, came to believe that their position in the Stravinsky ménage was as important to the Stravinskys as it was to them. Miss Libman was one of the many victims of this delusion, which I recognize since, at the very beginning, at least, I was another.

Mr. Hamilton defends neither Norton and Co. nor Miss Libman very ably. His charge of “pre-censorship”—if a book can be leaked piecemeal surely it can be reviewed that way—betrays the nervousness of the publishers of solid musicological tomes with their new backstairs investment. Still worse, he chooses a particularly unappealing species to characterize Miss Libman in his zoological metaphor. She is no Meeky Mouse, in any case, this mouse that roared, nor indeed, any ordinary rodent.

As for John of Gaunt’s “And music at the close,” what puzzled me was not the quote, of course, but how Miss Libman was going to find anything to say about music.

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