Robert Craft is a conductor and writer. Craft’s close working friendship with Igor Stravinsky is the subject of his memoir, An Improbable Life. In 2002 he was awarded the International Prix du Disque at the Cannes Music Festival.

The Perils of Mrs. Eliot

“For my dearest Vivienne, this book, which no one else will quite understand.” Thus Eliot inscribed a copy of his Poems, 1909–1925. One of his biographers asserts that without knowledge of Eliot’s first, tragic marriage, a complete appreciation of his poems is impossible. No matter what Flaubert, Valéry, and Eliot …

Only Collect

This belated volume of E.M. Forster’s critical writings and opinions is at least the equal of Aspects of the Novel (1927), Abinger Harvest (1936), and Two Cheers for Democracy (1951), as well as far more amusing than these predecessors. The quality of the writing—compact, graceful, unobtrusively witty—is consistently of the …

Stravinsky & Balanchine

I was the only witness when Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine were working together in the creation of two masterpieces, Agon and The Flood. That said, let me partly disqualify myself. One would have to be Russian, as well as speak the language, in order to understand the exchanges, at …

Sunday Afternoon Live

Sedgwick Clark, the producer of New York Philharmonic: The Historic Broadcasts, 1923-1987, tells us that the album’s twelve hours of recorded music were chosen by him after listening to “hundreds of hours of live music-making.” But since he provides no information about the selection process and the winnowed options, the …

On the ‘Virge’

Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle provides important amplifications and sortings-out of fact and fiction in Thomson’s own and other versions of his life. His own remains the best-written life of an American musician,[^1] but Anthony Tommasini’s ranks not far below it in that regard and has the advantage of …

Nights at the Opera

Most televised orchestra concerts offer close-up footage of the conductor as his musicians see him, beating time and meter, cueing, manipulating dynamic levels, emoting. Otto Klemperer, with Toscanini and Furtwängler one of the great conductors of the century, barely gestured at all in his later years, and, except through his …

His Ewe Lamb

Thekla Clark describes herself as “a giddy young woman… no intellectual,” and “aggressively heterosexual,” not the ideal qualifications for the subject, one would have thought, but quite wrongly. Her portraits of both Auden and Kallman are truer, and, in a seemingly offhand manner, as penetrating as any of those by …

Women Musicians of Venice and The Red Priest

“Not a single evening goes by without a concert somewhere. The people run along the canal to hear it…you cannot imagine how crazy the city is about this art…The transcendent music is that of the ospedali. There are four of them, made up of illegitimate and orphaned girls and those …

Words for Music Perhaps

Most opera libretti have only a marginal existence apart from the music they inspire. Monteverdi’s Striggio; Lully’s Quinault; Cavalli’s Faustini; Gluck’s Calzabigi; Mozart’s Metastasio (if not his Da Ponte); Bellini’s Romani; Rossini’s Foppa and Sterbini; Verdi’s Piave, Somma, and Ghislanzoni; Puccini’s Illica and Giacoso are known almost exclusively through their …

Love in a Cold Climate

When the correspondence between Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky and Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck began, in December 1876, the bachelor of thirty-six was the most promising of Russian composers and the most highly regarded abroad; four months earlier, at Bayreuth for the first Ring of the Nibelung, he had been warmly—he thought …

The Furtwängler Enigma

To judge from the intemperate responses to two recent accounts of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s life during the Third Reich, his decision to remain in Nazi Germany throughout its twelve-year existence, as well as the nature of his relation to the regime, may be at least as controversial now as at any …

Love in a Cold Climate

The celebrityhood of Victoria Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, “Vita and Harold” in the British television series recently shown on US prime time, falls well below that of Di and Charles but is richer in both prurient and intellectual interest than that of the younger combatants. The present selection of the …

Great Dane

The Danish writer Jens Peter Jacobsen (1847–1885) is little known in America, except among musical people, and largely through Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder (1900–1911), a German-language setting of Jacobsen’s Gurresange ballad. Some concert audiences have also heard Jacobsen’s shorter poems in songs by his compatriot Carl Nielsen and by Frederick Delius, …

Lagoon Tunes

Most of the illustrations in Five Centuries of Music in Venice evoke sonorities, as does the cover showing two of Carpaccio’s clamant trumpeters miraculously walking on water. Many of the pictures, some 175 in black and white and forty pages of them in color, portray musicians playing instruments. What the …

Bali H’ai

Carol J. Oja’s brief biography of Colin McPhee, the Canadian-born (1900) writer, composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist, provides a survey of his compositions, or rather the fewer than half of them not lost, with a generous selection of examples in music type. As one in a series on American composers, the …

A Little Mozart Tour

June 8, New York. “Mozart: ‘Prodigy of Nature,’ ” the exhibition at the Morgan Library, is a humbling experience. Some fifty Mozart manuscripts are displayed (and one Beethoven, a copy of Mozart’s Quartet KV 387) ranging from four pieces composed at age five to a draft page of the Requiem; …

Uncle Whiz

Wystan Auden’s obiter dicta, as heard and transcribed by Alan Ansen, are funny, brilliant, outrageous. Anyone who knew the poet—in this reviewer’s case very slightly compared to Ansen—must agree that the voice rings as true as the often preposterous pronouncements, whose authenticity is verified not only by the exclusion principle …

The Comedian Of Horror

After the ructious reception of Thomas Bernhard’s Heldenplatz (Heroes’ Square) at the Vienna Burg-theater in November 1988, just three months before the author’s death, President Kurt Waldheim denounced the play, in which he is called a liar, as a “crude insult to the Austrian people.” It tells the story of …

Making Hay with Huxley

David Dunaway begins with a tabloid tale. Maria, Aldous Huxley’s first wife, was a lesbian who invited “women Aldous might like” to tea, “then booked the restaurant and, in some cases, the motel.” No instances are cited. He tells us, further, that when an attractive female was introduced, Maria regarded …

The Top of the World

January 19. After leaving Paris, our Air India flight shows a film on basic w.c. behavior, evidently for the enlightenment of people who have never been in one: how toilets are flushed, how hot and cold water can be conjured from a faucet, how to use a wash basin, how …

Pipe Dreams

“For the American academic, Paul Bowles is still odd man out; he writes as if Moby-Dick had never been written.” Melville apart, Gore Vidal’s remark a decade ago remains true today. The laureate of loneliness and dislocation, of damaged psyches, of lives out of control or slipping through the net, …

An Affair of the Heart

October 19, 1988. From Wee-enna, as the driver says, to Auden’s grave in Kirchstetten. A photograph of W.H.A. is encased in the gateway to the small church and surrounding cemetery, where the stone, head against the wall and shoed-in between two other plots, is both sadly out of place and …