Stravinsky in the Twenties

After Stravinsky moved from Switzerland to France, in June, 1920, his music was influenced to an unprecedented extent by the circumstances of his life. On February 19, 1921, he met the woman who was to be his companion for fifty years, and for whom he sacrificed his family. Then in 1923 he embarked on a career as conductor and pianist, with a radical effect on his work. For the first time, too, his new music met with resistance (partly because of the increasing popularity of the old), one result of which was that he began to formulate a philosophy of his art, something he had not needed before.

Finally, the creative eruption that started with The Firebird, and that had seemed to come entirely from within the composer—the exploration of himself and of the rhythmic, harmonic, and other possibilities discovered in his first ballets—had run its course. Pulcinella, which followed this extraordinary efflux, was the first of Stravinsky’s creations that did not originate in his own imagination. His acceptance of the commission may imply an awareness that he could no longer subsist exclusively on his inner resources.

At the end of the War Stravinsky had decided to abandon his comparatively secluded existence in Switzerland and to live in Rome. But when his friends there were unable to find an apartment for him, 1 he stored his possessions2 in Paris and spent the summer in Brittany, where he composed the Symphonies of Wind Instruments. That Rome rather than Paris had been his first choice of residence, however, must be recognized as essential to an understanding of Stravinsky’s entire future. It helps to explain not only the frequency of his sojourns in Italy, and the disproportionately large number of concerts that he gave there (even with orchestras of the second rank), but it also helps to excuse his blindness to the country politically in the 1930s.3

In September, 1920, Stravinsky and his family, still in Brittany, were rescued by Gabrielle Chanel who placed her home in the Paris suburb of Garches at his disposal. Then in the spring of 1921, Stravinsky found a studio for himself in Paris and moved his family to Biarritz, an arrangement entailing long periods of separation from his wife and children. The reason for this action should now be stated, Stravinsky having at first pretended that he had settled his family in Biarritz because of its healthy climate and superior educational facilities. The true reason, however, was Vera Sudeikine (née De Bosset), his constant companion from that time, who, as the central figure in his personal life, can hardly continue to be ignored. From this point until the death of his first wife (1939) and his marriage to Madame Sudeikine (1940), Stravinsky’s existence was a divided one.

Guilt feelings were one of the many consequences of this marital dualism, and so was the new religiousness which appeared in Stravinsky’s music as well as in his life. As frequently happens in such cases, his…

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