My Life with Stravinsky

The following remarks are more personal than they might have been had I not made so many “stand-in” conducting appearances for Stravinsky this year and not also begun to go through my mementos, most of which had been stored away in the decade since his death. Looking through these again, I was engulfed by a wave of affection, surprising in view of the estrangement I had felt of late as a result of annotating his 1930s correspondence, in which he sometimes scarcely resembles the man I knew. Seeing the memorabilia, however, I was transported back to the events and emotions of our first years together.

Of course I did not save everything. No one could have been thinking constantly of Stravinsky’s immortality while living with him—sharing three meals a day, spending most evenings together, and traveling all over the planet in automobiles, trains, ships, and airplanes. But in pursuing the contents of these old packing cases, I was more poignantly touched by his mortality than at any time since April 6, 1971. Here were those neatly typed letters—some with drawings: a heart in red ink, a California desertscape in spring—and the calligraphically addressed postcards sent during later separations. (He kept my cards, too, even pasting some of them in a music sketchbook—not for their contents, but as exhibits of engineering skill in cramming 200 words into a three-by-four-inch space!) Here, too, were those sheets of my questions with his answers, later destined for books; on one page that I had asked him to return in a hurry, he wrote: “You cannot complain.”

I was particularly moved to find again the manuscript copies that he made for me of a canon by Mozart and three pieces by Lasso, and gave to me on special occasions, as well as published scores of his own music, always with original dedications: on the first page of Monumentum, for instance, he wrote: “To Bob, who forced me to do it and I did it”—a statement that might have been inscribed on The Flood and the Canticles as well, and that could serve as an apologia pro vita mea. The boxes also contained lists of passages in scores to be rehearsed; scraps of paper with messages, passed across the aisles of airplanes or from adjoining seats in concert halls; and menus, paper napkins, backs of envelopes on which he had jotted down bits of music. What disturbed me enough to make me stop this nostalgic rummaging was the sight of my baggage tags filled out by him in July 1951 before we left California for Venice and the premiere of The Rake’s Progress—these and bottles of pills that he had given me for pre-concert nerves. As I said, my deepest feelings for Stravinsky have returned and have inevitably influenced these observations about him.

Our present view of Stravinsky is almost exactly the opposite of what it was when I met him in 1948. In the 1940s, it often seemed that rather than pursuing an inner-directed…

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