The second volume of Stephen Walsh’s exhaustive and eloquent life of Stravinsky completes the story of the most famous composer of the twentieth century, who has been endlessly written about but who has remained something of a difficult case for biographers. As Walsh points out, there are hurdles of language—Russian as well as French and English—and for years there was the inaccessibility of certain source materials. But in recent years, the composer’s private papers and manuscripts, along with his father’s account books, have been made available, and Richard Taruskin’s long study of Stravinsky’s Russian heritage has been published. The first volume of Walsh’s work Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882–1934, appeared in 1999. Something like a full and fresh account was emerging.
The biggest hurdle remained the image that Stravinsky assiduously cultivated of himself in later years, through his remarkable factotum and collaborator, Robert Craft, who has published a biography, a diary, three volumes of letters, two scrapbooks of photographs and documents, various conversation books, and many articles, and who was involved, in one way or another, in all of Stravinsky’s musical activities after the mid-1940s. Craft, with his encyclopedic knowledge, acute musical sensibility, and remarkable prose, came in a sense to own Stravinsky, or seemed to wish to, and while he opened up the study of Stravinsky in many ways, his presence also could intimidate those who might imagine challenging him. For decades in these pages and elsewhere, he refined a view of Stravinsky’s life, and of his own role in it, that increasingly was questioned not least because he could be so adamant in defending it. Walsh, in the new book, calls Craft’s work “riddled with bias, error, supposition, and falsehood.” His volume ends up being nearly as much about Craft and his relations with Stravinsky, and with Stravinsky’s family, as it is about the composer, who became inseparable from his amanuensis.
Their association brings to mind the stories of Henry James. A bright but inconsequential young man insinuates himself into the life of a great artist. The artist is no longer young and his creative life, in a new country, despite the glamour and celebrity he enjoys, has come to seem to him a bit stale. His career as a revolutionary is presumed to be over. But he is restless and he is a person of exceptional energy and cunning. He now lives with his second wife, a vivacious, doting woman, a fellow exile, who was for years and quite openly his mistress. As for the young man, who was drawn to the older man’s music as a boy, he is also steeped in the music that has displaced the older man’s work. He is native in the older man’s new country, a tireless cicerone, an unusually gifted writer, and eager to stir things up in the older man’s life. Not incidentally, the young man works for nothing, or next to it, which is ideal because the old man is in love with money.
He widens the great man’s knowledge as he also benefits from being in the great man’s circle. Inherently unequal, their relationship, however, gradually becomes not one of a sycophant or a servant and his master but something far more complex. The younger man is ambitious, egocentric, prickly, and he knows how to push. He draws out of the great man a vast, rich, if often embellished and altered account of the past, and he helps set the composer on course for an unexpected renaissance, which entails a kind of artistic volte-face, and which revives the great man’s fortunes. An acquaintance tells the young man, “Your labours for, with, about the immortal figure whom you now know better than anyone, assure you a place not merely in heaven (on which I am a poor authority) but on earth, too.”
Not incidentally, the great man’s wife is enamored of this intense, nervous, boyish-looking young man, who has spiced up her life and reinvigorated her husband’s work. They are “all in love with each other,” observes a friend about the household, whose dynamic shifts as the older man grows even older and the younger man’s role expands—writing for the older man, taking over for him in the recording studio, on the podium. The wife certainly has enjoyed her husband’s success, his genius, impishness, and wit, but she also endures his drunkenness and temper and grows increasingly terrified that the young man might leave one day. The young man sometimes treats the older man impatiently, even impertinently, as if the older man were a balky child or had wronged him—and this raises many eyebrows among people who admire the older man and who also wish to have access to him, or once had access but no longer do except through the young man.
Concert managers and producers have been told they had to accept the young man as a conductor when they wanted the great man for their concerts and recordings. Sometimes they don’t accept, because the fees asked are too high or because orchestras have their own conductors, whom they prefer to the young man. The young man resents all this, and wishes to be recognized for his own talents, which are not inconsiderable but which would never have landed him where he is without the older man. He lives under constant and growing censure, most obviously from the great man’s children, whose position he has increasingly usurped, if only by circumstance; from people who believe that in their joint writings, he is putting words into the mouth of the great man, which he is, more and more so; and from those who dislike the serialism toward which the young man has pushed the great man’s music. “That’s what happens when you invite the Devil…into your home,” a fellow composer says. For the young man, the sacrifices are considerable. But the line between sacrifice and self-interest can sometimes be difficult to draw. It is hard to say whether the older man, who adores the young man but who knows a thing or two about the ways of theater, thinks he benefits from the curiosity and jealousy that the young man provokes, a curiosity that creates for the older man a degree of sympathy, and perhaps even gives him, by providing a distraction, some free room to operate. In any case, the relationship is fraught, not unlike that between father and son.
Except that there are also real sons and a daughter, from the great man’s first marriage, and when he dies, the sordid battle over his fortune—particularly over how much the widow and young man get versus the children—drags on in the courts for years. The German writer W.G. Sebald titled a novel after the rings of Saturn, which are the detritus of some celestial cataclysm—shards from an act of cosmic violence, drifting endlessly across time. The great man’s death leaves behind lives that never quite escape his orbit, including that of the (no longer) young man. He writes, in retrospect, and with what seems like growing bitterness, that the composer to whom he gave so much of his life was
extremely anal, exhibitionistic, narcissistic, hypochondriacal, compulsive and deeply superstitious. He was also quarrelsome and vindictive, which is stated not as moral judgment but merely as description of behavior.
There is a bit of the Victorian biographer John Forster in Robert Craft. Caustic, manipulative, an object both of envy and derision, a confidant, a man who spent his life seeking the company of greater artists, Forster started out running errands for several of his heroes and ended up dictating to them, as he did to Leigh Hunt, whose faltering career he partly reconstructed. From Hunt to Dickens, whom he met, as Craft did Stravinsky, at an opportune and vulnerable point in the great man’s life (in Dickens’s case, just before the death of his beloved sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth): Forster tried to control the flow of information about Dickens and occasionally fiddled with the facts to suit his master and himself, to enhance his own place in Dickens’s legacy, in posterity. “He was ever bustling about his friend, interpreting him and explaining him,” the writer Percy Fitzgerald remembered. “As I look back, I can never call up the image of Dickens without seeing Forster beside him.”1 Many people said it came to seem the same with Stravinsky and Craft.
Great artists are often ruthless in service to their art. This is one of the many lessons in Walsh’s biography. I thought of Bonnard: although unlike Stravinsky a man of unfailing tenderness and modesty, he was shaped in later years by a crucial relationship. Bonnard spent decades sequestered with and catering to a nervous, difficult, sickly wife in what seemed to many outsiders an unhealthy isolation, but out of which he produced the most paradisiacal art. Clearly all relationships are unknowable from the outside. Bonnard needed his wife and their life of isolation to produce the art he did, just as she depended on him.
And so it seems with Stravinsky and Craft. Walsh repeats what is often said: that, whatever else may be held against him, Craft deserves credit for having steered Stravinsky toward a late blossoming of creativity. Craft has said it himself. “What requires immediate and categorical refutation,” he told the music critic Joan Peyser some years ago,
is the notion that when I met Stravinsky he was already acquainted with the works and methods of the New Viennese School. In fact he did not know a single measure of the music of any member of this group…. My guilt is not in having directed or controlled the “spiritual interests of a composer of genius” but rather in trying to bury my tracks for having done so.
This overstates the case. Stravinsky did know Schoenberg’s work enough to go back and forth about whether his rival was a “chemist of music more than an artistic creator” or “one of the greatest creative spirits of our age.” That said, Craft introduced him to Webern and immersed him in all sorts of music—including works by Gesualdo, Byrd, Tallis, and other early composers—that he now wished to associate himself with. Stravinsky, who always exploited people to his advantage, obviously saw in Craft the man he needed to get him where he wanted to go; absent Craft, I have no doubt that he would somehow have gotten there anyway—nor did Craft, who has said he led Stravinsky to water, but that Stravinsky wanted to drink.
There is a story told by Lillian Libman, for a while Stravinsky’s concert agent and publicist, about a recording session of Pulcinella, during which Craft rehearsed the orchestra at a tempo faster than Stravinsky wished. When Stravinsky took over, Craft stood next to him, prodding the players to speed up. Stravinsky reprimanded a clarinetist who faltered. Craft said something to Stravinsky in an undertone. Then another player flubbed and when Stravinsky lost his temper again, Craft audibly took the composer to task. Stravinsky then whirled around. “How dare you address me in this manner!” Craft snatched his coat and fled. The two didn’t speak for days.
Importantly, it was Stravinsky, not Craft, who relented. Craft later wrote about the incident, printing Stravinsky’s note of apology to him (“Dear Bob, whom I love, with my ardent longing for our former relations that gave me so much happiness…”). The note, Craft wrote, made him feel “more despicable,” for his having forced the great composer to admit dependence; but of course in printing the letter Craft publicly announced his indispensability, and humiliated Stravinsky a little in return for his own humiliation.
Libman, in her memoir, written nearly thirty-five years ago, describes the dynamic she claimed to witness in the Stravinsky household in Los Angeles, with Craft and Vera, Stravinsky’s wife. Even the slightest sound while he worked infuriated the composer, a man of strict habits. With a deep, masculine voice, fine, almost translucent skin, an unobtrusive mustache, eyebrow “feathers,” as he called them, and a large, deeply lined brow, on which, Libman writes, were often distractedly perched different pairs of eyeglasses, Stravinsky was a curiously unforgettable fellow, in his manner courtly and endearing when he chose to be but also calculating. “I was to discover that the Stravinsky smiles were as carefully catalogued as his collection of medications.” At their first lunch together, he absorbed himself in a glass of old scotch, which he held aloft whenever it needed refilling. “I never saw a fifth of anything disappear so fast.” She grew to know his silences, following bad news about ticket sales or checks owed to musicians or displays of ignorance or stupidity—silences not to be mistaken for indifference or boredom—which occasionally Craft but more effectively Mrs. Stravinsky could eventually defuse. On one occasion, when the morning’s work had not satisfied him, Stravinsky pounded on the lunch table, causing a bowl of blueberries to tumble. “His fabled days of book-throwing and dish-breaking were long since past,” Libman recalled.
Now the rare outbursts only made one wish with all one’s heart that they would return. His wife never acknowledged these moods by so much as a raised eyebrow, but went right on chatting gaily, eating her lunch as leisurely and dreamily as though she were seated alone under a chestnut tree in the middle of a large glen. After a bit, her husband would slide his hand tentatively in her direction (although his head remained bowed), and she might give it a tiny pat. She was a living lesson in how to handle any man, let alone this one.
One wonders, after reading Walsh’s more thorough and less rosy account, whether “touching” is quite the right word to apply to Stravinsky. He emerged in the first volume as charming and psychologically bruised, unfaithful in both music and love, a brave modernist but also an anti-Semite and admirer of Mussolini. The story of his later life has been like Rashomon: everyone involved in it has told it differently, out of clear self-interest. Walsh, a music critic and musicologist who had no relationship with Stravinsky, by necessity leans on oral history, a tricky secondhand business because so many people have conflicting memories, and Walsh has not talked to all of them; but he seems to have read everything, and accumulated fresh testimony from surviving relatives and others, including Craft—who not surprisingly has reacted angrily to Walsh’s work: “a splurge of mistakes,” he wrote in a letter to The New York Times, above all, Craft added, because the second volume favors Stravinsky’s children against Vera and himself in the litigation over the estate, which it does. That said, biographers take sides when evidence conflicts, and Walsh conveys to readers a sense of prudence and writes, even about Craft, with an understanding of human nature that was sometimes obscured in the first volume by the sheer amount of detail jammed into it.
That first book recounted Stravinsky’s childhood as the least favored son of a famous operatic bass at the Maryinsky Theater, through his tutelage under Rimsky-Korsakov, to his succès de scandale with Firebird, The Rite of Spring, and Petrushka, compositions that introduced a whole universe of new sounds and ideas, a new brightness and irony and even arrogance to music. The second book picks up the story in 1934, when Stravinsky, at fifty-two, was still married to the devout, sickly Catherine, and living in France. He was a loving but autocratic father, in the dynastic, White Russian tradition. Besides a longtime mistress, he had affairs (with Coco Chanel, perhaps). He was a hard-working bon vivant, occupied with many of the duties of a fashionable dignitary: overseeing, for example, his inaccurate and posturing autobiography, partly ghostwritten by his friend Walter Nouvel, which dissembled about the past, tossed bouquets to former enemies who might now be useful, played down the role of collaborators like Alexander Benois and Nicholas Roerich and Arthur Lourié, and even went out of its way to praise Beethoven, whom the young Stravinsky had disparaged to Proust and Romain Rolland. Now he lambasted “the stupidity and drivel of fools who think it up to date to giggle as they amuse themselves by running [Beethoven] down.”
After this came another important literary diversion, the Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1939–1940, again significantly ghostwritten, this time by Pierre Souvtchinsky and Alexis Roland-Manuel, leaning heavily on Valéry and Bergson, and suggesting, among other concepts, that Stravinsky was a virtual medium through whom inspiration flowed. His music had of course come from Russian folk sources and from Rimsky-Korsakov and from other predecessors, in the way that all radical art has roots. But to be a true modernist, a cosmopolitan in the twentieth century, it was necessary to seem to disdain nationalism, to be perpetually, heroically novel—the more aloof, the better. “Cold and transparent, like an ‘extra dry’ champagne, which gives no sensation of sweetness, and does not enervate, like other varieties of that drink, but burns,” Stravinsky said about his own Octet, Piano Concerto, and Piano Sonata. The description might be applied to works by Picasso or Duchamp. The power of the unconventional was integral to the mythology of modernist abstraction. And Stravinsky was its exemplar.
The music he wrote in France had an Elysian eloquence: it was insouciant, meticulous, and brilliant in a sometimes jaded way attuned to postwar ennui. Jeu de cartes was a good example, brash and abstract but in a safe, familiar vein. Stravinsky in the 1920s and 1930s needed to escape from the shadow of his early work. Perpetual revolution was the burden of the modern revolutionary, and critics increasingly excoriated him for no longer shocking them. “What’s missing, as in all Stravinsky’s recent works,” wrote one critic, “is some essential element of mystery—mystery in that sense which is impossible to define, what I call the gratuitous but others call chance. Everything is ‘made,’ admirably made….” As a man whose constant fear was obsolescence, Stravinsky had reason to fret.
His private life was on the verge of coming apart. For years, Walsh writes, he had been forcing Catherine to meet Vera at a bank in Paris to hand over Vera’s weekly allowance and make small talk. Catherine endured this humiliation to ease Stravinsky’s conscience and filled their apartment with incense and relics, providing him with the sanctuary he needed to compose. His mother Anna, however, lived with them and notoriously delighted in denigrating her famous son, and in telling him that she found his children too free and easy. When her hair started falling out from a nervous disorder, Walsh writes, Stravinsky balked at buying a wig, which Catherine finally arranged that Anna pay off in weekly deductions from her allowance.
Stravinsky would leave home to tour South America, where he dined with the great pianist Josef Hofmann (who announced at the end of their meal that he loathed Stravinsky’s music), and where he outraged the left-wing press (he was sympathetic with Laval and Franco, annoyed at the Nazis for thinking him a Jew, and detested the Soviets, of course). In the early pages of the second volume he is also often off with Vera—near Positano, in cultivated debauchery, visiting an old Russian friend, the naked sunbather Mikhail Semyonov and his mistress, while Catherine is writing prosaic letters advising her husband to avoid the sun “as it could be very bad for your lungs, liver and nerves.”
Vera Sudeykina, a former actress and costumière and a painter, was a chic and warmhearted bohemian with a knack for making whomever she spoke with feel like the most fascinating person in the world. Less severe than their mother, she was in these early years an occasional confidante to Stravinsky’s children; it may have been to Vera that Lyudmila, Stravinsky’s eldest daughter, revealed in 1935 that she had fallen in love with a serious young Jewish poet named Yury Mandelstam, his Jewishness being for the Stravinskys not something that could pass without comment.
“Herself so devoid of bitterness, so easy in her view of the world, so generous yet so little beholden to others,” writes Walsh about Vera,
she knew almost nothing of the ordinary horrors of family life. As for the extraordinary horrors of being the children of an egocentric, possessive, unfaithful genius, these she could see perfectly and help to moderate as well as she could. But she would always remain in some way outside them, in some way above them, vulnerable in their sufferers’ affections to any passing squall of unfavorable circumstance. She would be, after all, a stepmother, but of grown-up children who could act and reflect but not escape.
In 1938–1939, Lyudmila and Catherine died of tuberculosis within months of each other. Then Anna died. The three events have sometimes been described almost as a cleaning of the slate, a passage in Stravinsky’s life that allowed him to begin his new life in America, as if he were not really much of a family man and that his true love was always Vera. Walsh sees it otherwise. He cites a remark by Stravinsky to Alexis Kall, a fellow émigré, who for a while served as his not altogether competent Jeeves in America, about Catherine: “I have lost the thing that was dearest to me in life.” In Conversations, on which Stravinsky and Craft collaborated, Stravinsky also claimed that he and Catherine were “until her death extremely close.” Walsh thinks that nothing else in the book rings so true.
Not so, Craft has responded. According to him, Stravinsky’s friends instantly saw through the statement about Catherine as an invention by Craft, something he put into Stravinsky’s mouth to exaggerate Stravinsky’s feelings toward his first wife and make the composer look loving and generous. He mentions this fact in his review of the first volume to undercut Walsh’s credibility. In turn, Walsh has recalled a boast that Craft made to him during an interview: he claimed, writes Walsh, that a reviewer of Conversations announced, by virtue of the book’s elegance, that the two finest modern writers of English prose were Russians: Nabokov and Stravinsky. Craft relayed this praise, Walsh writes, “with understandable but revealing pride,” because it linked him, the true writer, with Nabokov. Since then, Walsh writes, “I have not succeeded in tracing the remark in print.” So, from Henry James, we move into the realm of Borges.
Stravinsky followed the money to America, where his patrons were. Aside from Craft, money is the leitmotif of Walsh’s second volume, which recounts innumerable contract negotiations, recording arrangements, barnstorming tours, publishing deals, and, finally, litigation over the estate. America made Stravinsky rich—the immigrant who made good, except that he arrived with a reputation already established by The Rite’s belated US première. In Making Music Modern, a book about New York in the 1920s, Carol J. Oja repeats Edmund Wilson’s anecdote that Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald considered it the height of fashion in 1928 to have their dinner guests choose between listening to a recording of The Rite or “looking at an album of photographs of horribly mutilated soldiers.”
Stravinsky and Vera settled in a secluded cottage on a twisty lane called North Wetherly Drive in Los Angeles, not far from Sunset Boulevard, and mingled with other émigrés and Hollywood society. The soon-to-be-hip, Americanized icon in tortoiseshell sunglasses, giving autographs to Frank Sinatra, watching James Bond films, and claiming to be too busy to dine at the White House with the Kennedys (“nice kids,” he famously said after he did), gradually began to emerge. In the early days, he went around Beverly Hills with Orson Welles, dined with Rachmaninoff, and sailed off to Venice, composing on the pink piano of the cellar bar at the Bauer Grunwald Hotel.
He finished his Symphony in C, the key of fresh starts, in 1940, and the great Symphony in Three Movements, but he was still searching for his musical bearings in America, taking on projects like the Circus Polka, for Balanchine’s ballet of elephants, and the Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman. In Paris a new, postwar generation that revered serialism, Boulez, and Messiaen now booed him; Adorno attacked his “unrelenting cheerfulness” and wrote, “The will to style replaces style itself and therewith sabotages it.” In Partisan Review, the French critic and composer René Liebowitz echoed Adorno, contrasting Stravinsky’s “ever increasing mastery” of “less and less significant musical problems” with Schoenberg’s music, which was “full of renewal, dominated by passion, boldness and risk.”
“Much of what Adorno says about Stravinsky strikes one as true,” Walsh writes, in that “fear and insecurity lay behind many of his aesthetic (and indeed social) attitudes.” The pianist Glenn Gould during the 1960s would go so far as to call Stravinsky “a wide-eyed tourist in the world of music” who was never
able to find, apart from this constant transition of fleeting identifications, the real personality of Igor Stravinsky. This, of course, is tragic…. What are the adoptions and renouncements of vows from one decade to another…if not the ultimate embarrassment of the man who recognizes that his enormous capacity and technique and perception are not enough, who recognizes that he is not made to play the part of one of the great men of history?
Gould was being perverse, as usual. But Stravinsky always did keep his finger to the wind, and felt strangely vulnerable. When he received a letter in 1963 from the editor of Musical America saying that “our annual poll of critics voted almost unanimously for Igor Stravinsky as ‘Musician of the Year,'” he underlined the word “almost.”2 Then there was the moment in the Mojave Desert in 1952, after he wrote Rake’s Progress, when he broke down in tears and said he was finished.
Fortunately, Robert Craft had come into his life and within a decade would turn Stravinsky around. As a twenty-two-year-old Juilliard student, he courted Stravinsky and by 1948 was his assistant, his Anglophilia an asset in preparing the Rake and his fluency with Schoenberg, Webern, and the serial technique a resource that Stravinsky could exploit. Conveniently, Schoenberg had lately died, so he could not witness his rival’s capitulation.
Craft’s “on the spot attention of an efficient and loving slave,” as Walsh puts it, contrasted with the increasing distance between Stravinsky and his children; “in view of Stravinsky’s deep self-centeredness, this contrast,” Walsh writes,
is quite enough to explain the difficult family situation that gradually began to develop—a situation which Stravinsky should have foreseen but certainly did not will, and which eventually came close to destroying all but the central character of the drama himself.
Walsh also reprints an extraordinary note that Stravinsky wrote to himself about Craft in 1960:
Suffering constantly from his (RC) simultaneous respect and vexation. The latter—result of my total ignorance which upsets him and me even more. If I would be able only to accept this my ignorance as a fact, to recognize it and behave accordingly, my amour propre would disappear and I will not suffer any more.
Suffering his slave, Stravinsky gradually remade serialism into compositions that were fresh amalgams of newly severe, distinctly Stravinsky-like lyricism. Three Songs from William Shakespeare led to Canticum sacrum and Threni, sacred pieces; Agon, the dance score he composed for Lincoln Kirstein and Balanchine’s New York City Ballet; The Flood, written for television, on which Craft did much work, and which ended up as something of a noble fiasco in a new medium. And Requiem Canticles, composed in the wake of Stravinsky’s tour of the Soviet Union in 1962, which mixed serial austerities with a kind of sacramental eloquence reminiscent of Les Noces to hark back, as Richard Taruskin has written, to Stravinsky’s Russian days.
Craft was now behind the ornate language that adorned Stravinsky’s copious publications. The composer’s true speaking voice was idiosyncratic. “Accustomcy to music is a fact with which we have to count,” was a phrase directly recorded by his publicity director Deborah Ishlon. Through Craft, he became hyperrefined and intellectual. The candor was his own, and so were the ideas, particularly at first. But gradually, feeling he knew and understood him as well as anyone, Craft assumed the role of alter ego, going so far as to conduct the music on albums marketed as Stravinsky’s when Stravinsky had become too busy or fragile. He came to act as if he were Stravinsky. There were many reasons—partly to preserve the illusion that the aging artist was still a thriving professional, for his own sake and for Craft’s too, since he didn’t want to lose Stravinsky, and partly because it made Stravinsky’s expenses tax-deductible. By Themes and Conclusions, Craft was effectively channeling Stravinsky on the virtues of euthanasia and Andy Warhol, writing every word.
The children learned, said Stravinsky’s embittered son, Soulima, “that things were done through Craft. Craft wanted something. He told Vera, Vera told Igor and Igor had his reaction accordingly.” The family began to jockey for access and for his fortune. Walsh’s last chapters describe medical horrors, legal maneuverings, and public recriminations. Treatments for Stravinsky’s ailments “began increasingly to resemble the comings and goings round the deathbed of a medieval emperor,” he writes. Stravinsky, enfeebled in a New York hotel apartment, at one point begged Nicolas Nabokov, after they had listened to recordings of Beethoven string quartets: “Nika, don’t go away. Stay with me. Don’t leave me avec les femmes de chambres.” When Nabokov asked how he was, Stravinsky snapped: “You can see how I am, miserable.”
About his death, Craft claims to have witnessed Stravinsky dying and fetched Vera to kiss his hands and hold his cheeks. Libman, who was there, in her memoir writes that Stravinsky was dead when the nurse’s assistant woke her. She closed his eyes, then alerted Vera and Craft.
Stewards sat the entire family in a row at the funeral in Venice, Craft and Vera with the children and grandchildren, Theodore, Milène, Soulima, John, and Kitty—united in sorrow and fury. The estate would eventually be split among the relatives and Craft, to whom Vera, who died at ninety-three in 1982, remained devoted—as Walsh puts it, having turned her face against the stepchildren she once loved and finding herself caught in a quarrel not of her making. Craft unburdened himself of an essay discussing the children: “an unrestrained attack on his legal opponents that, whatever may be said about its accuracy or fairmindedness,” Walsh writes, “must rank high in the annals of sheer literary and documentary bad taste.” Perhaps it is enough to speak of it as sibling rivalry.
What seems incontestable is that the core of Craft’s relationship with Stravinsky was their shared analytical passion for music. Libman writes that Stravinsky’s greatest pleasure near the end of his life came to be listening with Craft to records in the evening. He would wait anxiously all day wondering what Craft had in mind. And if Craft was too busy, Stravinsky would become petulant. They would usually spend an hour or two, sitting rapt together, Craft rising to change sides of the disc, a ritual of devotion to Stravinsky and to music which bound them in intimate ways necessarily beyond the knowledge of Walsh or any biographer. Stravinsky most enjoyed the Beethoven quartets, and reading his 1968 review of a book about them, it is hard to imagine that the thoughts were not his even if the words are Craft’s; or rather, it is natural to presume that the thoughts are theirs, the product of so many hours before the turntable.3
As for Stravinsky’s later works, they have failed to gain prominence in the repertory, unlike the early- and middle-period compositions. But, Walsh concludes, their “unpleasantness is something sharp and invigorating, it grows on you as the taste of beer grows on an adolescent boy.” This applies to the whole of Stravinsky’s output, and perhaps even to the erratic character that emerges in Walsh’s book, whose music reinvigorated the century. The composer George Perle observed when Stravinsky died that the world was without a great composer for the first time in six hundred years. It still is.
August 10, 2006
Ian Hamilton, Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography from Shakespeare to Plath (Faber and Faber, 1992), p. 153. ↩
Charles M. Joseph, Stravinsky Inside Out (Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 12–13. ↩
See “A Realm of Truth,” The New York Review, September 26, 1968. ↩