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Stravinsky inside out [electronic resource] /
Charles M. Joseph.
New Haven : Yale University Press, c2001.
xx, 320 p. : ill.
0300075375 (alk. paper)
personal subject
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New Haven : Yale University Press, c2001.
0300075375 (alk. paper)
Licensed for access by U. of T. users.
contents note
Truths and illusions : rethinking what we know -- Rediscovering the American Apollon musag├Ęte : Stravinsky, Coolidge, and the forgotten Washington connection -- Fathers and sons : remembering Sviatoslav Soulima -- The would-be Hollywood composer : Stravinsky, the literati, and "the dream factory" -- Television and The flood : anatomy of an "inglorious flop" -- Film documentaries : the composer on and off camera -- Letters, books, private thoughts : reading between the lines -- Boswellizing an icon : Stravinsky, Craft, and the historian's dilemma.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One

Truths and Illusions:

Rethinking What We Know

Of all living composers, none has provoked so many studies, commentaries and discussions as Igor Stravinsky.... The eminent place occupied in contemporary art by the composer might partly explain this flowering of criticism. But he is not the only one up on the heights, and yet, nearly always, Stravinsky is the center of our discussions of music. Despite all previous explanations, we realize as time goes on that the problem continues to present itself under new aspects. There is, therefore, a Stravinsky "enigma."

--Boris de Schloezer, Modern Music , 1932

         It is little wonder that more has been written about Igor Stravinsky than any other composer of the twentieth century. His "psychic geography," as Leonard Bernstein once described it, was an enormously complex landscape. He relished confounding society's paradigm of what a classical composer ought to be. He wanted, perhaps even needed, to be seen as the "other." And like so many cultural icons, it was his nonconformity that best captured the essence of his widely recognized, and some would even say peculiar, image. One often didn't know where the composer stood on an issue, or when and for what reasons he was apt to change his mind--sometimes quite suddenly and apparently without cause. Anticipating Stravinsky's next move was always a futile chase. He was an agglomeration of inconsistencies, an enigma, as Schloezer observed--or so it initially seems. Ultimately, it was all part of a carefully cultivated image. This is not to suggest that the composer's actions were disingenuous or contrived: promoting any kind of anomaly seemed perfectly natural to Stravinsky. He simply wore his eccentricity as a badge for all to see. It helped to define his center.

    It is not only--perhaps not even primarily--the remarkable achievement of his music that elevates Stravinsky to a level of recognition few classical composers attain; rather, it is the bundle of perceptions that has grown up around him. At times this imago has swelled to almost mythical proportions, making him easily one of the most identifiable figures in all of music history. Perhaps that is what Aaron Copland meant when he remarked, "It is just because the secret cannot be extracted that the fascination of Stravinsky's personality continues to hold us." Or as Nadia Boulanger, who knew the composer well, observed: "Stravinsky's personality is so peremptory that when he picks up something, you don't see the object so much as the hand holding it."

    How Stravinsky projected his "hand" is not such a mystery. He worked at it constantly. He was more than willing to indulge in self-promotion. He eagerly seized whatever new technological marvel was available (perforated rolls for the pianola, commercially released recordings, films, television, air travel enabling transcontinental junkets from concert to concert), and he possessed a rare facility for toggling smoothly between the worlds of high and pop culture in a way that no composer before him could. His name is found not only in every standard music history text but often as the correct "question" on television's Jeopardy . His face is on stamps issued by the post office, and he even turns up in Clint Eastwood's movie Bird (1988), a biography of jazz legend Charlie Parker (wherein Parker asks to study with Stravinsky, as did others, including George Gershwin and Cole Porter).

    Cultural Literacy , E. D. Hirsch's controversial inventory of the five thousand concepts, dates, names, and expressions that "every American needs to know," is a highly restrictive document: one had to be quite distinguished to join the fraternity of Hirsch's scroll. Copland didn't make the list, nor did other important twentieth-century composers, including Béla Bartók, Claude Debussy, Dimitri Shostakovich, and Charles Ives; certainly not Arnold Schoenberg, despite his vastly important compositional achievements. Stravinsky's longtime collaborator George Balanchine is missing, as are Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille, Josephine Baker, and Isadora Duncan. And where are such legendary American jazz musicians as Parker, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Art Tatum? Yet Stravinsky is there, sandwiched between the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Even more bizarre, Time conducted a poll in 1999 to choose the one hundred most influential people of the twentieth century. In the category of Artists and Entertainers ("twenty pioneers of human expression who enlightened and enlivened us"), Stravinsky joins a list that includes Picasso, Le Corbusier, T. S. Eliot, and Charlie Chaplin as well as Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Oprah Winfrey, and Bart Simpson.

    Would such barometers, slick as they are, have impressed Stravinsky? Without question. The composer made it his business to collect and peruse various encyclopedias and "Who's Who" registers. Herbert Spencer Robinson's Dictionary of Biography (1966), for example, was carefully combed by the composer. Stravinsky listed on the inside back cover the names of people that in his estimation should have been included--Boulez, Stockhausen, Eugene Berman, Paul Horgan, Gerald Heard, while disputing the inclusion of others ("Schtitz!?" he exclaims). Perhaps even more telling, he would always check to be sure he was included. If not, he would sulk in the margin, "Why am I not mentioned?"

    Stravinsky wanted to be sure that others recognized him. His memory was elephantine when it came to remembering people who offered what he interpreted as invective, even those he publicly praised but privately berated. In the front of his copy of Minna Lederman's 1947 Stravinsky in the Theatre (given to him by the author "in remembrance of a most pleasurable undertaking"), Stravinsky pasted a review of the book by Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald-Tribune of 29 February 1948. The "symposium is frankly a plug for the great White Russian," wrote Thomson, "rather than a discussion of his works in disinterested terms. The opposition is nowhere represented." And even though Thomson's analysis was quite right--the book is strictly a collection of highly flattering essays--Stravinsky didn't want any opposition. It was he who always declared himself on the opposite side of issues, relishing his antipodal role. Thomson's commentary annoyed the composer, not because it was inaccurate, but probably because it hit a little too close to the truth.

    People generally prefer their artists walled off from the world, reclusively engaged in a tortuous struggle with their souls while praying for some type of divine intervention. The stereotype is comfortable, for it conveniently relegates creative minds to a mysterious place where we needn't go, let alone compete. Such parochialism implies that artistic endeavors are immune to a host of cultural influences that constantly shape the human condition. But artists too, maybe even especially, are the carriers of cultural history--and none more so than Stravinsky, who relied so deeply on indigenous models to guide him and his music throughout his life. The romantic archetype of the monastic composer working in seclusion was as foreign to Stravinsky as one could imagine. Stravinsky had to survive by his own wits. After all, if he was to make a living without having to resort to teaching like most composers, he would have to be visible--or, more crassly put, marketable--beyond the small circle of classical music enthusiasts.

    Charles Dickens's admonition that "People should not be shocked by artists wanting to make money" was a favorite Stravinskyan line. While Dickens made a living through his writing, his fame enabled him to prosper all the more through lucrative speaking engagements in America. But Stravinsky's willingness to step beyond what the public wanted to believe was the cloistered life of any truly serious classical composer easily outdistanced that of Dickens. There was a distinctly Barnum-like side to the composer, a mercantile réclame that walked hand in hand with his creative spirit. Certainly Stravinsky was not the first classical composer to market his own works, but the extent to which he did smacks of a populism more often associated with a completely different musical world. Stravinsky's materialistic consciousness is difficult to separate from his compositional achievements, so pervasive and aggressive were his attempts to keep his music before the public by carefully sculpting his own image. Of the voluminous archival documents surviving, an astonishingly large proportion deals exclusively with business matters, especially self-promotion. Much of it reflects mere squabbling, hucksterism, and pure gamesmanship. Nonetheless, it bespeaks who he was, even if musicians prefer to dismiss this aspect of his nature and focus only on his compositions. Stravinsky needed to be public, to be accepted, even to be popular. And he was.

    More than any other composer of art music in this century, Stravinsky was able to make the leap from a rarefied intellectual world to the status of pop hero, an icon, in much the same way Albert Einstein did. The composer was widely respected by a public that understood his music about as much as they understood Einstein's special theory of relativity. Howard Gardner, in Creating Minds , suggests that Einstein's broad notoriety arose not so much from what he did but how he presented what he did. "Even when quite old," Gardner writes, Einstein "never lost the carefree manner of the child, who would not permit society's conventions or the elders' frowns to dictate his behavior." And like the ill-tempered child who will do whatever is necessary to be heard, Stravinsky simply had to win every fight, probably accounting in part for his need to carp over the smallest matters. Like Einstein, there was an impish side to Stravinsky, even into his eighties. His friend the writer Stephen Spender described a meeting in 1962 as the octogenarian composer prepared to leave for Africa. "He was excited," recalled Spender, "and showed me Alan Moorhead's books, especially a photo of a rhino. `I want to see that animal,' he said. `It's like this ...' suddenly he was on all fours, his stick with hook turned up like a horn, his eyes glazed--a rhinoceros."

    Stravinsky was remarkably childlike in other ways as well: at one moment carefree and innocent, at another overwhelmed by the tragedy of existence. He worried about how he fit into the grand scheme of things. In fact, it was this Cartesian need to understand his place in the grandly designed hierarchy that explains many of the composer's actions, especially his need to be famous and, more to the point, to be admired. In his introduction to Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina , Malcolm Cowley speaks of the author's insecurity, beginning with the loss of his mother when he was two and shaping his life thereafter: "This need for love--and also for admiration--gave him a lover's clairvoyance, and he was never indifferent to people: everyone was charged for him with positive or negative electricity. I think this continual watchfulness helps to explain his fictional talent.... It gave a feeling of centrality to his work, a sense of its existing close to the seats of power." Certainly there was no indifference in Stravinsky's life, no middle ground. He felt strongly about everything. He resisted those who disagreed with him, and he continually sought reassurance of his own position. Like his contemporary Sigmund Freud, Stravinsky embraced his fame vengefully, as a highly visible means of winning some measure of retribution against those who had failed to recognize his abilities, especially during his formative years.

    The composer commented on every biography and magazine article written about him, sometimes ranting over the most trifling errors. An article by Winthrop Sargeant, for example, in a March 1953 issue of Life was marked extensively ("alas, it proved a very poor article with many mistakes in it," Stravinsky wrote on the envelope in which it was sent to him), even though it was essentially a harmless piece. The most superficial articles, including one in the May 1947 issue of Junior Bazaar , did not go unnoticed, as the many mistakes Stravinsky circled in his copy disclose. Throughout his library, the margins of journals and books spill over with his bristling: "This is entirely wrong," "All lies," "What an idiot," "I never said that," "Who cares," "How can this person be so dense?"

    Those who risked writing biographies of Stravinsky suffered his special wrath, as he would studiously read and comment on most every issue an author might raise. The marginalia in his copy of Frank Onnen's 1948 monograph, retained in the Sacher Stiftung, is typical of the composer's running commentary: "Why to write such useless books? Yes, useless and full of mistakes and wrong information." He meticulously corrected spellings, transliterations, and dates in red and blue pencil. When Onnen mentioned Stravinsky's "Serenade in A Major," the composer answered, "Never!--just in A." Any instance of sentimentalizing a work meets with protest as well. Of the Ebony Concerto , written for Woody Herman in 1945, Onnen said, "It is a deeply moving piece over which lies the sadness and the melancholy of the blues, the old laments of a race that was from generation to generation oppressed and downtrodden." In response, the composer underlined the passage in red and added one of his favorite markings, "!?!"

    Yet nowhere is Stravinsky's outcry huffier than in a firestorm of criticism aimed at Eric Walter White, for many years considered the composer's most reliable and comprehensive biographer. When a friend of Stravinsky's praised White in 1947 as an "ardent admirer" and his work as generally complimentary, the composer retorted:

I am in possession of Eric Walter White's book. Sorry not to share your reaction to your description of this musicography [sic] as "a most ardent Stravinskyite." Not his previous book, Stravinsky's Sacrifice to Apollo , nor his present work on me do advocate his understanding of my entire creative output. I wonder reading his two books on me, why write at all when exhibit such consistent restraint and an absolute absence of genuine enthusiasm, nothing to say of his utter lack of discrimination of facts.... Side by side with correct information he uses excerpts from writings of rather biased and dubious sources, such as Mme. B. Nijinska's legends and S. Lifar's impudent revelations of late Diaghilev's jealousies. A "most ardent" admirer would undoubtedly find other means to express his appreciation--Beware!

    The "present work" to which the composer referred was Stravinsky: A Critical Survey , a monograph that especially irked him. He retained a copy of the book (now held by the Sacher Stiftung), fuming in the margins over virtually every point White raised. The biographer criticized the Duo Concertant (for piano and violin), remarking, "Indeed the quality of much of the music is below par." Stravinsky responded by writing, as he so often did, a question mark in the margin. When White described the "Jig" as "boring," the composer wrote "?Why?" And when White claimed that "in all these works [Stravinsky's violin and piano pieces, Samuel] Dushkin collaborated with Stravinsky in writing the violin part," Stravinsky circled the statement and added in the margin, "absolutely wrong"--though as the sketches in the Stiftung clearly reveal, Dushkin played a far greater role in assisting him than history has claimed, or Stravinsky was ever willing to admit.

    Sensitive to Stravinsky's notoriously short fuse, especially when it came to anyone audacious enough to claim to understand him, White made every effort to present a fair and accurate biographical account. Often he asked the composer for suggestions, sending him prepublication typescripts and inviting him to offer revisions, especially in the process of writing his important and still often used (though obviously dated) 1966 biography. White patiently endured Stravinsky's sententious harangues in return? The composer's exchanges with White are characteristic of his inclination to vent his frustrations, though often his condemnations were deflected to others and not shared with White directly. In an article in the summer 1948 issue of Tempo , "Stravinsky as a Writer," White concluded that the composer disliked Beethoven, citing as evidence a statement by C.-F. Ramuz, author of the text for L'Histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale) , that "Stravinsky was violently anti-Beethoven during the First World War." Stravinsky sent his reaction to Robert Craft--a harbinger of his trust in the young man he had met only a few months earlier (although they had corresponded since 1944). The missive lists a string of refutations pointing to both White's faulty views about Ramuz as well as his misinterpretations of Stravinsky's position on Beethoven.

    Nor did it matter whether his unsuspecting foil was a reputable biographer or an unknown college student. In a letter of 16 November 1953, a young woman from Emory University, speaking for several students studying the opera The Rake's Progress , confessed that she was "mystified over the reception your work received with so many of the New York critics," and asked for the composer's reaction to the "hostile attitudes" of such detractors. The student certainly didn't need to ask twice (probably didn't need to ask once), and the composer immediately answered:

I never understand what exactly are the critics complaining about when criticizing my music. Is there not in my music craft or art enough (for only these things should be the object of serious criticism), or do the critics merely not recognize them for lack of competence? The critics, if sincere, are usually disappointed at not finding in my music what they are looking for. Some time they deplore it, more frequently they attack me and almost always they become resentful. But where is the guarantee that their judgment, or opinion, is a professional one. And, after all, are they so important in the history of musical creation. P.S.--A quotation from Verdi's letters: "fortunate is the artist whom the press hates."

    Stravinsky's ubiquity earned him the label "the world's greatest living composer," and it was an appellation he did nothing to dispel. Not only Picasso but also American cartoonists caricatured him, finding him recognizable enough among the general public to ring a bell whenever "long-haired" contemporary composers were being lampooned. Stravinsky relished the notoriety, as the newspaper cartoons saved in his archives demonstrate. He was a media star, and he played the role splendidly in radio and magazine interviews, before television cameras, and wherever a crowd would gather. He needed the spotlight.

    Broadway offered such glittering exposure as to be irresistible. When Billy Rose invited the composer to contribute some ballet music to a show, Stravinsky accepted, even though some thought his decision ill advised. His private papers disclose that he turned down several commissions, including one for a cello concerto (although the composer never especially liked the instrument anyway), so he could do Rose's show at the Ziegfeld Theater. The chance to mix, even indirectly, with the likes of Bert Lahr, Teddy Wilson, and Benny Goodman--"show business"--was appealing. It gave him an instantaneous American celebrity status.

    Sometimes he threatened to steal the spotlight--or at least baited others into thinking that he might. A 1918 letter from Ramuz to René Auberjonois confirms that Stravinsky seriously entertained the idea of participating himself in the premiere of the original stage production of L'Histoire du soldat , as one of the actors. "Stravinsky told me last night his intention to dance the last scene," wrote an excited Ramuz. "This would be perfect; encourage him." This dance was the closing one, the rhythmically intricate "Marche triomphale du diable," and Ramuz cajoled Stravinsky to do it, although ultimately the composer declined. Often through his words and actions he would teasingly throw out such tantalizing prospects, though as he neared commitment to his overly zealous suggestions he rethought the potential consequences. Whether it was dancing the part of the devil, agreeing to interviews, implying he would accept a compositional commission or consider writing an article or a book, a discrete behavioral pattern emerges. Those who were involved in such exchanges seemed destined to ride a wave of anticipation and frustration. Seldom did Stravinsky flatly promise to do something and then renege, but there is a sense that he rather enjoyed seeing others scurry for his attention. Such conduct, consciously or otherwise, provided a no-lose situation for the composer. He remained in total control.


Excerpted from Stravinsky Inside Out by Charles M. Joseph. Copyright © 2001 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-07-16:
Along with other scholars, Joseph (Stravinsky and Balanchine, forthcoming) has undertaken a reevaluation of the life and legacy of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). For several decades, the composer of Rite of Spring and Firebird has been seen through the lens of idolizer, writer and conductor Robert Craft, whose many books about Stravinsky, and those supposedly written with him, must be taken with several grains of salt. Joseph, a Skidmore College professor of liberal arts, focuses on specific issues of Stravinsky criticism in chapters like "Boswellizing an Icon: Stravinsky, Craft, and the Historian's Dilemma" and "Film Documentaries: The Composer On and Off Camera." He recounts Stravinsky's stormy relationship with his son Soulima, who was Joseph's college piano teacher, and the composer's relations with many prominent figures: he kept a copy of W.H. Auden's The Age of Anxiety in which Auden inscribed, "Leonard Bernstein is a shit." Joseph is almost supernaturally polite about what he believes to be Craft's shoddy work, especially as the latter denied him permission to quote certain documents. However, Joseph gratuitously and inaccurately calls pianist Glenn Gould "always outlandish" when in fact he was an eccentric genius who happened to loathe Stravinsky, which seems increasingly understandable. The more we know about Stravinsky, an anti-Semitic fan of Mussolini who behaved badly toward colleagues, friends and family, the more he makes Picasso look like a choirboy. A certain macabre wit keeps him entertaining, though, such as when he annotated a Time article that called him an "animated Gothic gargoyle" with the words "How kind." Although sometimes lapsing into dense academic prose, this book adds new material to ongoing Stravinsky studies and should attract modern music aficionados. Photos. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Choice on 2002-02-01:
Stravinsky looms large in 20th-century cultural history. Like his contemporary Picasso, he lived a long and public life, a life that suggests questions about the nature of genius and notoriety. It is these questions that Joseph (liberal arts, Skidmore College) addresses. Unlike biographies written during Stravinsky's lifetime--notably, Eric Walter White's Stravinksy: The Composer and His Works (1966) and the many volumes of interviews with Robert Craft--Joseph's biography has the advantage of retrospection, not only of the events of the composer's life, but also of the historical and sociological circumstances that raised the composer to legendary status. Drawing on information from those closest to Stravinsky--his son, Soulima, and close friend Robert Craft--and on a multitude of other sources, this fascinating book presents the real person behind the legend, offering the reader a very human composer. Joseph spends some time debunking the misinformation that grew up around Stravinsky, even during his lifetime (some at the prompting of the composer himself), but he devotes the vast majority of space to presenting interpersonal communications regarding Stravinsky's works, thoughts, and ideas. And in doing so he allows the private man to emerge from the public legend. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. M. Neil Augustana College (IL)
Appeared in Library Journal on 2001-09-01:
Joseph (liberal arts, Skidmore Coll.; Stravinsky and the Piano) presents a fascinatingly eclectic mix of essays on various aspects of Stravinsky's career, with special emphasis on how he influenced or was influenced by aspects of 20th-century culture such as television, motion pictures, musical developments, and historical events. Whether he's discussing the composer's relationship with his son, Soulima (with whom the author once studied), his attempts at scoring Hollywood movies, or the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge commission for the ballet Apollon Musagete, Joseph takes a no-holds-barred approach, characterizing Stravinsky as a talented yet egotistical and controlling individual. Access to unpublished materials at the Sacher Foundation in Switzerland and the composer's archives provided Joseph with resources unavailable to most previous writers. A basic familiarity with the composer, his surroundings, and musical processes is assumed. Sure to be controversial, this well-written, fully documented title is recommended for academic collections and those specializing in music or 20th-century studies. (Index not seen.) Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, July 2001
Library Journal, September 2001
Choice, February 2002
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Bowker Data Service Summary
This text reveals Stravinsky's two sides - the public persona, preoccupied with his own image, and the private composer, whose views were often purposely suppressed.
Unpaid Annotation
Revealing Igor Stravinsky's two sides--the public persona and the private composer--this complex portrait draws upon an array of unpublished materials and rereleased film clips from the composer's huge archive at the Paul Sacher Institute in Switzerland. 32 illustrations.

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