"Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories"
By Robert Craft
Naxos Books; 400 pp. $34.98
Igor Stravinsky first met Robert Craft in 1948 in New York City. The occasion was an all-Stravinsky concert the twenty-three-year-old Craft was presenting; Stravinsky conducted the first half and also refused monetary compensation from the young conductor/presenter. By the summer of 1949, and after much time spent together working on some early archival projects, Stravinsky invited Craft to stay in his home and help archive a huge treasure of manuscripts. Thus began one of the great artistic collaborations of the twentieth century. Craft went on to be Stravinsky's rehearsal conductor and co-conductor in concerts, as well as his friend, confidant, researcher and archivist. Over the decades that remained in Stravinsky's life, as well as in those since, Craft has recorded all of Stravinsky's works and has written prolifically on a number of musical topics, including the composer. Now, at age ninety, he has penned this book, which includes a CD recording of Craft conducting a version of Rite of Spring that restores passages from the composer's original manuscript.
Discoveries and Memories is rife with revelations. For the first time, Craft addresses aspects of Stravinsky's life that have previously remained undiscussed. There is a goldmine of information on the great composer's thoughts on the compositional process, as well as fascinating narrations of his and Craft's involvement in the music of Gesualdo and Webern.
Much has been made over the decades about the Schoenberg–Stravinsky rift. Here, Craft presents persuasive evidence that much of that feud was vastly overblown — probably because it made such good copy and was so much to the preference of the composers' respective partisans. In fact, these two musical giants regarded each other with mutual respect, admiration and even cordiality.
It seems that for all Stravinsky's greatness as a composer, and his fantastic rapport with musicians, celebrities, intellectuals and impresarios, he was rather a failure as a parent and husband. His relationship with his four children was distant at best, neglectful and judgmental at worst. In turn, it helps to explain some of the reasons behind the horrific efforts Craft relates regarding the Stravinsky heirs' attempts to shut Vera Stravinsky, the composer's second wife, completely out of the estate. Stravinsky turns out to have had quite a problem with fidelity, particularly toward his first wife. His tastes included lovers of both genders, and although most of the composer's sexual energy was directed toward women, there is evidence here of emotionally committed affairs with men, most notably composers Maurice Delage and Ravel. One notes that Stravinsky seems to have been far less abusive, far more tender, far more honest, with his male intimates. Vera de Bosset appears to have been much more tolerant and understanding of the composer's extra-curricular dalliances than was Catherine, his first wife and the mother of his children.
As always, Craft is highly readable, writing in an engaging combination of colloquial speech and erudite observation, filled with wit and a great deal of charm. Still, there are occasional bouts of verbosity and self-aggrandizement. In particular, there are two things about this book with which I take issue. There should have been a bit more information about the contained recording and how it was achieved. Here we are given only a single page, devoted to a track listing, timings and minimal production information. More concerning is the book's ending: after an interesting essay on Stravinsky's friendship with the great astronomer Edwin Hubble — which is followed by a brief description of more recent advances in astronomy — the book is over. After a wealth of information about Stravinsky and his life, a brief summation by Craft would have been a more satisfying crowning touch. Craft has been blessed to lead a life of great adventure and intellectual accomplishment. It might have been best had he closed the book with a final word on his life with the composer that helped to make it possible.
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