Monday, January 22, 2007

Igor Stravinsky's Tibetan connection revealed

Dear Pliable, I must agree with Sir John's comments on Stravinksi's innate spirituality, despite the superficial appearance of coldness in his music. But this note is more prompted by one of those coincidences that often happen in life. My brush with the famous of 20th Century music, if you like.

I grew up in the 50's with three recordings of The Rite of Spring: Stravinsky's own recording on 78's (not very good, I'm afraid and not in the league of his later stereo version for CBS), Fantasia (of course, and always hated the cuts and other liberties), and a mono Decca by
Ansermet (my very favourite which I wore out with repeated playings).

Well, fast forward to circa 1980 in India when I was living in
Dharamsala, India, working on a mammoth Tibetan translation. (BTW, the 3rd edition has just been printed!) It turned out that both Ansermet's widow and daughter had been ordained Buddhist nuns and were living there. I only talked to the daughter once, over lunch in a Tibetan restaurant in McLeod Ganj. We got to talking about the old days in Paris and the Ballet Russe, Dhiagalev and all that. And that The Rite had been composed in the Ansermet family home. But the thing that really struck me was the following. (Note: we all called her "madame", though that was, I guess, technically incorrect.)

Me: Madame, but why did you come to Dharamsala of all places?

Madame: Because of Roerich, my dear!

Nicholas Roerich (picture below), of course, co-wrote the scenario of The Rite with Stranvinski and also designed the sets and costumes. He is well known in Tibetan studies for translations and dictionary -- all now deprecated by modern scholarship. But he died at Tsho Pema (The Lotus Lake) near Kulu-Menali. This is close enough to Dharamsala, though I've never been there myself. It's a strange spot, where there are three strange islands on the lake. The two smaller islands circumambulate around the largest island, the place where Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava was burned at the stake by some local king or other in the 9th C.

I know nothing of what Stravinski thought of Roerich's later adventures. But for me, there is now a very strong (post) connection between Tibet and The Rite.

Michael Richards, Sydney.
P.S. Thank you so much for your writings. Very much appreciated, I can tell you.
Now for another 20th century composer with Tibetan connections read The wheel would scar the earth, and for more on the mountain kingdom see
Freedom to Tibet's serfs and slaves, Tibetan Monk up for Grammy, and Bloggers for Tibet.

Image credits - Padmasambhava Guru Rinpoche from Tibetan Foundation, Nicholas Roerich from Roerich Museum, NY. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

2 comments:

Pliable said...

That famous composer Anon has just emailed to say:

Wow - someone finally getting it Right (of Spring)

Garth Trinkl said...

Roerich also did the paintings and mosaics for the beautiful small Trinity Cathedral at Western Ukraine's Orthodox Pochayiv Monastery, constructed between 1906 and 1912 to a North Russian revivalist design by Aleksey Schusev.

Here is a picture of one of the porches featuring Roerich's Symbolist mosaics:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/71/PochaevTrinity.jpg