Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stravinsky - the cricket wearing spats


'It was November, extremely cold with an east wind. I crossed the Channel and called on Stravinsky. He was living in the Fauborg St Honore, in a very elegant apartment. He was spruce and gnome-like, immaculately dressed, and looking more like a business executive than a composer. But this impression changed as we sat talking: he was precisely like a cricket wearing spats. Just as a cricket will stay immobile, then suddenly bound into the air with a spring of compressed energy, so I had the feeling that Stravinsky might bound through the ceiling at any moment. He looked alert, nervous though not neurotic, as though he had just emerged from one of those baths where you are rubbed with ice and beaten with birch-sticks.

... Suddenly...the cricket sprang, 'I want to show you something,' he said, and led me into his study. It was a small room, clinically tidy with an upright piano. Stravinsky went straight across the room to a shelf beside his piano and took down a portrait bust which he gave me to hold. I held the bust, which I did not recognise, and Stravinsky stood beside me as though he were observing a two minute's silence. 'Webern is the greatest composer of this century,' he said finally. He took the portrait from me and put it back on the shelf.

From that moment our relationship was less formal. He told me he always composed at the piano: he had to hear the note to be absolutely certain it was precisely the sound he wanted. Dozens of kinds of pencils, paper-clips, contraptions for punching papers and threading them together littered a side-table. The room was full of gadgets or desk-toys which he believed made him more efficient.

Stravinsky was pathetically pleased that I had called on him. He feared my generation 'had got lost in Sibelius and had never heard of his music'. I told him how much I admired the Symphony of Psalms and his Octet for Wind Instruments - especially. I said, the very last part of it. He picked up a score and went to the piano. 'You mean from here?' he asked. 'Precisely.' 'Yes,' he said., 'I joined that bit on. I wrote it originally as an epitaph for Debussy.'

I tried to interest him in Britten, but he was too self-absorbed to be aware of anybody else's work. He was interested only in Webern, somebody he could use. I mean nothing derogatory in that.'


Ronald Duncan describes a 1936 meeting with Stravinsky in his book Working With Britten (The Rebel Press ISBN 0900615303). Duncan was the librettist for The Rape of Lucretia and also worked on Peter Grimes.

Igor Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov), Russia at noon, June 5th 1882 in the old Russian calendar. This birthdate is usually translated as June 17th in the new calendar, but sometimes as June 18th, and even June 19th by Naxos. Whichever day, happy birthday Igor!

Now read about Stravinsky's Tibetan connection. View Stravinsky videos on YouTube via this link, and here is a 3 minute copyright cleared sample from his 1944 Mass - .

The photo shows Stravinsky in his Paris studio in 1929. The audio sample is via Boosey & Hawkes and is performed by the Gregg Smith Singers and Columbia Symphony Winds & Brass from Sony SM2K 46301. 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

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