Saturday, June 08, 2019

Alice Coltrane conducts Stravinsky


Igor Stravinsky's music features on two of Alice Coltrane's albums and in both instances she conducts her own transcriptions with devastating effect. Lord of Lords released in 1972 by Impulse was her first essay into Stravinsky transcriptions. She reported that her take on the Firebird - listen via this link - was recorded after a ghostly visitation by its composer who offered her musical and spiritual advice, and blessings. In her sleeve note Alice reported that Stravinsky brought her a vial of clear liquid, which she drank, explaining that “Divine instruction has been given to me throughout the entire arranging of this music.” She referred again to these visitations in the note for her 1976 album Eternity seen above:
Stravinsky has once again wonderfully inspired me. The infinite sound of the eternity permeates his music. I am truly grateful to Stravinsky for his offerings, and for the sharing of his gifts with us; and for the channel through which he communicates to me from the other world.
On one of his trips down that channel from the other world Igor must have rebuked Alice to add less Emerson, Lake & Palmer and more Dumbarton Oaks. The result on Eternity is her far more successful transcription of Spring Rounds from the Rite, for which she was blessed with a thirty-four piece orchestra plus her own contribution as conductor doubling on harp, percussion and organ - listen via this link or live forever in darkness.

Gender bias is, thankfully, being eroded in art music. But genre bias is still alive and kicking. Which means some women composers are being elevated in profile due to the commercial appeal of their gender rather than artistic merit of their inoffensive music, while Alice Coltrane remains a marginal figure* because her chewy music defies genres definition.

* Shankari C. Adams' new self-published 'authorised' Portrait of Devotion: Spiritual Life of Alice Coltrane Swamini Turiyasangitananda is a useful addition to the scanty Alice Coltrane resources; however it is not the comprehensive biography that Alice deserves.

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