Thursday, May 26

Igor Stravinski, the musician of a thousand faces | Culture

Igor Stravinski (right) and his wife Vera (left), with President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his wife Jackie in January 1962 in Washington.
Igor Stravinski (right) and his wife Vera (left), with President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his wife Jackie in January 1962 in Washington.Keystone / Getty Images

Igor Stravinski is, at the same time, one and his opposite. And, in between, many others are stacked. The Russian was a master of disguise, transformism, dissimulation, reinvention, self-propaganda, and his long life allowed him to display all his inexhaustible repertoire of tricks, like a ventriloquist who assumes multiple personalities that cancel or contradict each other. . But ultimately his music always redeems him. Not surprisingly, shortly after he died in New York, in the early hours of April 6, 1971, there were newspaper headlines such as “Without a doubt, he was the most outstanding figure in 20th century music” (The Guardian) or, expanding the temporal radius much more, “one of the great creative and original geniuses in the entire history of music” (The Washington Post) or “the most modern of the modern” (The New York Times). The Irish Times he went further and asked himself: “What can ordinary people write about the immortals?”, to go on to compare him later with Beethoven, as if both were the epitomes of the musical creation of their respective centuries.

Born in the tsarist Russia of Alexander III in 1882, Richard Nixon died in the United States and buried on the island of San Michele, in Venice, his glory began perhaps with a stroke of luck, which was what brought him into contact with the visionary Sergey Diaghilev in 1909, thanks in part to the death the previous year of his teacher in his native Saint Petersburg, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, as other more veteran composers previously declined the invitation of the businessman. What happened next is well known: the Ballets Russes, Paris, The Firebird, Petrushka, The Consecration: the of spring and his own. The scandal surrounding the premiere of this latest ballet at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris on May 29, 1913, was the fuze that unleashed the barrage of publicity that so benefited the young and ambitious iconoclast. But nobody gave him anything, because his score – much more deeply rooted in Russian folklore than he was willing to admit – was groundbreaking, brutal, almost irreverent, to the point that it has preserved intact until today the aura of primal music, wild, pure, that one would say gushing out of the bowels of the earth.

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Less than two months earlier, on March 31, Vienna, the great European music capital, had witnessed another pitched battle between supporters and detractors of what was then considered the new music. Arnold Schönberg was conducting in the Great Hall of the Musikverein and the concert had to be interrupted, in the middle of the brawl, after the interpretation of two of the Altenberg songs of his disciple Alban Berg. Schönberg did not give up in his endeavor to conscientiously carry his harmonic revolution to the end, while Stravinsky (stung by the Austrian as “the little Modernsky” in the mirror canon of the second of his Satire op. 28) decided to slide off Spring consecration a Pulcinella, from “Pagan Russia” to art commedy. Neoclassicism served as a refuge for him in the First World War I, a terrain where his prodigious inventiveness and angular rhythms were just as comfortable producing masterpieces such as Oedipus Rex, the concert Dumbarton Oaks, the Symphony of Psalms O The Rake’s Progress, with a libretto by Wystan Hugh Auden and Chester Kallman rhymed and put together in the old fashioned way. For another twist of fate, the opera premiered at La Fenice two months after the death of Schönberg, who had been his almost literal neighbor in Los Angeles in the 1940s, after both fleeing the Nazi fury and Europe at war. Despite the closeness, they ignored each other, but as soon as the Austrian died, Stravinsky confessed to feeling alone.

Igor Stravinsky, photographed by Arnold Newman in 1946 in New York.
Igor Stravinsky, photographed by Arnold Newman in 1946 in New York.CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART/ AP / Arnold Newman

More bizarre it almost seems that the Russian ended up cultivating twelve-tone (and serialism) just shortly after his creator and formidable opponent died, even though he had previously claimed that “modernists have ruined modern music”, and Stravinsky called “modernists” he referred to “gentlemen who work with formulas instead of ideas,” creators “who seek to scandalize the bourgeoisie and end up pleasing the Bolsheviks. I am not interested in the bourgeoisie or the Bolsheviks ”. A fundamental role was played in his conversion by Robert Craft, who entered his life in 1948 and remained faithfully by his side until the end as clerk, secretary, confidant (truthful or fallacious, as required), bumper, correveidile and sole apostle of his religion. As a staunch admirer of Schönberg and a pioneering performer of his music in America, Craft won his alter ego for the cause, which in turn facilitated building bridges with the European avant-garde, more the daughter of the Second Vienna School than of Stravinsky’s mutable, unpredictable and non-transferable aesthetics.

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Visit to Spain

Just a century ago he was in Spain, a country that he visited frequently and under any political regimes, Franco included. He then accompanied the Russian Ballets, directed Petrushka at the Teatro Real and traveled with Diághilev to Holy Week in Seville. In an interview that appeared in The voice On March 21, 1921, he defended that the purpose of music is to be, “above all, an acoustic sensation” and that “all kinds of feelings and philosophical theories have been expressed with it, with which it has only won that the rhythm has gradually lost its wealth. Feelings of the soul! What does this mean? Doesn’t he have his soul every moment? And he added: “All my desire is to give an acoustic sensation, looking for it wherever it is and wherever it comes from. I flee from everything that has been done, because it is conventional, academic ”. Already then the theses that he would later translate into his Musical poetics (written in multiple hands, as always), determined to deny music any expressiveness, a mantra that also frequently, but not always, permeates the interpretations she bequeathed to us of her own music, an essential source of her income.

Only he could achieve, in the same year (1962), and in the middle of the Cold War, to be received almost with honors as head of state by John Kennedy in the White House and by Nikita Khrushchev in the Kremlin, in what marked his return to Russia after almost half a century of absence. He had also been in 1935 with his then admired Benito Mussolini, but nothing made a dent in a reputation scrupulously chiseled and guarded by him jealously and boldly throughout his life. At the wish of his wife, Vera, he was buried in Venice and the funeral – Catholic and Orthodox – in the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, on April 15, drew crowds. Although he acquired American citizenship in 1945 (after having been Russian, stateless and French), neither New York – where he died – nor Hollywood – his penultimate home – seemed like the right places to welcome his body, just as the Soviet Union was not, so different from the country that saw him born in 1882. Venice, where he premiered several of his works and where he was always happy, seemed the most ideal place: the water and the palaces commemorated Saint Petersburg and The Serenissima he was, like Stravinsky himself, a symbol of the confluence of East and West. His tomb is in the Orthodox section of San Michele, a few meters from where its discoverer, Sergei Diaghilev, rests.

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The more his autobiographical writings or his supposed conversations with Robert Craft are read, the more muddled his image will become. However, the more his music is listened to – the wild and eruptive of the early years, the diaphanous and serene of his neoclassical stage, the concise and hermetic of his last period, with cross references and temporal dislocations between all of them – the more clearly we will perceive his multiform and incomparable genius. His last preserved score, from the spring of 1969, is a pencil transcription, with fine and shaky writing, very different from his usual thick and round calligraphy, of several preludes and fugues of the Well-tempered harpsichord of Bach: the Prelude in E flat minor, of the first book, it was the last music he played three days before he died.

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