Stravinsky Inside Out. (Book Reviews: Composers).
Reassessment, reevaluation, and revisitation are key words that identify many of the books that have augmented the Stravinsky bibliography since the publication of Richard Taruskin's Stravinsky and the Russian Tradition (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1996). These new studies revisit the contributions of the composer to the music, society, and culture of the twentieth century, and hover between a reevaluation of his music and a reassessment of his biography. Jonathan Cross's The Stravinsky Legacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) and Joseph N. Straus's Stravinsky's Late Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) delve into Stravinsky's music; its lesser known corners are brought to light and its reverberations into the future presupposed. Stephen Walsh's Stravinsky: A Creative Spring (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999) takes advantage of the opening to researchers in 1986 of the Stravinsky Archives, housed at the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel. and has biographical preoccupations as its main axis. None of these books, however, is built so glaringly around the absence of Stravinsky's music as Charles M. Joseph's Stravinsky Inside Out. While Stravinsky: A Creative Spring is exhaustive in its systematization of new biographical information, Stravinsky Inside Out (it too the result of investigative research conducted in Basel) is a collection of loosely connected essays whose main focus becomes clear only by the cumulativeness of their thematic diversity.
The absence of Stravinsky's music (and of any discussion of it) weakens the substance of Joseph's book, preventing it from becoming a wholly satisfying attempt at dehistoricizing (and then rehistoricizing) Stravinsky. In the peculiar case of this composer, whose personality achieved unusually mythic proportions, the integration of music and biography is indispensable to the understanding and correct evaluation of his achievements. The wealth of data now at the disposal of researchers may have warranted yet again such a divided approach. As Joseph acknowledges, "[at the Paul Sacher Stiftung] quite unexpectedly I stumbled across aspects of Stravinsky's life about which I either knew nothing or had entirely misperceived, particularly given what presumably reliable studies of the composer had related" (p. x). As a result, Stravinsky Inside Out is a consistent, but incomplete, exercise in informed biographical reevaluation, based on recently unearthed documents whose authority seems unquestionable. Despite its hig hly engrossing arguments, the book might be likened to a protracted discussion on scaffolds, those sometimes gigantic if temporary structures that in time are dismantled to reveal the main structure to which they had given support. In Stravinsky Inside Out, the temporary scaffold of a life is scrutinized at length, but the main structure that resulted from it--the music--is left untouched,
A cluster of four chapters forms the core of the book. "The Would-Be Hollywood Composer: Stravinsky, the Literati, and 'the Dream Factory' " takes into account Christopher Isherwood's and Aldous Huxley's observations on the film industry to chart the many unsuccessful attempts Stravinsky made at composing film music during the 1930s and 1940s. The last sentence of the chapter ("If Hollywood didn't have the good sense to furnish a viable artistic forum for visually realizing Stravinsky's ideas, perhaps the emerging world of television would" [p. 131]) creates a kind of literary attacca that leads directly into the next chapter, "Television and The Flood: Anatomy of an 'Inglorious Flop.'" Here, vividly chronicled, are the machinations and miscalculations that framed the creation of the intractable The Flood in 1962. Also in this chapter is one of the rare instances where Joseph addresses the music directly: "The structural boundaries framing Stravinsky's instrumental works are often intentionally, and almost al ways brilliantly blurred. Though never abandoning their underlying classical design, the composer often transmogrified traditional sonata, concerto, and symphonic forms into something new and fresh" (p. 135). Another attacca closes this chapter: "Perhaps the cameras should focus, not on [Stravinsky's] music, but directly upon him" (p. 161), and leads into "Film Documentaries: The Composer On and Off Camera," the most gripping segment of Stravinsky Inside Out. This chapter restores to life the numerous scenes and statements that were edited Out of the many documentaries on Stravinsky, "the ideal film personality: funny, droll, quick, eccentric, quirky, controversial, contentious, yet still pedestaled as the epitome of the 'not to be deterred' rebellious hero so many admired" (p. 165). The core chapters of Stravinsky Inside Out conclude with "Letters, Books, Private Thoughts: Reading Between the Lines," an overview of the holdings of the Stravinsky Archives, under the form of a discussion of works (The Rake's P rogress especially), unpublished letters, business documents, phonograph recordings, and the 1939-40 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard.
Around these central chapters, another four are more haphazardly laid out. "Truths and Illusions: Rethinking What We Know" probes the construction of Stravinsky's public persona. "Rediscovering the American Apollon Musagete: Stravinsky, Coolidge, and the Forgotten Washington Connection" is an exercise in history unexpunged, as it describes the commission and subsequent American premiere of Apollo, whose history "as with so many other aspects of the composer's chronicle, has been all but expunged" (p. 63). "Fathers and Sons: Remembering Sviatoslav Soulima" is dedicated to salvaging the memory of the third of Stravinsky's four children. It confirms, however, that "[Soulima's] life was lived under a microscope, and perhaps more than anything else, it was destined to be viewed as a footnote to his father's biography" (p. 98). This chapter seems to serve yet another purpose, that of highlighting the humanism of Soulima Stravinsky against the doctrinarism of Nadia Boulanger. Joseph says, "Questioning her authority- -an authority that approached papal infallibility--was tantamount to excommunication" (p. 77). As it happens, "Father and Sons . . ." is as much an homage to a former teacher as an indictment of another. "Boswellizing an Icon: Stravinsky, Craft, and the Historian's Dilemma" is placed toward the end of Stravinsky Inside Out and takes the controversy surrounding James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson as a point of departure to reassess the Igor Stravinsky--Robert Craft association. A very short epilogue serves as the summation of Joseph's theses.
Stravinsky Inside Out is a close scrutiny of aspects of the Stravinsky biography that have only recently become available. It amplifies (and transforms) the received notions from previous accounts of Stravinsky's life. Joseph anchors his arguments firmly on the evidence, turning away from oft-repeated anecdotes and episodes. As he contends, "we must simply go about the business of screening, evaluating, balancing, restoring, and assembling as accurately as we can a complete profile of Stravinsky. Only then will a fuller understanding of one of the century's most fascinating and complex cultural figures begin to emerge" (p. 265). It seems, then, that the time has not yet come for a unified approach that informs the biography with the music and, conversely, the music with the biography. Such an all-inclusive view seems to lie in the future, when these two apparently irreconcilable extremes will be integrated into a lasting and satisfying whole. Only then will the definitive book on Igor Stravinsky (which Stravi nsky Inside Out does not attempt to be) have been written, uniting temporary scaffold and permanent edifice, demonstrating what solid music structures can result from the seminal, but necessarily fleeting, support of a life.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Chaves, Celso Loureiro|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2002|
|Previous Article:||Istvan Anhalt: Pathways and Memory. (Book Reviews: Composers).|
|Next Article:||Manuel de Falla: Modernism in Spain, 1898-1936. (Book Reviews: Composers).|