THE PREFACE TO this gorgeous scrapbook proposes that the next century will replace "Wagnerian" with "Stravinskyan" as an adjectival modifier for "ego." Indeed, the ensuing gargantuan "portrait of the man and the musician" flows easily in the wake of Cosima Wagner's recently published diary about her spouse, except that the Stravinsky book is less quotidian reportage than luxuriant retrospect and is not really authored by his widow. Vera de Bosset, painter and actress, couturiers and intellectual, handsome charmer and faithful wife ("the wife they all loved... Not Helen, the other..." sang Mandelstam) shares billing with Robert Craft, Strvinsky's longtime intimate colleague. But Craft, who defines the volume as a reflection of "this author's [not "these authors'"] feelings about Stravinsky seven years after his death," is clearly the mastermind. Of Stravinsky's ego, however, there is aplenty, though of a non-Wagnerian brand; to think oneself God would have been for the orthodox Russian artist the ultimate sacrilege. He knew his worth, with panache and clarity, as did the world in whose eyes he represented the last benius. The notion of Great Man -- that Beethovenian individual blessed, or maybe cursed, by the fates -- is no longer current now that Stravinsky, along with Picasso and Mann and Disney, is gone; that any grandiose living artist -- Borges, Bergman, Boulez -- would receive so ornate a tombstone seems unthinkable.
Igor Stravinsky was famous from the start, not just because he was great (so was Webern) but because he was public. He was public thanks to his special scope, a scope imposed by Diaghilev, the first high-class purveyor world-wide of collective art. Stravinsky continues to fire both public and private imaginations because he succeeded in rendering theater music serious -- music, that is, other than opera. One example of such music, Le Sacre du printemps , has become the single unanimously deemed musical masterpiece of of our century: indeed, more than Guernica or The Golden Bowl or the Seagram's Building, Sacre is the artwork against which our international culture is judged. Anything, even a laundry list, by the maker of such a work is of curiosity value, and Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents more than fills the bill.
The pictures are mostly little-known Kodak shots introducing us into the parlors and rafesand onto the beaches and stages of your with the awe of utter reality. Here sits Debussy, a bourgeois faun, and Rimsky-Korsakov with cigarette, and Ravel with has mother, all with the same breathing aliveness as Nijinsky, variously in straw hat and derby, dapper and vlunerable, palpable yet vanished. Color plates feature Benois' fire-breathing devils on the curtain for Petrushka (not less beautiful than Picasso's famous curtain for Satie's Parade ), Roerich's hallucinatory study for the Sacre , paintings by Stravinsky himself and closeups of his manuscripts flyspecked with rainblw inks, bright sketches in logbooks or opograms, and razorsharp photos of the gondola-borne procession of final rites through the canals of Venice. The documents are mostly letters to and from Stravinsky, or press clippings, diaries and reviews from hundreds of sources all radically screened. The format is coffee-table -- the book weighs more than myu cat -- with white margins accounting for a third of the bulk. The bulk of that bulk is Craft's connecting commentary, biographical (including anecdotes from his own journal) juxtaposed with analytical (including comparison of various drafts of musical works), a happier, if looser, scheme than the habitual separation of a man's muxid from his "real life."
If Cosima revealed more than we finally care to know about Wagner except what hje liked to eat, Craft tells us not only about Stravinsky's diet (generally rich and alcoholized) and his habit of munching charcoal as an anti-flatulant before drinking champagne, but also about his fanatical order (the collecting tendencies of a nesting magpie), olfactory preferences (leather, coffee), his sexual utopia (mammary), his hypochondria (to counteract which he kept himself in muscular trim), and his extramarital dalliances (seemingly minimal, but counting Chanel).
"To speak of my own music is more difficult for me than to write it!" Difficult or not, Stravinsky covered thausands of pages, and was quoted in nearly as many interviews, with words on matters mostly professional. Craft cites the master copiously, not always to their mutual advantage. If the most famous remark ("Music is incapable of expressing anything") scarce bears repeating, Stravinsky's apposite literariness becomes at once too lean and too rich to quote hors contexte . But he could also be smug ("What the public likes in Brahms is the sentiment. What I like has another, architectonic basis"); self-contradictory, in the light of his frequent revamping of folk tunes ("Popular music has nothing to gain by being taken out of its frame"); and superficially deep in striking balances that would seem to be, but are not, mutually exclusive ("Romantic music was a product of sentiment and imagination; my music is a product of motion and rhythm"). Stravinsky could even be banal, honoring Chopin less than "the great Liszt whose immense talent... is often underrated," when in fact Liszt is the most over-rated of all our "underrated" composers. And he could be plain wrong as when referring to Chopin's formal and throughwritten Nocturnes as "fofm-less fragments." Craft claims that the "sum of the parts is less than the whoel, a casual remark by the man casting more light than pages of biographers' details," and to demonstrate he quotes the man, as though ex cathedra : "It is impossible for the brain to follow the ear and the eye at the same time." Were this epigram true, would it not challenge the very meaning of Craft's occupation as conductor? Craft's own logic is challenged when he claims on one page that "Stravinsky... does not believe that... external influences have any effect on his composition," and on another that "his music was influenced to an unprecedented extent by the circumstances of his life."
Not that Craft finds Stravinsky forever irreproachable, at least not extra-musically. The composer's inexplicable callousness toward his first wife is unrelentingly detailed. An appendix called "Stravinsky's Politics" reveals a fascist bent, mainly toward Mussolini; and in 1933 he hesitates to sign a petition on behalf of musicians being driven from their posts in the Reich because he felt cautious about Germany. ("Also, I do not know the positioning of my name on the list and do not want to be next to such trash as Milhaud.") Nor did the seem unabashed by Diaghiley's outspoken anti-Semitism, toward Koussevitzky among others.
Any good portrait mirrors the portraitist. Ten years ago I wrote, "Robert craft has squatter's rignts on public property." Today, as this book indicates, he still holds down his claim -- albeit with an Achilles' heel. The longest entry to deal uninterruptedly with any one subject (longer than the consecutive discussion of Petrushka , or even Le Sacre , or of the composer's rapports with Debussy or Ravel) is the 24 pages of small trpe, almost a self-parody, discrediting And Music at the Close , a memoir by Stravinsky's one-time booking agent, Lillian Libman. To be a solitary keeper of the flame is one thing; when the flame turns to conflagration ti's every man for himself to respond as he feels to the dazzling warmth, the blistering growth, and Libman surely has as much right as Craft to publish her souvenirs.
Too much here, too little there. Of Pierre Boulez, for instance, there is vietually nothing, though the primemoving Frenchman, presumably close to Stravinsky's heart, wrote a long-ago exegesis on Le Sacre no less original than one by a certain Allen Forte whom Craft chooses to extol at length.
Of the nearly two dozen references to Jean Cocteau listed in the index (plus another dozen strangely unlisted), none are warm or favorable, as though the poet, far from being a creator of stature, were a mere opportunist. May it not sound defensive to state that, while Stravinsky himself may have earned the right to certain sarcasms, Craft is not well placed for backstage jabs at unverifiable motives chez Cocteau and Andre Gide (two authors whom he -- like many an "outsider" -- links, although their sole common point, homosexuality, signifies no more than the presumed heterosexuality shared by, say, Claudel and Sartre, or even by Craft and Stravinsky).
The single youngish current composer of any nationality whom Craft finds worth quoting is Charles Wuorined who in 1961 wrote to Stravinsky: "Your recent magnificent serial compositions... are inspirations to all reasonable musicians." The implication that dodecaphonism is the True Way is actually less fallacious than the idea of a "reasonable musician."
With the notable exception of conductor Ernest Ansermen, whose critical intelligence Stravinsky respected and the correspondence with whom covers a longer span than any other in the composer's life (though, as Craft pointedly notes, Anserment's communications greatly outnumber, and are much lengthier, than Stravinsky's), performers, particularly singers, are given short shrift. Perhaps this is as it should be, the musico-literary market being glutted with print on the executional How rather than on the creational What, and the world at large having forgotten the obvious, that music originates with composers. Still, would it be superfluous in the fortysome pages devoted to Stravinsky's longest work, The Rake's Progress , to list the principals os this opera's 1951 premiere, two of whom, Jennie Tourel and Hugues Cuenod, were selected by the composer the following fall to "create" his new Cantata?
My irritation clothes admiration, seeing how much of this book's strength lies in Craft's weakness -- an inability to cope with certain viewpoints not his own. But all biographers are biased. Robert Craft, more skilled with words and more educated than most, is better suited than anyone in the world to oresent that world with a case for Stravinsky the Man.