HE SIGNED HIMSELF in various ways: Stravigor, IStr, IS. In Biarritz, 1920-1923, he "did gymnastics every morning," sunbathed for an hour at noon. He used the red ribbon half of the typewriter. He was pleased when General De Gaulle, on a New York visit in 1946, called a music store for the two-piano scores of the Circus Polka and Danses Concertantes, and also for the miniature score of the Four Norwegian Moods. A student chorus in Paris sang a passage in Persephone too sentimentally. When he asked why, they said "The music seems particularly expressive." He replied, "Then why do you want to make what already is?"

In an opinion he gave to the Feuilles Musicales at Lausanne, for the issue of December 1951: "Never use folklore in a symphonic work. Folklore is for a single voice or solo instrument. We can add to it quantitatively, but not qualitatively. Folklore impedes the construction of form." Paris Soir quoted him September 6, 1932, on a revolutionizing technology: "Radio, in effect, is a cosmetic device, the microphones approaching a certain instrument, then another one . . . a fine invention, the radio, but with something diabolic, and deceptive for the listener, the performer, and the composer." He finds a colleague (Fritz Busch, the conductor) "rather hostile to all the new (musical) tendencies," and adds in a striking independence of any modish captivity, "I would be the first to welcome this condition with open arms, but on condition that it had passed through the ideas of our time," and we are reminded of his profoundly wise remarks on the true nature of tradition in his Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1939: "Tradition supposes the reality of what endures. It appears as an heirloom, a heritage that one receives on condition of making it bear fruit before passing it on to one's descendants." Stravinsky was always at the ready with decisive opinions. Should he ever have been discreet? He once said to Robert Craft, "Then why bother, when silence can keep me from being wrong and foolish? Because even the mistakes and embarrassments do not count compared to even a single minor accident of truth, provisional and hypothetical as it would have to be, that could occur."

Stravinsky's extraordinarily busy life--reflected in this first volume of his selected correspondence--took a long time to reach a diminuendo. An early schedule: in a winter of the 1920s, on a tour of Europe, he had three concerts in Holland, three in Switzerland, three in Germany, one in Marseilles. An American tour of 20 concerts followed, and then three concerts in Spain, while the letters flew back and forth about production details, corrections in scores, and the like. He wrote to conductor Ernest Ansermet, "I work like three mules." When the time came later to reflect upon the gifts that he always said came to him from God, and consider the closing future, he said, in failing health, "I will have to stay closer to home, and my object world will be more limited . . . I must try in my smaller way, to look more close by, and to bring more life to my own still-life. One difficulty is that I am regarded as an object now myself, some priceless piece of porcelain as it may be, and this crockery is my greatest enemy. I hope nothing else befalls it for a spell, but if something does, that it comes 'during office hours.' As for the 'contents,' our talents are not given to us with any tenure, and 'we' may well outlast them. I know, nevertheless, that I have more music in me. And I must give; I cannot live a purely receiving life."

Referring to her husband, Madame Igor Stravinsky-- the composer's second wife--wrote to a cousin in Moscow in 1962, "In addition to a mountain of correspondence going back sixty years, he has amassed a whole library of programmes and articles concerning his music since 1906 . . ." These materials, in addition to her own diaries and letters, and documentation from other sources, provided Robert Craft with an archive immeasurably important and voluminous for distillation into a record of the life and work of the greatest creator (he himself would habitually have said "maker") in the world of the arts during the 20th century. Only lacking was access to his early letters, most of which, along with all of his family's papers and "his early manuscripts (of works known and unknown)" are out of reach in the Soviet Union.

Robert Craft is, of course, ideally qualified to give historical form to Stravinsky's life, music, and opinions. For 23 years he was Stravinsky's "Achates," as he puts it, from the time in 1948 when as a young musician he became acquainted with the composer until the last painful years when with entire devotion he saw the great man to his end at the age of 89 in 1971.

For a number of years it has been expected that Craft would produce a full biography of Stravinsky. His published works related to the Maestro have mounted impressively--six volumes in collaboration with Stravinsky in the form of conversations, a huge album of pictures and documents assembled with the collaboration of Vera Stravinsky, essays and studies collected in various volumes, and Craft's own superb diary, Chronicle of a Friendship 1949-1971, which most fully of all gives us the later world of Stravinsky at home and around the world, in every state of intellect, wit, and creative mood. Beyond the archival record, moreover, Craft has in general read everything and forgotten nothing. The result is that his commentaries and footnotes to the present collection of letters--grouped according to correspondent --are definitive in every scholarly way.

The initial section has to do with the composer's first wife Catherine; and here we are given a profound sense of the cousin who married the young Stravinsky, bore him four children, encouraged him in his early works, contracted tuberculosis, lost him to the exciting and rewarding world of ballet and opera and the intellectual life of Paris, and to the great love of his life, Vera de Bosset Soudekeina. Catherine Stravinsky accepted the love affair without ever losing her devotion to her husband. Craft writes, "Fifteen years after wedding Catherine, Stravinsky . . . became infatuated with Vera de Bosset Soudekeina." (Infatuated, with its connotation of the unreasoning and temporary passion, seems an odd description of the love that lasted in ideal terms for a half-century.) "The new relationship," Craft continues, "does not seem to have altered Catherine's feeling for her husband. Her letters suggest instead that she, who always coddled him, regarded Mme. Soudekeina as a partner for his help and protection . . ." Stravinsky had arranged for Vera and Catherine to meet, in Nice, in February 1925, while he was away in America. 'If there is to be another woman, I am glad that it is you,' Catherine told Vera on that occasion. Improbable as it may seem, the two did become fond of each other."

In 1936, Catherine wrote to him, "I hope God gives me the consolation of seeing you" and she adds that she will "actually hug" him. Her generosity and faithfulness are deeply moving, though she did say to her doctor, "Je suis une personne sacrifi,ee." At last, on March 2, 1939, she succumbed to the tuberculosis that had taken also one of her daughters and that visited Stravinsky himself on three occasions from which happily he recovered. Her death freed Stravinsky to marry again. He and Madame Vera were married in 1940 in the United States. In Catherine's adversity of heart and health, and in her transcendence of it, she can be described, Craft says, "as saintly." The first section of the book, then, is the most moving of all those in this volume.

In the next major correspondence--that with Jean Cocteau--we enter into another ample exchange, dating from 1913 to 1962. There are just over two dozen letters from Stravinsky, 88 from Cocteau. They echo an animated, complicated, at moments a strained friendship, yet one between collaborators, however unequal the talents involved. Much of the correspondence has to do with the realization of the great Oedipus Rex "opera-oratorio" of Stravinsky, with a French text achieved by Cocteau after many tries, which was translated into Latin by the late Cardinal Jean Dani,elou.

The Oedipus was first performed on May 30, 1927, in Paris, at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre, with the composer conducting. Synoptic passages between the scenes, addressed to the spectateurs, were spoken by an actor, not by Cocteau as one would have expected; but he did the performance many times in later years. In Vienna, as he wrote to Stravinsky, after a 1952 performance in which he was the narrator, there were 30 curtain calls-- "enormous (and absolutely full) house . . . an incredible triumph . . . I took the liberty of thanking the audience myself in your name." His letters here have the entertaining chic of his baroque malice--"Bakst has the appearance of a good, fat snail, with his new yellow half- boots." Stravinsky never granted Cocteau fullest acceptance personally or professionally; yet he wept when Cocteau died.

The longest section in the volume s devoted to the letters of Stravinsky to the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, covering the period 1914-1967. There is only one --a telegram at the end--from Ansermet, though by what Stravinsky writes to him, we have a clear sense of their relationship. Bluntly put, it was a functional alliance for the sake of the advancement of Stravinsky's music. For Ansermet's help, Stravinsky expresses over many years his affectionate gratitude. He admires Ansermet's gifts as a conductor. He sends many corrective instructions concerning parts in his orchestral scores. Ansermet is needed as Stravinsky's agent in furious and delicate dealings with Diaghilev, who "is so secretive and sly!" Ansermet was tireless, and earned devoted thanks. "I embrace you with all my heart . . . for your love of my music . . . With a friend like you, one can do the most unbelievable things. You cannot imagine the joy you have given me . . . and "You can always count on me no matter what the circumstances in your life." There were uproarious times together, as described elsewhere by Stravinsky--"The time, for instance, when we drank a whole bottle of Framboise after which (Ansermet) pretended to be a dog and even began barking like one under my piano in the Salle Pleyel. It was a very convincing performance . . ."

From 1914 to 1937, there was evidently the closest and most productive colleagueship between the great composer and the marvellous executant; and then, the alliance came to an abrupt end. Ansermet planned to make cuts in two Stravinsky scores--Apollo Musa- geteand Jeu de Cartes--and described them to the composer, who absolutely forbade them. But Ansermet performed his cuts, and a silence of a decade followed, until Ansermet came to America for concerts. Interviewed by Time he described Stravinsky as "a man of great culture" and--a trifle wryly?-- "the best business man I ever knew." The ice was broken. Stravinsky wrote, "Thousand thanks for wonderful performance. . . . Do you really think I am a good businessman composing such music?" If all was not healed during the next 18 years, the wound was finally closed when in 1966 Stravinsky wrote to Ansermet, "We are too old not to think about the end of our days; and I would not want to finish these days with the burden of painful enmity. . . ."

Including the next section--a charming exchange of letters between Stravinsky and Nadia Boulanger--all the texts so far have been given in translations from either the Russian, the German, or the French. Thereafter all the correspondence --with Lincoln Kirstein, W.H. Auden, and Robert Craft--appears in the original English; and san Couddenly there is a new tone to the contents. No doubt the previous sections in translation were scrupulously brought over; but freshness and spontaneity, an authentic idiomatic presence, are now felt when Stravinsky writes in his own richly personal English.

For Stravinsky's English was extraordinarily his own, while correct and wide-ranging in vocabulary. Kirstein's own animation makes a proper equation in their exchanges, which largely have to do with Stravinsky's works to be given by the New York City Ballet. The Kirstein correspondence reaches from 1946 to 1966, and his loving regard for the composer is evident throughout.

The ballet company gave both Apollo and Orpheus in memorable productions by Balanchine, and Kirstein keeps begging Stravinsky for a third piece to form a "classical" triad, at one point urging a collaboration between T.S. Eliot and the composer with reference to "Sweeney Agonistes"; Stravinsky talks, hems, haws, but nothing comes of it.

Homage is a note sounded often and justly during the composer's life and since; and when he chose W.H. Auden to collaborate with him on the opera The Rake's Progress, the poet wrote to him, "I need hardly say that the chance of working with you is the greatest honor of my life." The combination of talents succeeded personally and professionally. A warm friendship resulted, and so did that most beguiling of modern operas.

Stravinsky wrote to Kirstein, "Wysten Auden spent the evening with me talking about The Rake's Progress. He has wonderful ideas. . . . He adores opera . . . for him opera is a ritual. You can tell him what you want and you will get it, but to a degree of intensity and perfection that is quite stupendous." Through many valuable technical passages in the letters and the notes, we see the work progress to its completion and first performance in Venice. During its evolution, Auden wrote to Stravinsky in anticipation of meeting to work together, "I hope you have plenty of Scotch." Undoubtedly there was plenty. Stravinsky once said to a friend over drinks in Santa Fe, "So much I like Scotch that sometimes I think my name is Igor Strawhisky."

The letters selection closes with those from Stravinsky in 1944 beginning "Dear Mr. Craft" and moving on to "Dearest Bob" in 1949. These five years illuminate the first phase of the productive relationship of the gifted young American conductor and scholar with his illustrious senior, and with the beautiful Madame Vera Stravinsky, whose grace, style, wit, and talent (she is a painter), made the Stravinsky household an oasis of civilization in Hollywood, where Craft became an endeared and privileged member. As succeeding volumes appear, we shall no doubt come to know more intimately the character of this remarkable union between the two artists, and its resulting effect upon the course of the great composer's career.

In considering this first of three volumes of Stravinsky correspondence, two significant questions remain to be touched on.

The first is the difficult moral question of giving to the world letters of whose publication the writer would not have approved. In his introduction, Craft flatly says that "Stravinsky would not have approved of the publication of his letters." Surely the clear wishes of the principal should be obeyed without question? Yet in the case of extraordinary persons, it is a question devoutly to be begged. Not only the works, but the lives, of great men belong to history. Can it be said that in such affairs, private moral claims must give way before public?

The other significant question is also raised by Craft, and it comes more disturbingly from a disciple. Craft elsewhere, in his Chronicle of a Friendship, has with wit, unbounded affection, and brilliant style, given us a marvel of a relationship, undisturbed by second thoughts. Yet now in the preface to the present volume, he tells us, "Volumes II and III of the Selected Correspondence offer far larger tracts of unknown territory than Volume I, and Volume III iCos almost entirely new. But," he says, "in all three books, Stravinsky's wit and overwhelming charm are unfortunately not as evident as less desirable qualities, partly, no doubt, for the reason that he always wrote under pressure and in a great hurry." He goes on, "Since 1972 I have discovered views and statements by him that would be scarcely conceivable coming from the Stravinsky I knew, (who was) a very different, incomparably more likable human being than the author of a great many of the letters of the 1920s and 1930s." However, the present volume contains little of the traits whose discovery so troubled Craft. Evidently we must wait for the volumes II and III to see what these were.

It is curious that a revisionist view of Stravinsky's personality as revealed in his letters should have to come to light through the scholarly efforts of his fidus Achates. In any case, whatever may come in future volumes, Stravinsky the artist will safely survive it. By PAUL MORGAN; PAUL HORGAN is the author of many books including Encounters with Stravinsky. His most recent novel is Mexico Bay.