VOLUME I of Robert Craft's projected three-part collection of Stravinsky's correspondence, published two years ago, was especially valuable for what it told us about the composer's character and his personal life (in particular the arrangement he made with his first wife, who during the last 15 years of her life cooperated with her eventual successor in friendship and perhaps even affection in caring for the great man), but no less so for the light shed on his professional relationships with such figures as Ernest Ansermet, Nadia Boulanger, Jean Cocteau, Lincoln Kirstein and W.H. Auden as well as Craft himself. Vol. II is perhaps an even more intriguing collection of portraits of people in Stravinsky's life. Some of the material might seem to be just padding -- notes from Manuel de Falla, for example, that say no more than "Happy New Year" or "Let's meet for lunch" -- but much is downright fascinating. This is true, surely, not only of the impressions that emerge of the likes of Serge Diaghilev, Pierre Monteux, L,eon Bakst, Vaslav Nijinsky, Florent Schmitt, Ernst Krenek, Pierre Boulez, Lord Berners and Falla, but perhaps even more pointedly those of the violinist Samuel Dushkin and the unique, possibly unclassifiable Nicolas Nabokov, both of whom were important associates of Stravinsky's, and on both of whom Craft provides invaluable background annotations.
Nabokov (1903-1978), who died on the seventh anniversary of Stravinsky's death and who was a cousin of the author of well as an author, teacher, scholar and general activist (some would say "operator"). Stravinsky called him "the culture generalissimo." (He taught at both St. John's College in Annapolis and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, during the 1940s.) Nabokov's correspondence with Stravinsky began in 1928; after World War II he had a position with the U.S. occupation forces in Germany whereunder he was more or less "responsible for the reconstruction of German musical life," according to Craft, and he "proved to be so able an organizer and administrator that in the 1950s and 1960s the U.S. government supported arts festivals that he presented in Paris, Rome, Tokyo and Berlin. All of these featured the music and the presence of Igor Stravinsky."
For a concert of his late works which Nabokov was arranging in 1963 for the following year, Stravinsky proposed that Antal Dorati conduct, since "Dorati has at least shown interest in them, and s has." Dorati's successor as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra figures in this chapter, too, though not as a conductor. In March 1965 Nabokov, who was constantly in motion, attended a performance of Paris with Mstislav Rostropovich, at whose request he asked Stravinsky to accept a commission for a cello piece. Stravinsky wrote back: "I have heard from many people that he is a brilliant performer, but when I think about Russia, where all of my works are played free, from illegal photocopies, I do not feel any inclination to write for Russia or for a Russian performer." Stravinsky at that time, of course, could not have foreseen the sort of symbol Rostropovich would become in relation to the land in which they both were born.
Craft advises that Nabokov was close to the nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and that on the day Oppenheimer died called Stravinsky to advise that the scientist had requested that the memorial service. One of the 12 appendices in the book deals with the chronology of that work. It is in the asides and footnotes, too, that we find such supplemental illumination of other prime figures as the late George Balanchine's reminiscence of Diaghilev, during a dinner in September 1977, when he told Craft: "Nobody will believe me, of course, but Diaghilev did not know anything about dancing. His real interest in ballet was sexual. . . . Once when I was standing next to him at a rehearsal for I agreed, thinking he was referring to the music, but he quickly corrected me: 'No, no, I mean Lifar's a--; it is like a rose.'"
In Stravinsky's own letters to Diaghilev, the composer reveals his strong and unfeigned religious feeling, in asking for alms for distribution to the poor on Easter Day 1927 and in his comments on Diaghilev's planned visit to Mount Athos the following year ("your trip to this holy place interests me more than anything else"). It appears that Lifar, if not Diaghilev, shared Stravinsky's feelings in this respect. Monteux's letter of March 30, 1913, Craft observes, "remains the most consequential that the composer ever received from a musician": it was a list of suggestions and requests for clarification a few months before the shattering premiere of as he had that of rait that emerges of the great conductor is consonant with most people's perception of him: a serious musician with a genial, unpretentious personality, utterly devoted to music he believed in. He was fully aware of his young friend's extraordinary genius and understandably eager to be identified as his "official" interpreter, to be entrusted with premieres and major performances, but there was apparently nothing of the prima donna in this unselfish, uncomplaining man, whose spirit seems to have been as generous as his talent was great.
Monteux was 40 when World War I began, but he enlisted as a private, and several of his letters to Stravinsky are from the front lines, and even these are taken up largely with plans for performances. The relationship continued through Monteux's Boston and San Francisco years and beyond, to the end of his remarkably energetic life the year after he conducted a 50th-anniversary performance of Spring.
There is a good deal more of interest here. One chapter pictures "The Composer as Moneylender, Mortgagee, Landowner, Vodka Distiller"; another deals with the publishing history of The Firebird and the three concert suites Stravinsky extracted from that score, and in yet another we get a glimpse of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze trying to sell Stravinsky on eurhythmics. Throughout the book there are illuminating references to such other eminences as Eugene Berman, Aldous Huxley, Stephen Spender, Sviatoslav Richter, Serge Koussevitzky, Olin Downes, Auden and Cocteau; in the appendices we learn of Roland-Manuel's part in the writing of orton lecturer at Harvard) and Walter Nouvel's in the Chronique ma vie, of various legal concerns and the detailed chronologies of several significant works. But the value of the book goes beyond the background it provides for the creation of great works of music: the letters, Craft's notes and the 32 pages of photographs bring us about as close as a reader can get to some of our century's most fascinating figures.