STRAVINSKY; Selected Correspondence, Vol. III. Edited and with commentaries by Robert Craft. Knopf. 543 pp. $35.
THIS VOLUME or either of its predecessors could provide the basis for many extensive essays. It defies summary. Rather, it compels further investigation into many facets of Stravinsky and his contemporaries. For this reason it is a most exciting and challenging book; and it is remarkably well edited for reading straight through, notwithstanding the interruptions of extensive footnotes, which often present a dramatic subtext to the letters they explicate.
This third and final volume of Robert Craft's edition of selected Stravinsky correspondence offers a view of three particularly significant and quite differing personal relationships that affected the composer's life and work: hndships with the French- Swiss writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz; the Swiss patron Werner Reinhart; and the German music publisher, Willy Strecker.
Of the three, Stravinsky was most intimate with Ramuz, whose authorship of the text for L'Histoire du Soldat involved a close collaboration with the composer, a collaboration that Craft carefully characterizes as "the principal event of Ramuz's artistic life." The two met in the early summer of 1915. As Ramuz observed, the very setting of their encounter, the Vaudois countryside that is so intensely present in his novels, influenced their reactions: "We came to know each other in front of things and through things."
The text for L'Histoire du Soldat is not one of Ramuz's major works, yet he fussed endlessly over it long after Stravinsky had gone on to new things, and Ramuz's anguished entreaties to Stravinsky in what must be seen as a constant effort to rekindle the experience of tha artistic event, for which he seems to have nursed an almost obsessive infatuation, make his letters among the most poignant of the entire correspondence. Soldat was first performed in 1918. Five years later, Stravinsky, trying to extricate himself from Ramuz's incessant questions about sets, rental fees and other production matters, wrote: "Never again can you or I, except in extraordinary cases, concern ourselves with such matters, or take the same pains that we did in Lausanne in 1918. Alas! Our child must leave our tutelage and dirty himself in life like the rest of us."
While some of Stravinsky's letters to Ramuz have been published, both in the original French and in English, their inclusion here is particularly fortunate, for it places them in context with Ramuz's letters on the one hand, and on the other it gives us translations that are better than the earlier ones if for no other reason than that they are accurate. In his letter of August 23, 1920, Stravinsky takes Ramuz to task for the misleading credits in the publication of Soldat. Craft's "it would deeply sadden me to learn that you were the one who composed that unfortunate page" in the present volume corrects the anonymous mistranslation in Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents (published in 1978 by Vera Stravinsky and Robert Craft): "It pains me a great deal, this unfortunate single page, which you have composed quite consciously and for your own reasons." And in an equally important letter of December 16, 1928, Gogol, now correctly, "did not burn the second part of his Dead Souls by direct order from God," whereas in the above mentioned book one reads that he did not write it. So it appears that the translations of Craft's Selected Correspondence have been meticulously prepared.
The conception of L'Histoire du Soldat, including the spare instrumentation of which Stravinsky made such brilliant and original use, was shaped by considerations of its authors' limited financial resources. Werner Reinhart entered Stravinsky's life when Soldat was in need of funding. Reinhart tried to help raise funds for its production and, in the end, paid for it himself. Throughout their friendship, Stravinsky was able to manipulate his benefactor when he needed support, but Reinhart, who was clearly all too willing to patronize Stravinsky, was also a smooth operator; and both men seem to have enjoyed a relationship that was governed by certain rules of diplomacy, involved no true intimacy, and from which both had something to gain. "I think that in spite of the manner of presentation," wrote Reinhart in August 1923, "you can accept the contents of this letter, which I offer in all good faith. Believe me, dear friend, I do this with the greatest pleasure, happy to be able to assist you a little and not dreaming of any return. If, however, you are induced to accept my gesture as I intend it, I will tell you that I am nevertheless proud to possess the magnificent score of the Soldat, and if you have in your drawer another small score that you judge me worthy to possess, it will evidently be a great pleasure for me to add this to the other."
Earlier in the same year, Reinhart wrote Stravinsky of a successful performance of Soldat in Frankfurt in which "the music was beautifully rendered by (Hermann) Scherchen. . . . He told me that he wants to play everything that you have written." By the next year, Stravinsky had embarked on his career as a performer, both playing the piano and conducting. In July 1925, he wrote Reinhart, "to earn my livelihood, I see myself obliged to devote a part of the year to concert tours," and asked his help in finding engagements in Switzerland. Reinhart continued over the years to help in this, but his friendship with Stravinsky was disturbed by a problem that arose perennially with Stravinsky: another conductor. In this case, it was Scherchen himself, of whom Stravinsky had no apparent cause for criticism. Stravinsky had developed an attitude towards conductors that seems to have been almost phobic at times. The sharpest public statement appeared in the sixth of his Norton lectures (delivered at Harvard in French in 1939-40 and published in English in 1947). There, in characterizing the conductor's role, he progressed quickly from "interpreter" to "translator" and continued: "It is not without reason that a well-known Italian proverb, which takes the form of a play on words, equates translation with betrayal."
In October 1936, regarding preparations for a performance under Scherchen of his Concerto for piano and winds, Stravinsky brusquely informed Reinhart: "Please do not ask M. Scherchen to polish this music before my arrival, as you suggested." Scherchen, as Craft notes, had conducted the work with the composer at the piano in 1926 without difficulties, yet Stravinsky believed report from his son, Soulima, who performed it with Scherchen in 1934, that "Scherchen is really terrible, and everything he is doing is a great mess." This volume contains other evidence of Stravinsky's short temper when dealing with "interpreters," especially if it involved his music. Concerning the timing of Petrushka, he wrote his publisher in New York in 1948: "As to Mr. Bernstein's 33 minutes duration of the entire ballet, this is his own irresponsible and unaccountable musical treatment, which I prefer rather to deplore than to explain," to which Craft adds a footnote: "Bernstein's timing is correct, not Stravinsky's." The last letter from Stravinsky to Reinhart in this volume is a complaint about cuts made by Ernest Ansermet in Jeu de Cartes, a case for truly justifiable distrust.
THE FRIENDSHIP with Willy Strecker, of Stravinsky's publisher B. Schotts Sohne in Mainz, is documented in a very important selection of letters from 1928 to 1939. In his introductory commentary to this section, Craft addresses directly the sensitive subject of the composer and his publisher in Nazi Germany. The way in which Strecker got performances of Stravinsky's music under a dictatorship characterized by strongly reactionary artistic ideologies is in itself remarkable; but, as Craft observes, his sensitivity to issues affecting Stravinsky's standing outside Germany was greater than that of Stravinsky himself, "the most cosmopolitan of all the great composers."
Here, we encounter in an entirely new context performance problems with Soldat. On July 6, 1936, Strecker wrote: "The Jewish Kulturbund in Germany has asked to perform Histoire du Soldat in Berlin and elsewhere. . . . You have often been attacked in Germany precisely for Histoire du Soldat; if you permit the Jewish Kulturbund to perform it, your enemies will gleefully term you, as well as your art, 'Jewish,' spoiling everything we have managed to nurture." He advised Stravinsky that, to keep the Jewish Kulturbund from performing it without declining their request pointblank, he had asked a fee higher than they could pay. On August 1, Stravinsky was puzzled about a request for a reduction of the fee: "I am in no hurry to arrange the reductions. . . . That was the advice you gave me." But Stravinsky had not yet seen Strecker's letter of July 28 containing a surprising reversal: "The (Reichs)theaterkammer has authorized the Jewish Kulturband concert." On August 3 he explained: "If we refused now, our refusal would be interpreted as an explicit act of unfriendliness toward Jews. Abroad, this could have unfavorable repercussions for you. In America, for example, it would surely be known that you refused the German Jews a performance even after the German authorities agreed. . . . Having ascertained that the performance definitely will not be publicized, I have no further reservations."
The focus of this review, which can only suggest the richness of such a volume, has been on a few of its nearly 500 pages. Craft deserves our gratitude for the care with which he has prepared his monumental three-volume publication. The complex and enigmatic nature of the composer has not been betrayed by his editor's interpretive impulse to make the documents at hand say as much as one might wish and more than they do. The result is a portrait that is fragmentary, yet with an emerging likeness that is as faithfully human as it is heroic.