The resume of the 86-year-old composer/astrologist, Dane Rudhyar, is a clutter of incongruities. There is his book, "Claude Debussy et son oeuvre," which he wrote at 18 while he was a student at the Paris Conservatoire. Then there is his honorary doctorate from the "California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology." And there is his music, like the "Trois Poe mes Tragiques" or his Five Stanzas for String Orchestra, both of which will be performed tonight at the Kennedy Center.
Rudhyar is a tall, slightly frail man with quick, darting eyes, whose Parisian accent remains from the turn of the century. He talks like a walking encyclopedia of that period. He was there in Paris on that night in 1913 when the premiere of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" and the melee that accompanied it changed the course of musical history. And on the triumphant repeat the next year he was also there, sitting behind Debussy.
He also talks with unique authority on an unrelated and very current subject, astrology. Experts say he is one of the most important of astrologers.
Rudhyar, who now lives in California, is in town to be honored in the Kennedy Center's "American Portraits" concert series. It is a distinction he shares this season with such octogenarian colleagues as Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions.
But if there is no one in music who does not know the works of Copland, and if there are few who do not know at least the name of Sessions, you can be pardoned if you do not know the name of Rudhyar, because very few musicians do.
One reason for his obscurity is that he composed little between his thirties and his late sixties, the years that produced virtually all the major works of Copland, for instance. During those years the hard facts of making a good living led Rudhyar to seek success--and, in fact, celebrity--in the more lucrative medium of astrology. Thirty-five books of his writings have been printed, most of them in several languages, and 20 of them deal with the "psychological reformulation of astrology."
Rudhyar is described by Rita Francomano, president of the Maryland National Council on Geocosmic Research, as "probably the most highly respected astrologer alive in America today. He is highly regarded by all branches of astrology. He is a humanistic astrologer, which is hard for me to paraphrase because that is several levels above me."
It is, in part, Rudhyar's present popularity among the young as an astrologist that is helping to raise his music, at long last, from obscurity.
"It was the early '60s and I had pretty well forgotten most of it myself," he said yesterday. "We were living out near Santa Fe and somebody wrote me from New York that a young pianist was playing my 'Granites.' " "Granites" is a nine-minute piano piece from 1929 that sounds like a quite dissonant distant relation of the piano pieces of the Russian, Scriabin, who shared Rudhyar's fascination with Oriental philosophy and music. It is one of his two or three best-known works, and foreshadowed the use of tone clusters.
The young pianist turned out to be the highly regarded William Masselos. "We found out that he would be coming to Albuquerque for a concert, and that he would be playing 'Granites,' recalled Rudhyar. "After the concert we took him to our home for the night. And he said, 'You should come to New York. Everybody wants to know who you are. They have read you on astrology. And then I play your music, and they look puzzled and say, 'Do you mean that he is a composer?' "
Rudhyar was born in Paris in 1895 as Daniel Chennvie re, and was much swept up in the cultural winds of La Grande Periode. The first night of "Sacre" was just one of several epic premieres he recalls. "There was also Ravel's 'Daphnis,' which came soon afterward, but I missed the introduction of Debussy's 'The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian' because my father died."
Asked if the first night of "Sacre" was as riotous as legend decrees, Rudhyar replied with a firm "It certainly was."
"Paris was primed for such an event. Stravinsky had already made great impressions with 'Firebird' and 'Petrouchka' and the Diaghilev company was the acme of European culture. And partly it was just the times. Things were extremely refined. It seemed as if everybody in Paris had a bathroom in gold and black during that period. I remember running into one of the Parisian critics on a bus some days before the performance. He said he had heard something extraordinary was being rehearsed at the Theatre des Champs-Elyse'e. And the word got around.
"But when the night came, I think it was the dance, not the music, that created the riot. You have to remember that these people were accustomed to Russian ballet of the most sumptuous sort. And there on the stage were these people in very bare costumes. Nijinsky had become fascinated with primitive things. So the first trouble came when people began to laugh at the dancers. Then some people began to shout about the shrillness of the music. Then the students in the top tier began to shout back. Other people became indignant and got up and left. But Pierre Monteux the conductor pressed ahead. For a while things became calmer, but then came the end. The figures were virtually in the dark. The girl was dancing in one spot, in that wild motion. Gradually the men gathered around her, brought her up on their arms, and killed her. Then the hooting mixed with the applause for a long time.
"That was May 29, 1913. And 'Sacre' wasn't heard again until one Sunday the next spring. Monteux conducted again, in a concert performance, and it was at the Folies Berge re, of all places, because that was the only place they rent on Sunday. It was really very funny. I was sitting very close to Debussy and I will never forget the puzzled look on his face at the end, as if to say, 'What is this?' It was a great triumph for Stravinsky. Nothing that Debussy wrote had ever had such a reception."
Rudhyar left Paris with the war and came to New York. And for the next 15 years he concentrated on composing. Three of the four works to be played tonight are from that period. He moved to California in 1919 and became a citizen in 1926 under his Hindu name, Rudhyar. He was a leading contributor to Henry Cowell's "New Music Quarterly" (which, said Rudhyar, was mostly financed by Charles Ives) and it was through Cowell that Rudhyar got to know Ives. Ives' musical inclination was little known in those days, when he pursued his normal life as an insurance tycoon on Wall Street.
"I knew that he had financed much of the new music and one day I went to his house on the Upper East Side with Cowell. It was during the Depression and he wanted to keep his copyist in work so he paid for the printing of my Sinfonietta. I remember being warned that I had to be very restrained around Mr. Ives because he had a bad heart. Well, the first time I went there, he said follow me up to the fifth floor, and we raced up the steps, and then he started playing the piano with much gusto.
"He was a very charming man, very intense in his likes, very emotional. From what I saw of him, the idea of Charles Ives of Wall Street seemed totally incongruous. He was a typical wild artist."
Soon afterward, though, Rudhyar had to give up composing. "I had no money and I had become married. I couldn't get any grants to compose. I was interested in Jung and had studied astrology. And I decided that psychology and astrology were complementary disciplines. Astrology has all the basic patterns but no detail. And psychology has all the detail and no basic patterns. I started writing regularly for Astrology Today and by 1936 I had written my book, 'Astrology of Personality.' It is still selling well, and is in several translations. Before too long I had written 100,000 articles and it went on for 40 years."