Stravinsky in Ireland in June 1963
Igor Stravinsky came to Ireland in June 1963. World news at the time was dominated by the death of Pope John XXIII , the Profumo affair in London and the killing of civil rights worker Medgar Evans in Mississippi. Dublin was experiencing a heatwave. The Intercontimental Hotel in Ballsbridge had been opened by Taoiseach Sean Lemass a few weeks earlier, with 300 hundred sitting down for luncheon in the Martello Grill on the hotel’s top floor , with views of the bay and the Wicklow mountains. Plans were under way for the visit of President Kennedy at the end of June. At the other extreme there were fatalities in the same period in house collapses in tenements on Bolton & Fenian Street
Igor and his wife Vera arrived in Dublin on Sunday June 2nd. They rehearsed with the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra — leader Geraldine O’Grady — and the Radio Eireann Choral Society — lead by Hans Waldemar Rosen — in the St Francis Xavier Hall , from Wednesday onwards , with the show on Sunday , June 9th in the Adelphi Cinema, the same place where five months later The Beatles made their only Dublin appearance . The pieces performed were Le Basir de la Fee (1928), Choral Variations on Bach’s “ Von Himmel hoch” (1935) and Symphony of Psalms (1930). The orchestara was conducted by Robert Craft for the first two pieces and by Stravinsky for the last one.
The day after the show , June 10th , reviews appeared, Mary MacGoris in the Irish Independent , ‘C.A.’ ( presumably Charles Acton) in the Irish Times.
The couple were taken on a few excursions , including trips to the Joyce tower in Sandymount, Co, Dublin and Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly. A interview by Brian Fallon with Igor appeared in The Irish Times on June 8th and Vera talked with Marie O’Reilly for the The Irish Independent on June 10th. Leaving Dublin that day , the Independent on June 11th had a parting quote “ I will come back to Ireland, if not to make music then to make a holiday”….’ before he boarded his plane for Hamburg’.
The Irish Press , June 3 1963 , p.3
STRAVINSKY RECALLS PERFORMING FOR POPE
Arrives in Dublin to conduct orchestra
IRISH PRESS reporter
The greatest living figure in the musical world of the 20th century , Russian born composer Igor Stravinsky , flew into Dublin last night in a mood of deep personal sadness because the life of his friend , the Pope, was drawing to a close.
“ This is a matter pf great distress for me” , he said, “ I was first acquainted with him when he was Cardinal Roncalli , Patriarch of Venice. When the Cathedral of San Marco was reopened after renovation , he sought for and obtained from the late Pope Pius XII permission for me to conduct the orchestra in the cathedral for that occasion. Then when I was in Rome two years ago he invited me to come and see him because he wanted to talk about my ‘Canticum Sacra’. When the audience was concluded and I got up to leave His Holiness asked: ‘What can I do for you?’ I answered: ‘Only your prayers.’
“ Then two months ago I received from the Pope, through the Archbishop of Santa Fe in New Mexico, a big parchment which signified that His Holiness had conferred on me a Knighthood of Saint Sylvester.”
Stravinsky , who is a contempoary of the Pope — he was born in the neighbourhood of St Petersburg , now Leningrad, in 1881 and will celebrate his 82nd birtday on Tuesday fortnight — has come to Dublin to conduct the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra on the second part of a concert of his own music which will open the Radio Eireann Festival of Music in the Adelphi Cinema next Sunday.
“ I have come here because I want to see Ireland and show them some music of mine,” he said. “ I have never been to Ireland . Can you imagine — never! When I was living in France in 1920, when events in your country became very historical, I became interested in Ireland and read everything I could find out about it. So I want to see Dublin and Ireland. As we start rehearsing on Wednesday, I have only two days to do so. It is not enough for a very important country.”
He was accompanied from London by his wife , Madame Stravinsky ; Mr Robert Craft, his associate conductor, who will conduct the first half of next Sunday’s Festival Concert ; Mr Tibor Paul , Radio Eireann Musical Director and permanent conductor of the R.E.S.O., and Mrs Paul.
Among those who met him last night was Mr Joseph Sweeney. , Counsellor of the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. He explained : “He has done so much for my country that we could not but have a respresentative of our Government present to welcome him.”
The Irish Times 8 June 1963 , p. 10
Stravinsky — A LIVING LEGEND
Few of the great composers have been classics in their lifetime. Stravinsky is a classic. His works have passed into the bloodstream of Western music , his stature and influence is now acknowledged by musicians , critics , academics. His idiom no longer baffles or shocks : it is a language widely heard and understood.
The gradual acceptance of him as the greatest living composer has had that flavour of half-reluctant inevitability which bespeaks lasting fame. He has left far behind the notoriety of the revolutionary of the glamour of the avant-garde snobisne. The recognition which dawned stormily with “ Le Sacre du Printemps” back in 1913 is now in broad noonday.
“Le Sacre” no more shocks us now than Mahler or Strauss does. “ Petrouchka” and “ Pulcinella” are probably ousting “ Swan Lake” as the world’s most listened to ballet scores : they can be found in the record cabinet of any suburban drawingroom. The “ Symphony of Psalms” , the purely orchestral symphonies, the piano and violin concerti, the “ History d’un Soldat” suite and numerous other of his middle-period works , are part of the normal concert repertoire. Stravinsky has become a Prom composer, in fact. The later works , while they may not have reached the public yet , are the property of any educated musician or even muscial amateur. The performance of a new Stravinsky work is a red letter event for serious musicians. He is established . He is classic.
Fame and publicity go together in this century , and Stravinsky , like his friend and contempoary , Picasso, has lived for years under the spotlights. Picasso has protected his inner privacy by temperamental dazzle , by poker-faced clowning, and the whole works. Stravinsky has born himself with a grand-seigneur dignity and affability, like the intellectual aristocrat he is.
Among the many distinctions he and Picasso share is that of being the world’s most eminent exiles. Both are born cosmopolitans , cultural eclectics who raid the storehouses of the past and present yet keep a strong individuality. Picasso remains at bedrock the canny Catalan. Stravinsky spent years in France and Switzerland, and is now a U.S. citizen. Yet his Russianness , when one meets him, is elusive but unmistakable. There is a Tartar under the skin of the suave cosmopolite. The stamping energy of his rhythms would tell us as much.
Readers of the wonderful “Conversations” with Robert Craft may remember a passage in which Stravinsky speaks of meeting Monet in Paris back in the twenties , and how this encounter with the great Impressionist moved him; “ Homer himself,” , could not have impressed him more. Meeting him is a similar experience. It is somewhat awe-inspiring , certainly unnerving , to find yourself face-to-face with a legend.
Speaking to him at a rehearsal of his works in a Dublin hall on Thursday ( he is conducting a concert of his works to-morrow) I had that experience. He is , in fact , exactly like his photographs : small and compact ( odd that so many of the great composers have been small men) , with a vast forehead and patrician nose, and wearing the familiar dark glasses. The great lupine smile that flashes out intermittently does not merely crease his whole face , it engulfs.
The voice is deep and guttural, and is backed by occasional gestures. Knowing him only through his music and artistic pronouncements , one half expects a brusque energy to show in his manner. But his graciousness is melting. A true grand seigneur.
I was face-to-face with a classic. What , I asked diffidently, did it feel like to be a classic in one’s own lifetime?
“A classic ? You say I am a classic. But what does it mean? I am accepted by some musicians , maybe even by a great many , and I have been widely honoured. But….”
He spoke of citics , with the quiet vehemence of one has a lifetime’s painful experience. “ Without naming anyone,” he said, “ their ignorance is so obvious to the muscian, that one cannot ignore it. I have no choice but to say this , to draw attention to it. You find bad composers and bad pianists , full of vindictiveness , writing criticism…!”
“ My eightieth birthday was last year. Many events were arranged , I was invited everywhere , tributes were paid — except in the American newspapers. One of them was so abusive that I sent them a letter telling them: ‘ You are one of the most widely-read newspaper in America , and yet you are not ashamed to have as music critic one whose knowledge of music is so low. I regret only that I am eighty years old and I have very little hope of celebrating his funeral.” They wrote back asking me if they could publish the letter. I told them that it had already been published — in Germany”
PAST AND PRESENT
“The new generation cannot support the old idiots , whose knowledge of music was so low. To write about it is one thing ; knowledge of it is another. We have to know our own time and what is happening in it. We must be able to feel how periods change.
“ For instance , the whole of Russian music to-day is based on the ninteenth century. They have not moved from there. You find the very intelligent Khrushehev describing Western music of to-day as ‘vested decadence’.
“You have not visited Russia since the Revolution?”
“ Oh yes, I was there last year.”
“ And how were you received?”
“Very well. I was invited by the Government, and everyone was very hospitable. But their musical life is stuck fast in the nineteenth century. There is nothing new that I can learn there.
“Your early music , such as ‘Petrouchka’ , was very Russian in flavour. You have since been described as belonging to the French school.”
“ The French School , what does it mean? Because I lived 25 years in France , does that make me of the French school? Perhaps the French School belongs to me” (with a twinkle).
“ Besides — French School? Who are the composers of the French School? I know only individual composers, Debussy for instance. You might as well talk of the nineteenth-century German School. Brahms and Wagner were both great composers , but utterly different.”
Stravinsky leaned his head on his hand and was silent a moment.
“There are no schools,” he said “ There are only personalities.”
“Supposing, “ I said warily, “that one can distinguish between ‘Russian’ and ‘European’ , do you regard yourself as a ‘European’ composer?”
“ I am in key with the Russian — sub-Russian- origins of my music. But I certainly belong to the modern Western spirit rather than the nineteenth century romantic composers whom the Russians especially like.”
“ With ‘ Le Sacre du Printemps’ you began virtually a one-man musical revolution. Do you think that composers since have fully explored the paths you opened?”
“ ‘Le Sacre’ had a very big influence on the music of the period and even up to the present. But we have new problems to resolve now, Harmonic problems, rhythmic problems — it is hard to express them in words.”
“ You have said some hard things about conductors in the past. You must have suffered a good deal at their hands.”
“ You can have no idea how my music has suffered from its interpreters. That is why I decided to conduct my own works. I have been doing so since 1923.”
“ One last question , if I may. If you were to choose , with which of the great figures of the past would you most desire to be bracketed? Which means, I suppose, who is your favourite composer — Bach, perhaps?”
“ I would never make a choice , because how long do composers exist for us? You speak about Bach , but there were very great composers before Bach. If they are not played , it is mainly because people do not know how to play them.
“ Bach is closer to us because we can perform him. But ‘ who is greater, Bach or Beethoven? ‘ has no sense as a question. You might as well ask if one breed of dog is greater than another.”
As Stravinsky held out his hand in farewell , I was tempted to ask : “Have you heard any of out traditional music?”
“Not yet. But I have seen your landscape. Magnificent ! Green and stones — stones and green.”
One final handshake and he was gone. The cohort of escorting musicians and others closed around him protectively , with the ever-watchful Mr Craft hovering on the outskirts. I was left moodily ruminating on my brief and random succession of questions and all the things I should really have liked to ask him.
Before that , I had watched from a corner of the almost empty hall as Robert Craft , his associate conductor, Eckermann and his constant companion , took the R.E.S.O. through a rehearsal of ‘ Basir de la Fee’. Stravinsky sat below in the front row of the seats between Brain Boydell and Tibor Paul. At the more complex passages he leaned forward with a intent look , head slightly askew. He did not follow a score and made no criticism of the performance. Once he called out to Craft :” I would like to hear the first variation.”. Craft obliged without comment. At times Stravinsky beat time with an uplifted hand and this small movement had the familiar energetic pulse. During some passages he smiled, whether in approval or reverie I could not guess. It may even — who knows- have been nostalgia. After decades of musical warfare , he can well relax in a mellow Indian summer of fame.
Irish Independent , June 10 1963 , p. 9
Painter’s eye , poet’s voice
The gift which Dublin gave Igor Stravinsky and his wife was one which they have received in few cities of the world — two days in which to see the countryside. Last night the great composer conducted his own works in the first concert of the Radio Eireann Musis Festival and they arrived the preceding Sunday; rehearsals began on on Wednesday and they spent the intervening days seeing as much as could be seen.
Their first aim was the Joyce tower in Sandymount , a visit inspired by the background of their many literary friendships. The rest of the time was spent in the country and Mrs Stravinsky retains an unforgettable impression of Clonmacnoise — “ the river and the ruins , so beautiful , so peaceful .”
Mrs Stravinsky views the Irish landscape with a painter’s eye. She has exhibited several times in New York, and in many other cities including Rome, Venice, Milan, Paris. Her next show will be in New York’s Galerie International in December; before that she will have travelled with her husband from Dublin to Hamburg, to Stockholm, to Milan, and through various parts of North and Central America. “But next year,” she says, “we hope to have a little rest at home.”
* * *
Home is Hollywood where the Stravinkys have lived since they were married in 1941. Then it was a wonderful place and their friends included Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich. Now so many people are gone. “ It is as lonely,” Mrs Stravinsky says, “ as a mortuary parlour.” But they still have as neighbours such men as Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood and , anyway, they do not like the idea of moving after so long a time in a house which contains all the things they love , including a collection of paintings, a library of some 6,000 books.
There is also the fact that Stravinsky’s daughter by his first marriage lives almost next door; while his son, Souilma, who is head of the Music Department in Chicago University , is relatively close.
Mrs Stravinsky’s only alternative as a place to live would be New York , which she loves of all the cities in the world , and she has seen most of them. She describes it as a wonderful place for a painter, and speaks lyrically of what few people mention in New York , its landscape of two rivers and the ocean.
* * *
If she looks with a painter’s eye , she speaks with a poet’s voice of cities, vistas, colours. Subtle beauties she loves , mists and mornings and twilights, and makes a poem of the oil derricks of South California.
“They are set out in the water and the water shimmers with their colours. At night they are decked with the lights like Christmas trees: the lights are reflected in the water, and one can hardly tell where the derricks and the stars begin.”
It was a unusually poetic view of the functional . “ Well , I am Russian,” she said, “ and all Russians love beauty and poetry”. She was born in Russia; her mother was Swedish , her father had French blood.
When she and her husband went there last year, it was for Stravinsky the first visit to his native country for 59 years, and for her the first in 40 years. The great encircling forests of Moscow and its shining river , seen from the incoming plane , brought back to her nostalgic recollections of a happy childhood spent on a great country estate. She was twelve years old before she saw a city.
Before her marriage , she lived for a time in Paris , designing costumes and decor for opera and ballet. It was in Harvard, however, that she met her husband, who was giving a series of lectures there in 1940.
Her only return to designing was two years ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico , when she was asked to do the costumes for her husband’s “Persephone”. It involved singers, actors and dancers. costumes
She has always , she says , found singers more exacting about their costumes than ballet people , which she thinks is a little surprising; but then, she adds, all artists are “difficult”.
The one exception she makes is her husband, Stravinsky.
The Irish Independent , June 10th 1963 , p.7
Mary Mac Goris
Great composer given standing ovations
The sense of occasion which might be expected at the first concert of the Radio Eireann Music Festival was immensely intensified when Stravinsky came on stage to direct his own works in the Adelph Cinema , Dublin
On his entrance , the audience rose to applaud. He is stooped and slight and walks with a stick and he was helped on to the rostrum: but in his direction of the music there was no sign of frailty. When the standing ovation was repeated at the end of the concert it was no longer a tribute to a legendary musical figure but to an undeniably great composer.
The Symphony of Psalms , which closed the evening, is one of his finest works. Darkened by the absence of the upper strings, brightened by harp and flutes, the brilliance of two pianos and sometimes the blare of brass , it is at once majestic and ardent, its hieratic quality shot through with vivid life.
The R.E. Choral Society , admirably prepared by Hans Waldemar Rosen , faced its difficulties with the utmost good will and the R.E. Symphony Orchestra came extremely well out of a performance which must have been as much an ordeal as an inspiration.
The excellent woodwind action section was in its best form and shone particularly in Variations on “Von Himmel hoch” , where Stravinsky has transcribed Bach’s great organ variations on the chorale tune into what is virtually a chamber music concerto for wind and brass with violas, bassoon, harp and choir.
The brass had splendid moments during the evening: the cellos and the harp played beautifully through-out and the upper strings produced some lovely tone in the delicate graces of Le Basir de la Fee , the ballet suite which was directed by Stravinky’s associate conductor, Robert Craft.
This was the first time we have heard the orchestra in the Adelphi and it has several advantages as a concert venue. The most important is a good acoustic but not the least are a spacious stage , good vision and comfortable seats.
The Irish Times , June 10th 1963 , p. 9
Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky
Le Basir de la Fee (1928), Choral Variations on Bach’s “ Von Himmel hoch” (1935) and Symphony of Psalms (1930).
What did it feel like to be in London in 1791 when Papa Hayden paid his famous visit? Surely not unlike being at the Adelphi Cinema in Dublin last night when everyone there rose in spontaneous tribute to Stravinsky when he walked slowly to the rostrum to conduct his own music. For Stravinsky is as certainly the father of our music now as Hayden was universally recognised to be then.
It also puts a critic in considerable awe. And , as Stravinsky has once more been denouncing critics’ ignorance , it is fair to repeat again that it is the Knowledge that it is his job to express his own opinion for the general reader that is the main palliative of the critic’s ever-growing awareness of his own ignorance.
Stravinky’s assistant , amanuenis, disciple and protege , Robert Craft , conducted the complete ballet ‘Le Basir de la Fee’ which occupied the whole first half. As those who know Mr Craft’s revealing writings on and recordings of modern music are aware , he is an expert on Stravinsky , and a most effective musician. As he conducted the R.E.S. O. last night , it was clear that he is extremely efficient ; very , very clear ; that he knows what he wants ( and presumably what Stravinsky wants), and can get it. But has he any warmth of heart , and real senuousness? In short , does he like music ?
For ‘ Le Basir de la Fee ‘ is warm, melodius, passionate music to a considerable extent. It is like a rubble wall whose stones are Tchaikowsky’s tunes and whose mortar is Stravinsky. Last night it felt very long : it seemed to need the stage for which it was written: and it lacked sensuousness. If Straviinky offers it to us as a first half , it must be more continuously exciting than it seemed to me. And the orchestra showed later reallt sprited playing. So I blame him , but also thank him and the composer for the great deal of excitement and flashes of greateness that are in it.
I fail entirely to comprehend Stravinsky’s way with words. Apart from “Oedipus” and “In Memoriam Dylan Thomas” he appears to treat them as meaningless sounds. Bach’s different treatments of “ Van Himmel hoch” are the creation in music of the diireent verses of the hymn. Stravinsky in his arrangement ignores that to the extent of keeping the choir singing the first verse again and again. Why ?
Comparisons between this and Webern’s transcription of Bach’s Ricercar a 6 are inevitable. The latter is a brilliantly illuminating and wholly convincing commentary on Bach and Webern. By contrast Stravinsky seems to have diminished Bach without putting enough Stravinsky in. Even under the inspiring stimulus of his own conducting, I found myself not enjoying the music (not the performance or the occasion) and wondering whether it had in fact been a pot-boiler.
And so from these two works of , shall we say , indiect inspiration to one of his undoubted masterpieces. I have discussed the Symphony of Psalms here at length on another occasion. To hear it alive under its creator was a thrilling experience. Thirty-three years old , it still has a more up-to-date impact than so much that is far newer.
Here , all the way through , the greatness was tingingly communicated. And it was communicated through the spirit of the R.E.S.O. , the R.E. Choral Society and the R.E. Singers. Stravinky’s very individual method of conducting — extremely clear, if not always understandable — and the sense of occasion produced an impression that completely overrode undoubted mistakes. But how much better such inspiration than mere accuracy. And how grateful to Radio Eireann I am for a historical event not too far away from Mr Handel’s appearance in Fishamble street in 1742! C.A.