ADVERTISEMENT

Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories by Robert Craft, Naxos Books, 360 pages, $34.98. There has been no more important centennial in the cultural world than the 100th anniversary on May 29 of what is, arguably, the pivotal artistic event of the 20th century – the riotous premiere performance of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “Le Sacre du Printemps” (“The Rite of Spring”). Which is why Stravinsky, for the past month (and doubtless for weeks to come), has been and will be on people’s minds as no other 20th century composer of equivalent stature is ever likely to be again in our 21st century.

Much of Stravinsky’s subsequent life in America – many would say far too much – was marked by his relationship with his assistant, protege, amanuensis, friend, companion, confidante, etc., for more than 20 years, the great critic, historian and conductor Robert Craft.

There is no question about Stravinsky’s entry into the world of serial composition being influenced by Craft; nor is there any question that in the series of written and often savage first-person memoirs co-written with Craft, there is so much conflation of thought, judgment and malice going on that an entirely new subcategory of 20th century musical scholarship might be the practice of surgery separating the ideas and opinions of the musical giant from those of his designated alter ego and co-author. The relationship of the now-nonagenarian Craft and the most influential and important composer of the 20th century was unique in modern musical history, which makes Craft’s newest book on the subject one of his most important. There has been much blood under the bridge on the subject of Craft’s relationship with Stravinsky, but its closeness was unique, as was Craft’s musical and critical brilliance.

This book is endlessly fascinating, whether Craft discusses the film about Stravinsky’s affair with Coco Chanel, Stravinsky’s startling opinion that Glenn Gould was “handsome” or the composer’s needing some scotch after a Leonard Bernstein performance of “Le Sacre” because of Bernstein’s stuffing an allargando where it didn’t belong. A welcome branching out into publishing by the great Naxos records. – Jeff Simon