I always returned deeply depressed from my frequent visits to Strauss.
Something had to be done to rescue him from this endof-the-world mood, which
even his avid reading of Goethe could not dispel. I talked it over with our
mutual friend Willi Schuh in Zurich. The confusion on the Continent was
indescribable. If something was to be arranged, London was the only place
where life was tolerably normal. With Sir Thomas Beecham, a fervent admirer
of Strauss's music, I discussed the possibilities of a Strauss Festival in
London in 1946 or 1947. It had to be more than one casual performance -if
Strauss was to undertake the journey. And he needed money too. Sir Thomas
lent his help and the British authorities were exceedingly forthcoming, granting
the necessary visa and lifting the embargo on payments to enemy aliens.
So, on 4 October 1947, at two o'clock in the afternoon, Strauss, my wife
and I sat in a DC3 aircraft of Swissair at Geneva airport, waiting for the
moment when we should fly into the cloudless blue sky of a warm autumn day.
It was only then that we realized our heavy responsibility. At eighty-three
Strauss was making his first air journey. How would it all go? The unreliable
London weather, the concerts, people, the Press! But Strauss was happy as
I had not seen him for a long time. The flight was for him a sensation which
he enjoyed like a schoolboy. Those were still the days of small, slow,
unpressurized aircraft, floating with the clouds at 3,000 feet, and every
little cumulus bumped the machine like a boulder on a bad road. My wife carried
a whole chemist's shop with her, pills and drops for heart trouble and air
sickness. But Strauss needed none of them. He looked down through his lorgnon
and said, laughing, 'From here the whole world looks like a patchedup coat.'
Although I had avoided all publicity the news had spread. At Northolt airport,
and even more in the lounge of the Savoy Hotel, we had to fight our way through
throngs of reporters and photographers. In the next few days masses of letters
arrived, the most touching coming from a lady in Wales, who sent a postal
order for ten shillings, saying that she had read about Strauss's difficulties
and felt that she should make a contribution to a man whose music had given
her so much pleasure. She did not confuse him with his namesake, like the
reporter who wanted to know when he had written 'The Blue Danube'.
Although we kept interviewers away as much as possible, the most important
ones had to be admitted. 'What would you say,' asked a clever one, 'about
the different uses of woodwind in French and German scores?' Strauss looked
somewhat surprised. 'I don't know what you mean,' he replied, 'but do you
know the difference in the use of horns between other German scores and mine?'
And when the interviewer could not find an answer, Strauss said with a smile,
'I will tell you. I write for four horns and the others for a horn quartet.'
I wonder whether the interviewer understood that. Another, a lady with a
notebook and a battery of sharpened pencils, asked at the end of her inteniew
the inevitable question: 'What are your plans for the future?' 'Oh,' replied
Strauss with a roguish smile, 'to die.'
The Strauss Festival was an unqualified success. The first concert at Drury
Lane was conducted by Sir Thomas. When Strauss stepped into his box at 8.I5
p.m. the audience rose from their seats and greeted him like a king. The
second concert, again at Drury Lane, was no less of a sensation. Then came
the third, to be conducted by Strauss himself at the Albert Hall.
Strauss was somewhat anxious about it because of his health. He had chosen
the diffcult Sinfonia Domestica, which the orchestra did not know, Don Juan
and the Burlesque for piano and orchestra, the latter in order to give the
pianist Alfred Blumen an opportunity to earn a few pounds. Strauss refused
to conduct sitting down-'If I cannot stand then I shall have to give up
conducting.' It was quite amazing to see him teach the orchestra the whole
programme in three rehearsals of two hours each, most of the time being devoted
to the Sinfonia Domestica. The moment when Strauss walked through the orchestra
and on to the rostrum, and 7,ooo people in the gigantic overcrowded hall
rose from their seats, remains unforgettable. Strauss conducted, as always,
with spare but firm gestures. The tempi were a shade broader than one remembered
hearing from him in previous years but there was all the tension and control
of the old days. The audience was duly enraptured and the applause lasted
until long after the orchestra had left.
There followed a studio performance of Elektra for the BBC, conducted by
Sir Thomas. When Strauss arrived there were shouts of 'Speech! Speech!' Strauss,
who did not speak English, bowed and said, 'Guten abend, meine Herren!' Finally
there was a concert conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, again in the Albert Hall,
Strauss himself taking over to conduct Till Eulenspiegel. Before he left
the artists' room he said, 'Well, the old horse leaves the stable again.'
There were again scenes of wild enthusiasm.
The remaining days he devoted to the National and Tate Galleries, the Wallace
Collection and the British Museum, and on I November Frau Pauline could embrace
her Richard in Montreux again. With relief and compassion I saw the two old
people talk, with tears in their eyes, of the days of their separation.
Strauss's appearance in London had created a true sensation. The Press, English
as well as foreign, had been very good, better than he had had for many years.
There was no word about Nazism, no allusion to any of the stories which had
been current after the war. Strauss was suddenly back in the centre of musical
life, and people began to look with friendlier understanding upon the works
which had previously found so little favour with the critics and the public.
Not only did Arabella become as successful as Rosenkavalier, Friedenstag
run for forty performances in Brussels and Die schweigsame Frau for over
fifty in Berlin, but the works which he had written towards the end of the
war and shortly afterwards-Metamorphosen, the Oboe Concerto, works which
he had described himself as 'workshop compositions'-were played all over
the world and the beauties of Daphne and Capriccio were discovered. Strauss
should have had a few more years to see his fame rise again alongside the
new palaces of the arts which were now replacing the old and shattered ones.
But the happy mood of the London visit did not last very long. Though Strauss's
own financial troubles were somewhat alleviated, worries about the future
of his family stayed with him. He was bothered with denazification procedures;
became suspicious and oversensitive. His health broke down and he felt forlorn
and lonely. 'It would be good if you could come over for a few hours. Am
quite alone!' he wrote from Montreux in November 1948. Still he worked: a
'Duet Concertino' for the Swiss-Italian radio, and five orchestral songs,
of which he could finish only four. They were to be his farewell to music
and life, a farewell of gentle reminiscence and quiet resignation without
any bitterness. After a last operation on 3I December 1948 he dictated to
the nurse at the Clinique Cecil in Lausanne a letter to me. 'What a New Year's
Eve ! . . . my life is gone and I am asking myself why I have been recalled
to this earth where, apart from my dear family and a few good friends, everything
has become disgusting or indifferent
I wish you and your dear wife a better New Year than is awaiting me in this
torture-chamber, Yours desperately . . .' Underneath was his signature, hardly
readable, written in a trembling hand.
Strauss recovered once more and, in the spring, was able to return with his
wife to Garmisch, celebrate his eighty-fifth birthday-and die. I often read
one of the many letters and notes which he wrote to me in those three years
of trouble and sorrow, and it is a great comfort to me that his work has
never been more appreciated than it is now. On 22 May 1950 the Four Last
Songs were first performed by Wilhelm Furtwängler (now rehabilitated)
and Kirsten Flagstad. As the last bar of the last song died away the audience,
deeply moved, remained silent for a long time. Strauss had often been reproached
for seeking sensation: here was a quiet death and unobtrusive transfiguration.
Taken all in all, music is a selfish art; it has neither wisdom nor goodness.
Against all the criticism that has been heaped on Strauss's head I know from
close acquaintance that music was to him, as it is to the composer in the
Ariadne prelude, a holy art. He knew nothing more holy in this world.
It almost looks like a mistake of nature that two men as different in every
respect as Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky should have had the same purpose
in life. In external appearance and rnanner the contrast could hardly have
been greater: the towering height of Strauss, and Stravinsky's slim frame;
Strauss's calm and composure, and Stravinsky's quick and sparkling wit. Their
lives were equally contrasting.
While Strauss clung to his orderly existence through wars and revolutions,
refusing to allow them to disturb it, Stravinsky on the other hand found
himself deprived of comfortable circumstances at the very beginning of his
career, with nothing but the general success of Firebird and the hotly contested
sensations of Petrushka and the Rite of Spring behind him, homeless throughout
his creative life, unaccustomed and as naturally averse to suffering but
compelled to earn a living for himself and his family. Such a fate might
well have overwhelmed Strauss, but Stravinsky accepted it without flinching.
He did what every sensible emigre has to do when the bridges behind him are
burnt: he determined to forget his past. It is said that in Tunisia there
are still some Arab families who keep the keys of their Spanish houses as
a symbol of the undying hope that they may one day return. Stravinsky kept
no such key. Prokofiev did, returned and died an unhappy man, but Stravinsky
turned away from the past and resolutely faced the future. When, fifty years
later, old recollections returned and he was about to see Russia again, he
said with a touch of sarcasm, 'I want to see whether the girls on Nevsky
Prospect are still selling flowers.' He expected no great emotional impact
from the visiti he went to Russia not as a prodigal son returning to his
father's house but as a stranger to a strange land. 'The salt is better in
Russia,' he said on his return; and, 'Khruschev told me that every family
in Kazakhstan has a refrigerator.' There was no hint of nostalgia.
Stravinsky is now habitually reproached for his many changes of style, his
borrowings and appropriations of music from very different periods and artistic
climates-Pergolesi-and Tchaikovsky, Gesualdo and Donizetti, Bach and Grieg.
Put together like this, it does indeed sound a curious mixture of values
and moods. But his art must be seen in the context of his life. Wherever
he turned he was a stranger who could come and go as he pleased, owing nothing
to any place or to any convention. Those who grow up and remain within the
same particular surroundings experience the world from one particular viewpoint.
They are-in ideal cases, unconsciously-English or American, French, German
or Russian, which implies a selection and limitation of experience and outlook,
a distinction between the things one can share and those one can only understand.
It is indeed not easy to determine the point at which a shelter becomes a
prison. Stravinsky lost the one and escaped from the other with only his
temperament and a most penetrating intellect to guide him. Of course, much
in Stravinsky's daily life is unalterably Russian: his attachment to his
kith and kin, his generosity and hospitality, all the little instinctive
things which intellect cannot control. But when others were chained to tradition,
Stravinsky was completely free. It would be futile to speculate what might
have become of him if there had been no world war in 1914 and no Bolshevik
revolution in 1917 and he could have lived comfortable and care-free in an
unchanged St Petersburg or in the country at Ustilug.
There must have been much restlessness and impatience in him when everything
still seemed secure. The Rite of Spring, after all, was written in the years
1911 and 1912, and Stravinsky's teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, would have been
just as scandalized had he lived to hear it as Haydn was at Beethoven's early
wild movements in the minor key. But despite all his manifest disrespect
for what he had been taught, Firebird, Petrushkaand the Rite were still
With knowledge of the man, it is fascinating to follow the disappearance
of the familiar, inherited Russian element from his music and to see how
the world at large takes possession of him. It did not happen all at once,
and probably not without a struggle. The Russian flavour is hardly detectable
in the Nightingale which is a contemporary of the Rite, but in the smaller
works and in Renard, which are the first fruits of emigration, it is unmistakably
present. Then the Histoire du soldat of 1918 sheds all thoughts of the past.
After a few minor relapses there follows Pulcinella in 1919, on the way to
musical cosmopolitanism, and nothing Russian can be discovered in 1920 and
1921. Then, surprisingly, came two more major flashbacks to the past, Mavra
(1922) and Les Noces (1923). They were the last. From then onwards Stravinsky
was a freebooter who owed allegiance to nothing and nobody. For a few years
he was stateless, then he concluded a marriage of convenience with France,
and when the new storm gathered he packed his bags and became an American
citizen. At the screening which preceded his naturalization the examiner
asked him naively, 'What do you think of Lenin?' To his utter consternation
Stravinsky replied, 'I admire him.' Then, to soften the blow, he added, 'I
admire all true professionals.'
Stravinsky's changes of style are not as complete as most critics consider
them. His utterly original and iconoclastic self is the same in the 'barbaric'
Rite, in the neo-classical Oedipus, in the serial Threni. The attentive listener
will discover in Firebird a distant suggestion of Agon, written forty-five
years later, and in Oedipus many a hint of the Rake's Progress, which was
said to be another volte-face in Stravinsky's tortuous oeuvre. I wonder whether
the authors of the innumerable books, treatises and articles on Stravinsky's
music have perhaps paid too little attention to his personality, which remains
the same in all its disguises.
Stravinsky was not the only pacemaker of musical international ism but he
was certainly its dominant figure, and nobody was better equipped for it.
Schoenberg and his school, who arrived at the same goal by another road,
were hardly known when Stravinsky shook the sumptuous edifice of 'national'
music which had been erected during the preceding fifty years. His was a
modernity of deeper significance than all the new formal theories, which
at the time seemed not to interest him. After the italianate eighteenth century,
the nineteenth had discovered musical nationalism. Not methods but temperament
separated Italians and French, Germans and Russians, Czechs and Poles and
Hungarians. Even after the First World War the musical world paraded in colourful
natiollal costumes. Ravel was as French as Richard Strauss was German, Falla
Spanish and Kodaly Hungarian. There had to come one man like Stravinsky,
who in his own life anticipated the homelessness of future mankind, to replace
the polyglot variety by a musical language which found its vocabulary in
any part of the globe and any period of history.
Now, fifty years later, all the dreaded uniformity of the world has come
true: the burning sun of the south and the cold showers of the north find
people dressed after the same fashion, living in houses built to the same
design, enjoying the same amenities. Will this egalitarian varnish eat into
the very texture of life, into thinking and feeling? The Brussels Exposition
Universelle of 1958 was a truly crushing experience. Here Europeans, Arabs,
Japanese and Negroes exhibited models of factories, schools, hospitals, turbines
and tractors which all looked the same. A little golden pagoda stood forlorn
in the midst of all this uniformity. Nobody seemed to be keen on showing
who he was, but only who he would like to be and would be one day. In the
end, perhaps, cuisine will be the last survival of the old variety, and in
Italy one will still eat lasagne alforno, in France escargots d la bourguignonne,
in Valencia paella and in Vienna apfelstrudel -perhaps. There are some who
would doubt even this, and Stravinsky himself seems to prefer the international
steak to Russian blinis.
It is with a slight shudder that one recognizes the prophetic element in
Stravinsky's mission. In his life and work the fate of mankind seems to glow
as in a burning glass. Stravinsky never founded or belonged to a school.
But there always gathered around him a circle of artists, writers and
philosophers who felt the malaise of a vanishing epoch and saw in him the
symbol of a new spiritual existence: Picasso and Giacometti, Cocteau and
Andre Gide, T. S. Eliot and Stephen Spender, Aldous Huxley and Isaiah
Berlin-countless names, which are among the greatest of our time. This circle,
embracing every field of thought and human creation, never degenerated into
a clique or coterie such as formed around Schoenberg. It was no permanent
association, no exclusive club, but from the little man at its centre there
emanated a tremendous force of indefinable inspiration.
There is no room for romanticism or sentimentality in this new world which
Stravinsky accepted. In Russia he explained to a baffled audience of young
composers, 'The heart in music is an invention of the eighteenth century.'
How could they understand that a life such as Stravinsky leads today and
mankind will lead tomorrow can break a heart but never comfort it? It is
not the heart which is increasingly becoming the ruler, the tyrant of this
world: it is the intellect. Many experts, not only among conservatives but
among the advocates of the latest trends in music, disapprove of Stravinsky's
mixing with the young and discovering in his old age what he could have
discovered forty years ago. But it is not true that Stravinsky simply does
not know how to grow old with dignity. Never in his whole life was he a
late-comer. Having measured the whole length and depth of musical experience
and turned it into his own inimitable image, the intellectual play with note
and interval relationships and contrapuntal complexities had to enter the
field of vision of necessity. However, doctrine and intellect are not as
despotic with him as they are with the less independent young. The short
interludes in 'Movements' of 1959 are almost little romantic pictures in
sound; in his 'Variations' of 1964 there are some phrases which one seems
to have heard in Apollon or Persephone or in the Symphony in C. The individuality
of the man, which one seeks in vain in the works of others, is everpresent,
and the shadows of former days still float above the hard lunar landscape
of his late works.
A man who accepts homelessness with such determination as Stravinsky must
lose all reverence for any tradition. Indeed Stravinsky's irreverence is
breathtaking. He despises Richard Strauss and hates Wagner. He displays a
certain professional politeness towards J. S. Bach, but I am not sure whether
he tolerates Mozart. He certainly has no time for Beethoven. He thinks highly
of the amateur Gesualdo, takes off his hat to Tchaikovsky and admires Webern.
Nor does he dilute such verdicts with a conciliatory gesture to the effect
that these are his personal views and that they need not spoil anybody's
enjoyment of Mozart or Beethoven.
But his irreverence is not of the cheap variety, vociferous when dealing
with others but rather anxious when dealing with itself. One day Stravinsky
demanded that his Sacre du printemps, known and famous for fifty years under
this title, be officially renamed The Rite of Spring, the English title only
to be printed on the scores and parts and mentioned in programmes. During
the Second World War he had reorchestrated the last movement for small orchestra
as 'Danse sacrale' and wanted this version to supersede the original. He
finally changed the spelling of his name as a concession to English
With all this, Stravinsky is a man of inexhaustible fascination. The way
he mixes in conversation and letters three or four languages, and pronounces
utterly original and individual views about everything, countries, people,
weather, food, music, painting, is a pleasure of which one never tires. When
this little, frail man as he is now steps before the orchestra and raises
his fists-those disproportionately large hands which Picasso so incomparably
portrayed -a demon leaps out of the humble frame. In his early years Stravinsky
was not a good conductor, and experts may say that he still is not. But this
is not a matter of technique. It is that demon who forces his will upon the
orchestra and drives the audience into a frenzy. I have experienced it often
and in many places and each time it was like a natural phenomenon.
Stravinsky's mode of life perhaps corresponds better than Richard Strauss's
well-ordered private life with its correctness and dependability to the idea
of an artist's earthly pilgrimage. But even more than Strauss he is after
money, and this may not fit into the ideal picture. When a few years ago
he was offered a Dutch medal for an acte de présence at the Holland
Festival, he declined: 'I am collecting money, but not medals.' His music
has indeed earned much money for him and for innumerable others and he has
every conceivable right to it. But he has no inclination for bourgeois comfort
or an orderly way of life. He rises late in the morning, has an irregularly
late lunch and goes late to bed. He does not work at particular times but
when in the mood, irregularly and moodily. He is an excellent draughtsman-Ramuz
called him a calligrapher -and the shape of treble clefs in particular fascinates
him. He draws them with care and delight. In spite of his years he travels
indefatigably and without careful plans. It is as if jet planes had been
invented specially for him. In all his apparent disorder there is a certain
pedantry: he packs his luggage himself and among the many pieces there is
always a small, flat case with the manuscript on which he is working and
papers of all sorts, contracts, letters, everything very tidy and handy.
He is neither absent-minded nor forgetful. If now and then he appears confused
the confusion is simulated for some reason or other. As the rornantic artist
with long hair, fluttering tie and empty stomach no longer exists, Stravinsky
may be the perfect type of the modern artist: wealthy, pedantically confused,
restless in the luxurious manner of the time.
He sometimes sets his publisher a hard task, as the story of the first
performance of The Rake's Progress shows.
Work on the opera went on through the years 1949 and 1950. In December 1950
I received the score of the first two acts; the third was not yet completed.
It had been agreed with Stravinsky that the first performance should be given
in the English original. W. H. Auden's verses were too good not to be heard
at least on this occasion. Unfortunately, the vast English-speaking world
was poorly provided with opera-houses and altogether insufficiently opera-minded
to do justice to the work. The Metropolitan Opera House in New York was not
much interested and lost a great opportunity. There remained only the Royal
Opera House in London, which, with strictly controlled enthusiasm, agreed
to present the work at the Edinburgh Festival in August 1951 and to continue
performances in London in the autumn and winter. The contract had already
been signed in the spring of 1950. Financial prospects were not very rosy.
The German opera-houses were either destroyed or in the process of being
rebuilt; only the Scala in Milan had risen from the rubble more splendid
than ever. Its management would have liked to have the world premiere and
would have made considerable sacrifices if the performance could have been
in Italian. Eventually they secured the first performance on the Continent
of Europe for the month of December 1951.
So everything seemed to have been arranged as satisfactorily as conditions
permitted. Then, early in February 1951, I unexpectedly received a cable
from Stravinsky: HAVE PROMISED FIRST PERFORMANCE TO VENICE STOP IF YOU DON
T AGREE I CANNOT FINISH THE WORK.
What had happened? It did not take long to learn from Italian friends that
the Italian Radio, sponsors of the annual music festival at the Venice Biennale,
had offered Stravinsky a substantial sum for the right of the first performance
with Stravinsky himself conducting. Times were still difficult and Stravinsky
needed the money. I could not argue with him but had to try to free him and
myself from our obligations.
Covent Garden was easy enough. Without hesitation the gentlemen were offended
and did not insist on their rights-the Rake has still never been performed
at the Royal Opera House. But the Scala did not give up. They had the right
of first performance on the Continent and were determined to take the matter
to court. The superintendent, Dr Antonio Ghiringhelli, threatened to appeal
to the public, to have costumes, decors and music impounded in Venice and
to prevent the performance by every means. Before long I received a pile
of Italian newspapers with long and most uncomplimentary articles about
Stravinsky and his publisher. In the Italian Parliament a question was put
to the Minister of Finance asking how it was that there were not enough dollars
in the treasury to import badly needed flour but enough to pay for the first
performance of an opera. A major scandal seemed to be imminent, and I took
the next plane to Milan.
Would it not be possible, I asked, to combine Scala, Radio and Venice? 'Never,'
said Dr Ghiringhelli. 'Never,' said Ferdinando Ballo, the organizer of the
Venice festival. I took the train to Rome. San Luca greeted me from its hill
above Bologna-a few years before the war I had almost been arrested there
when I strayed with a camera into a 'military zone'-Santa Maria del Fiore
in Florence floated past and the cathedral of Orvieto was just visible above
its steep cliff. It was early March and in the Tiber valley the almond trees
were in full blossom and teams of white, long-horned oxen were ploughing
the fields. Somewhere in the open country the train stopped and in the sudden
stillness the larks could be heard singing in the blue sky. The country is
unsuitable for awkward problems. One should enjoy it and forget everything
But -'Never,' said Giulio Razzi, the Director General of Italian Radio. Just
then a vendetta was raging between the Scala and the Radio. Italian law gave
the Radio the right to broadcast every public manifestation without the consent
of the organizers. This had led to an affray, as the Scala resisted and police
had to be called for the protection of the radio engineers. Sincc thcn the
Scala had been bent on revenge.
I looked up all my friends. 'Never,' said Mario Corti, oncc one of the best
violinists, and now, in his old age, director of the 'Argentina'. 'Never,'
said Guido Maria Gatti, editor of Rivista musicale. I went to see the bearded
under-secretary at the Ministry of Education, de Pirro, but 'Never,' he said
When I returned empty-handed to London I had, in spite of my anger, to admire
these stubborn Italians. They fought tooth and nail for an artistic event
which could bring them no material advantage. At the Scala every evening
was sold out, the hotels in Venice in September were full, particularly with
Americans spending their precious dollars who were not coming to hear a new
opera. And still everybody seemed to be obsessed with the first performance
of the Rake, as if the future of the whole nation depended on it. Only Covent
Garden had disdainfully thrown it away. What a contrast!
Three times in the following weeks I made my way to Milan and Rome. Considering
its purpose, the journey was always disproportionately enjoyable. In those
days planes did not cross the Alps but flew to Nice, where one had an hour's
rest in the sunshine at the water's edge and then followed the coast at only
a few hundred feet as far as Genoa where the plane turned inland. Once I
took the train from Zurich, and at Airolo the meadows were covered with white
crocuses and garlands of red primula stretched along the rocks. It was beautiful
beyond description and produced a seemingly unjustified optimism. When another
attempt at mediation had failed and I sat with Ferdinando Ballo at Biffis
in Milan we laid a bet for a plate of gamberetti and a bottle of soave. 'You
will in the end collaborate with the Scala,' I said.
Stravinsky knew nothing of all these difficulties. He believed that everything
was settled, sent me the third and last act and the production of scores
and parts went ahead. But May arrived and nothing was decided. Nobody studied
the opera. As an amicable understanding was impossible it had to be enforced.
Once again I Iqew to Rome. The headquarters of the Italian Radio was then
in Via delle Botteghe Oscure, a few steps from the Piazza Venezia and the
Capitol. I explained to an assembly of officials led by Giulio Razzi that
I could not break signed and sealed contracts. If the Radio, the Biennale
and the Scala could not come to an understanding I would have to fulfil my
obligations to the Scala and would supply no material to Venice. Would the
Radio and Venice really want to sue Stravinsky? Were we all not bent on helping
him? But time was running out and a decision had to be taken there and then.
The gentlemen were really worried and asked for time to consider the situation
which, they said, was new to them. I replied that I would return to Milan
by train the next day at twelve noon, and if I had no positive decision by
then the matter would be closed and events would take their course.
Despite it all it was a beautiful evening on Monte Celio, and I sat there
with the view of the Eternal City until night fell. The next morning at ten
o'clock a messenger from the Radio brought a letter: the Radio was willing
to collaborate with the Scala, which was to be responsible for the performance
in Venice and supply the cast, orchestra, costumes and decor, the Biennale
to make available the chorus, the theatre and all the administrative services.
Ferdinando Ballo had been ordered to travel at once to Milan and to settle
all the details with the Scala and myself. 'V'e tm miracolo!' exclaimed Emilia
Zanetti, the charming public-relations officer of the Biennale, who had been
my secret ally in these last decisive discussions and had come to Rome to
The next morning Ballo and I met Luigi Oldani, the secretary of the Scala.
The two behaved like obstinate schoolboys who have to shake hands after a
fight. 'You will have to persuade Ghiringhelli,' Oldani said eventually.
I shall never forget the visit to Ghiringhelli's house and the half-dozen
black-and-white-spotted Great Danes as big as calves hurling themselves down
the stairs and straight at me. Ghiringhelli saved me only just in time, and
in his theatrical manner promised his collaboration. In the afternoon we
drafted a formal agreement, into which Ghiringhelli inserted more and more
clauses to guarantee the artistic supremacy of the Scala. It was late in
the evening when, quite exhausted, we put our signatures to the document.
'Gamberetti con soave?' I asked Ballo. 'We are not there yet,' he said.
Indeed we were not there yet. I could now inform Stravinsky that the performance
was scheduled for 14 September at the Teatro Fenice in Venice, and he received
the news as if he had never expected otherwise. But summer was at hand and
nobody was engaged. First of all a conductor was required to study the work
with cast and orchestra and to conduct the second and third performances
and the performances later in the season at the Scala. 'Talk to Cantelli
yourself,' said Ghiringhelli, who was afraid of the maestro and of Toscanini's
shadow behind him. I did. but poor Cantelli nearly had a nervous breakdown
at the mere thought of learning the score by heart in three months. Following
his great teacher and patron, he would not think of conducting from the score.
In the end I had to implore him to forget all about it. At the beginning
of July only Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in Vienna and Jenny Tourel in New York
were definitely engaged, but nobody seemed to worry.
At the end of July we climbed our mountain in the Valais, 6,000 feet high,
without road or railway, but with a telephone. Not until the middle of August
did the long-expected panic break out. Oldani rang me from Milan to say that
he had succeeded in engaginga conductor, Ferdinand Leitner, the
Generalmusikdirektor from Stuttgart who happened to be conducting a few summer
concerts at the Maxentius basilica in Rome. But the chosen producer, Visconti,
was in Australia. Could I suggest someone else? Carl Ebert was still at
Glyndebourne. I telephoned him. He was not very enthusiastic because I had
recommended him in the first place and the Scala had refused, but eventually
he accepted for Stravinsky's sake. A few days later Oldani was on the telephone
again: he could not find a bass-baritone for the part of Nick Shadow. Again
by telephone I persuaded Otakar Kraus to accept and to learn the part in
When we arrived in Venice on 7 September large posters greeted us: La Biennale
di Venezia ed il Teatro alla Scala presentano la prima mondiale . . . But
we had hardly reached our hotel room when Dr Ghiringhelli appeared in a towering
rage: if the posters were not removed immediately and replaced by new ones
putting the Scala into first place he would withdraw his personnel and leave
at once. So there was another half-hour of wild shouting and excitement in
the offices of the Biennale in the Palazzo Giustinian, but Emilia Zanetti
intervened and the next morning the new posters proclaimed: Il Teatro alla
Scala e la Biennale di Venezia presentano . . . Some sharp-eyed Italian may
have noticed the change. The foreigners for whose benefit the whole show
was staged certainly never became aware of it.
It was indeed a miracle that on the day of the dress rehearsal an orchestra
sat in the pit, the curtain rose and the singers-with the notable exceptions
of Schwarzkopf and Tourel, who knew not only their own parts but the whole
opera-had a vague idea of what they were expected to sing and to do. Costumes
and decor made for the Scala fitted only approximately and everything seemed
improvised on the spot.
It was the longest dress rehearsal I can remember, starting at five o'clock
in the afternoon and finishing long after midnight. Nothing worked. Stravinsky
conducted with his head buried in the score as if he had never seen it before.
He could not know what was happening on the stage. Once Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
stepped forward and interrupted the maestro: 'This is too fast, at this tempo
one cannot reach the other end of the stagel' In the wings brave Jenny Tourel
gave a last lesson to the tenor, Carl Ebert shouted from the dark stalls
to the stage 'Imbecili!' when the chorus, singing in a sort of English, did
not know what to do. The interludes were too short for the old-fashioned
equipment of the Fenice, and each time the scene changed and the curtain
went up one could see stagehands running about between slanting props, but
Stravinsky stubbornly refused to allow short intermissions. A veritable babel
of languages made communication almost impossible. Exhausted, we staggered
back to the hotel with Stravinsky. Might it not have been better if Venice
and the Scala had not agreed to co-operate?
The next morning there was a sirocco. Sweltering heat enveloped the lagoon
like a hot, wet cloth. Before lunch I found Stravinsky in his room wearing
only his pyjama trousers, a towel round his neck and a large bottle of mineral
water on the table, the score in front of him. He had hardly slept and was
utterly dejected. He had asked for another piano rehearsal but the singers
had refused. 'Comment expliquer, cher ami?' he cried. 'The recitatives must
be sung in tempo!' I tried to comfort him. A bad dress rehearsal was the
best omen for a good performance.
The evening was a social event of the first order. All the famous film stars
were present-the film festival coincided with the music festival-furs, jewellery
and dresses were fabulous. From Campo S. Moise to the steps of the Fenice
Venetians lined the narrow streets and enjoyed the spectacle. The performance
of Stravinsky's first and only full-length opera was of secondary importance.
In the beautiful auditorium of the Fenice the heat was murderous. We sat
in the back of a box, took off our ties and dinnerjackets and waited anxiously.
After the confusion of the dress rehearsal everybody was calm and composed.
Carl Ebert had forced another drill with the stagehands, the singers seemed
by a miracle to know their parts and Stravinsky himself was all confidence
and authority. The public was not greatly interested in what happened between
the intervalsand expressed its appreciation with condescending applause.
But the critics who had come from all corners of the earth had a great evening.
At half-past two in the morning I sat with Ferdinando Ballo in the Taverna
della Fenice and had my gamberetti con soave.
The next day, at noon, there was a great reception at the Palazzo Loredan.
Stravinsky was led by a procession of resplen dently dressed dignitaries
and guards into the great hall of the 'Municipio' and the Mayor of Venice
made a long speech: all great men of history had come to the fairy-city in
the sea, Julius Caesar, Attila, Charlemagne-and now Stravinsky. It was all
very moving. When the same picturesque cortege led Stravinsky back to the
entrance, he whispered to me in passing, 'Have you got the cheque?' The
suspicious Italians had put it into the contract that the fee should be payable
only the day after the performance. Yes, I had received the cheque.'
There is probably no other place on earth where the sacred and the profane
can live together as they do in Venice. In the Museo Correr there is, among
many beautiful and indifferent things, one which is usually overlooked: Francesco
Morosini's prayer-book. It is also a pistol-case.
Is The Rake's Progress a good opera? The experts have never been able to
muster much enthusiasm for it, and there is a lingering suspicion that Stravinsky
did not mean it seriously but was merely toying with a parody on opera at
its worst-the opera of Bellini and Donizetti. And since parodies have to
be short in order to be effective they did not find the full-length Rake
amusing. Once more, and for the last time, Stravinsky had traversed the wide
realm of music, from Monteverdi to Handel, from Gluck to Donizetti, picking
up bits here and there. In his cavatinas and cabalettas, strettas, duets
and trios the past sparkles like cats' eyes in the dark. And all this made
an opera as only Stravinsky could create it, weird and gripping: the dance
in the brothel, the ghostly parade of the senants carrying the possessions
of Baba the Turk, the organ-grinder's melody which accompanies the
stones-intobread machine, the scene in the cemetery. The Rake has the best
buffo scene in recent operatic literature in the auction, and one of the
most beautiful melodies Stravinsky has ever written in the lullaby with which
Ann sings her Tom into death. Never before and never since has Stravinsky
shown such a wide range of expression, the serious and the comic, the bizarre
and the gruesome, nor such sincerity of feeling. He gave his own past a
magnificent farewell-and turned away.
Stravinsky has written many works on commission and for important fees. But
he has never made artistic-or financial concessions. Once he was himself
doubtful, and I had to warn a lady who had commissioned a piano concerto
that she could not expect a concerto in the usual manner. But she insisted,
and received a very short, very diffcult piece which gave her little opportunity
to show her pianistic virtuosity. 'He used to write such nice music,' she
said when she saw the score.
In his old age Stravinsky discovered Webern. But what should, what could
the style of his old age be? Verdi could draw upon the experience of his
long life. Richard Strauss could return to a musical homeland which he had
never quite abandoned. Stravinsky can do neither. There can be no sublimation
of the Rite, there is no single, overall outcome of his life's work. He always
locked the doors behind him and never had any desire to settle down in one
particular province of music.
For a weaker man of his age this could have become a tragedy. But Stravinsky
continually draws new strength and joie de vivre from it. He is still, in
his habits, the Russian gentleman of former times, happy like a child if
something pleases him and angry like a child if it does not, religious with
a touch of superstition, lively in spite of his frailty, and often surprisingly
humble. In Hamburg he complained, about the production of his Flood, 'I have
created a Lucifer-and what do I see? A red cat.' But he did not insist on
any change, as Richard Strauss would have done.
Stravinsky does not collect old paintings or old furniture. His wife Vera,
herself an artist of great gifts, once said, 'We do not like Rome where
everything is old and venerable. We like New York.'
The enfant terrible of yesterday is today the subject of an admiration no
other living composer has earned. There is a feeling that he is the last
of the great, the last link with the greatest epoch in music-with which,
however, he never wanted to be associated. 'All my life I have thought of
myself as the youngest one, and now, suddenly, I read and hear about myself
as the oldest one,' he wrote not long ago. Indeed, he always seemed younger
than his contemporaries, with whom he had nothing in common but coexistence.
He too experimented, but the result was achievement and not mere experiment.
And even now when he uses a technique which he has not invented but often
modified it testifies to his inimitable, unrepeatable personality: his
Requiem-Canticles of 1966 have the same direct appeal as his Oedipus Rex
of 1927 or his Rite of Spring of 1913 or, indeed, any of the great works
of the 'Golden Age' before him.
After Stravinsky it will be as it was after Michelangelo ....
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