Mercoledi Musicale

As I have mentioned before I am currently taking a fascinating online course on Russian classical music of the Soviet period with my dear friend David Nice. At the time three Russians made a triumvirate of giants amongst modern composers: Serge Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovitch, and Igor Stravinsky. In the last weeks of the course the later perforce faded into the background. Unlike the other two Stravinsky had left Soviet Russia behind and was not subject to the ever increasing restrictions and demands of the stifling Union of Soviet Composers.

Yesterday (April 6th) was the 50th anniversary of the death of Stravinsky in New York at the age of 88. After a funeral service in New York his body was taken to Venice where he was buried in the Russian section on the beautiful cemetery island of San Michele.

During our second visit to La Serenissima we spent an afternoon wandering around the Isola including a visit to the simple graves of Stravinsky and his wife Vera.

The simple graves of Igor Stravinsky and his wife Vera in the Russian section of the cemetery at Isola di San Michelle in Venice.

Though he was best known as a composer Stravinsky was also a conductor and toured extensively – primarily conducting his own works. His final appearance in London was in 1965 at the age of 83 conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra in The Firebird and The Symphony of Psalms. This brief excerpt is the Lullaby and Finale of the ballet – it is almost as fascinating to watch him conduct as it is to hear the music. Around the 06:00 mark he cues the horns slightly early and gives a flicker of a smile at his mistake.

The applause went on and on with Stravinsky was called back so often – and with great difficulty – that for his final appearance he wore his coat and hat.

Two years later (1967) he made his final stage appearance at the age of 84 with the Toronto Symphony conducting Pulcinella. He had concerts booked into 1969 but ill health forced cancellations. The sold-out audience at Massey Hall had no idea that they were seeing his final concert. (As a side bar I saw many concerts from that second balcony as I was growing up and this brought back so many memories.)

Laurent and I have often remarked that on our visit to San Michele we saw some very ornate graves with lengthy purple prose histories on the tombstones of their now unknown occupants. Stravinsky’s simply bears his name and a cross – nothing more is needed.

The word for April 7th is:
Soviet /ˈsōvēət/: [1. noun 2. adjective]
1.1 An elected local, district, or national council in the former Soviet Union.
1.2 A citizen of the former Soviet Union
2. Of or concerning the former Soviet Union.
Early 20th century: from Russian sovet ‘council’.

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

5 thoughts on “Mercoledi Musicale”

  1. Your final paragraph about Stravinsky’s simple grave as composed to other, more ornate ones made me think of that scene in “Death of a Salesman” when Willy Loman says wonderingly about his neighbour Charley’s son that he didn’t brag about his success in life and Charley says “he doesn’t need to.” (Or something to that effect).

  2. It troubled me that I ‘left Stravinsky behind’ in later classes last term – on the somewhat arbitrary judgment that his themes ceased to be Russian, though you could argue there’s an element in all his works. I fully intend to pick him up, so to speak, in the fourth term. I find it fascinating that he only returned to Russia for his 80th birthday during the Khrushchev thaw, in June 1962 – the week I was born. That Festival Hall film still moves me hugely. To think, he spanned the greater part of 20th century musical history, and marked all its changes while staying himself.

    1. David – Given what we were looking at I don’t think you necessarily “left him behind” but he was not part of the world you were addressing in those last few classes. His themes ceased to be the Russia of the period with all it’s restrictions and tensions that “Soviet” composers were facing. He was still a “Russian” but not a “Soviet” composer.

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