Stravinsky Retrospectives

By Ethan Haimo; Paul Johnson | Go to book overview

CONUNDRUMS, CONJECTURES, CONSTRUALS; OR 5 VS. 3: THE INFLUENCE OF RUSSIAN COMPOSERS ON Stravinsky

CLAUDIO SPIES ! Princeton University

By way of explaining the unequal contest suggested by the alternate heading, it may be helpful to reduce the first numeral, referring to the maguchia kuchka or "mighty heap," as it was known, to its single apposite representative in Stravinsky's lifetime: his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov. (Of the other four kuchkisti, only Mussorgsky's music meant anything to Stravinsky: he professed great admiration for its originality and as heartily detested Rimsky's bowdlerizing compositional corrections and substitutions, particularly in Boris Godunov.) As for the second numeral, that might likewise be reduced to one -- in this case, Tchaikovsky -- but little purpose would be served simply by eliminating the other two composers on that side, Glinka and Dargomyzhsky, inasmuch as the music of each of the three held a very particular place among Stravinsky's early impressions. A sweeping reduction of contenders to one on either side, though neat, and quite accurately descriptive of fiercely antagonistic feelings that endured well beyond Stravinsky's twentieth year -- even though Tchaikovsky had been dead and buried for the last fifteen years of Rimsky's life -- would nonetheless be insensitive to several of the questions at hand.

As the son of a leading bass at the Saint Petersburg Opera, and living less than a city block from the Maryinsky Theater, Stravinsky as a child must have seen his father in a good many Russian operas, including both of Glinka's, two of Dargomyzhsky's, and probably several of Tchaikovsky's, as well as such new productions as Rimsky-Korsakov Mlada, Christmas Eve, and Sadko. (It is unlikely, however, that Stravinsky would at the age of five have been taken to see his father first sing the evil monk Mamyirov in Tchaikovsky Sorceress, but he did see The Sleeping Beauty during its first season, in 1890.) We know that during his adolescence and later Stravinsky attended not only performances but had free access to virtually all opera rehearsals at the Maryinsky, at which he often sat next to Rimsky

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