After Apollo

By Thomson, Andrew | Musical Times, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

After Apollo


Thomson, Andrew, Musical Times


After Apollo The Cambridge companion to Stravinsky Edited by Jonathan Cross Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 2003); xv, 327pp; £47.50, $70 PBK / £17.95, $26. ISBN 0 521 66330 x / 0 521 66377 6.

OF THE TWO undisputed musical giants of the 2Oth century, it is the cosmopolite Stravinsky, successfully balancing the demands of his creative integrity with those of the world, who can be said to represent the human voice of reason and sanity. By contrast, Schoenberg - the artist as tragic, persecuted hero - epitomises the Central European crisis and its appalling consequences. Indeed, certain intellectualist critics - notably Theodore Adorno have endeavoured to widen further the gulf between them, entrenching polarities and eliminating any possible points of contact. A more journalistic perception would assert that if the works of Schoenberg ultimately led to the elitist dead-end of total serialism a la Boulez and Stockhausen, those of Stravinsky pioneered the democratically acceptable face of musical postmodernism. It is one of the many merits of The Cambridge companion to Stravinsky that its best contributions firmly challenge such well established critical distortions and mythologies, to which the composer himself contributed in his various writings, ghosted or otherwise. Such are the individual strengths of these various contributors, moreover, that they healthily refuse to be inhibited, let alone dominated, by the twin mountains of Stravinskian research and scholarship that have appeared in recent years - Richard Taruskin's Stravinsky and the Russian traditions (1998) and the first volume of Stephen Walsh's full biography, Stravinsky: a creative spring (1999) - and maintain their own positions and arguments vis-a-vis these leading authorities.

The Cambridge companion is divided into three parts, of which the first, entitled Origins and contexts', contains three essays from the very different yet valid perspectives of specialists in Russian history, English literature, and Music theory and analysis. These raise some crucial aesthetic questions. Rosamund Bartlett, in an erudite and admirably comprehensive survey 'Stravinsky's Russian origins', usefully amplifies the work of Walsh, emphasising how closely the tyro composer identified with the aristocratic and international character of St Petersburg; the 'bright, solemn, spacious proportions of its [Italianate] neoclassical architecture' must surely have had some bearing on 'the economy and simplicity of his later neoclassical style'. Significantly, he never visited Pan Slav Moscow until 1962. We learn, too, that the traditional formal principles of drobnost (a work as a sum of its parts) and nepodvi^hnost (juxtaposition of individualised static blocks), employed in such 'modernist' scores as Petrushka, are also to be found in Russian literature, as in Tolstoy's novel War and peace, constructed by the accumulation of discrete short chapters in a mainly non-linear conception. In 'Stravinsky as modernist' Christopher Butler makes out i\ convincing case for the Russian emigre as a 'conservative innovator' similar to TS Eliot - the latter a fugitive from the cultural thinness of America, who had assumed a classical and High Anglican philosophy. With reference to Stravinsky's neoclassical style and its wide range of Western musical allusions, Butler illuminatingly cites the great transatlantic poet and critic on the strength of the venerable historical traditions of Europe, also viewed from the position of an Outsider': 'We shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of [a poet's] work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.' Butler, moreover, is at pains to differentiate Stravinsky's and Eliot's comparatively tempered modernism - The rite of spring's novel structural conception of rhythnj deemed comparable to The waste land's disruption of the logical ordering of syntax - from Austro-German angst and psychosociological alienation. …

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