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Confronting Stravinsky: MAN, MUSICIAN, AND MODERNIST; edited by Jann Pasler (University of California: $48; 380 pp., illustrated.)

June 14, 1987|Bryan R. Sims | Simms teaches at USC. His book, "Music of the 20th Century: Style and Structure," was recently published by Schirmer Books. and

The events of 1982 that marked the centennial of Stravinsky's birth were a fitting recognition of his importance to the course of music in the 20th Century. Although the year was darkened by the death of Stravinsky's widow and by continuing litigation over his estate, it was memorable for the performances of his music at the Hollywood Bowl, Ojai Festival, Metropolitan Opera, and New York City Ballet. It was also the occasion for a renewed study of his works and a reassessment of his role in the history of modern musical culture.

These scholarly areas were the focus of the International Stravinsky Symposium at UC San Diego, a five-day conference in the fall of 1982, organized and directed by Prof. Jann Pasler. Although the Symposium was augmented by exhibits, panel discussions, and musical performances, its main event was the reading of about 30 papers by historians, theoreticians, and other specialists. "Confronting Stravinsky," edited by Pasler, is a collection of 21 of these essays.

The articles, typical of those delivered at such conferences, are brief vignettes that are not unified in approach or in theme. Their subjects range between the anecdotal and the arcane and include chatty reminiscences, interdisciplinary comparisons, formal analyses, and discussions concerning performance practices. Given their brevity and origin as oral presentations, none is a complete or thorough account of any subject. All the same, they reveal the provocative diversity and innovative directions of current research in this area.

The papers, which address Stravinsky's life and music from the early Russian period (extending to about 1920), are among the most original in this anthology. They show the great debt that Western musicologists currently owe to Soviet scholars, who in the last 20 years have laid the groundwork for a proper understanding of the cultural background of Russian emigre artists.

Soviet editions of correspondence by Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Nikolai Miaskovsky, and Boris Asafiev are used by Malcolm Brown to clarify the artistic and personal relations between Stravinsky and Prokofiev. Simon Karlinsky uses research by Soviet scholars as evidence that the scenarios of Stravinsky's early ballets were derived from genres of traditional Russian folk theater. Richard Taruskin links the orientation toward folk art among avant garde Russian painters with Stravinsky's music from 1910.

Articles dealing with musical structure and compositional materials will be accessible only to the specialist. Readers who are not conversant with (0 2 3 5) tetrachords, subsets of the diatonic octad, or hexachordal-rotational arrays will find daunting the contributions of Milton Babbitt, Allen Forte and Pieter Van Den Toorn.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are articles by Leonard Stein, Lawrence Morton and Edwin Allen. These are written for the general reader and provide first- hand and often touching details of Stravinsky's life and work during his 30-year residence in California.

Stein, an assistant to Arnold Schoenberg in the 1930s and 1940s, traces a personal estrangement between his mentor and Stravinsky, which prevented any significant contact between them during 11 years when they both lived in the Los Angeles area.

An entirely singular contribution is Rex Lawson's study of "Stravinsky and the Pianola." The author is an English specialist and performer on mechanical or player pianos, and he outlines the history of such instruments in his article. Stravinsky was one of several early 20th-Century composers who were attracted to these devices, in part due to the growing popularity in the years around World War I of mechanistic music and in part because of their wish to bypass the romantic interpretive styles of performers of this period.

The authenticity of Stravinsky's published writings is an issue that is hinted at in several essays, but, perhaps due to the honorific nature of the symposium, not directly addressed. Stravinsky was willing to have his name appear as the author of published materials that were written by his literarily inclined associates, including Walter Nuvel, Pierre Suvchinsky, Alexis Roland-Manuel, Robert Craft and Lawrence Morton (a collaboration to which Morton alludes in his article in this anthology).

In 1983, Craft disclosed that Stravinsky's most important aesthetic statement, his Harvard lectures entitled "Poetics of Music," was entirely written by Roland-Manuel and Suvchinsky, based on notes provided by the composer. These and other such revelations call into question the image, assiduously cultivated by Craft and other intimates, of Stravinsky as a man of words. It also casts reasonable doubt upon the authenticity of certain musical documents attributed to Stravinsky, including recordings made under his direction, the pianola rolls described by Lawson, the revisions of major works such as "The Rite of Spring" (described in this anthology by Louis Cyr), and transcriptions putatively made by the composer.

Schoenberg, who was not kindly disposed to his great rival, immediately suspected the unreliability of Stravinsky's published statements. In marginal notes, which he made to a newspaper interview with Stravinsky of 1925 (quoted in Stein's article), Schoenberg writes, "What is given here as utterances by Stravinsky one does not have to take too seriously because one can't. He himself is not so serious about it, otherwise, he would put more weight on being quoted exactly as to what he meant to say."

"Confronting Stravinsky" in sum, will provide an enlightening diversity of material to those readers who possess reasonable expertise in music and who are generally familiar with Stravinsky's music.

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