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Humanizing Stravinsky

To my ears, the most sublime music Igor Stravinsky ever composed is “The Land of Eternal Dwelling” — the Epilogue to The Fairy’s Kiss.

The 1928 ballet itself, possibly Stravinsky’s most emotionally naked music, is a confessional love letter to the homeland he excoriated in his Norton lectures and elsewhere as “anarchic” and inimical to artistic fulfillment. That he protested too much is self-evident; as I argue in my book Artists in Exile, Stravinsky’s ostensible estrangement from Mother Russia manifested a “psychology of exile.”

The Fairy’s Kiss is a loving homage to Tchaikovsky, whose songs and piano pieces furnish the exquisite musical materials. The two Tchaikovsky works most tellingly cited say it all: “Lullaby in a Storm” and “None but the Lonely Heart.” The Fairy’s Kiss is Stravinsky revisiting his own childhood, confiding his emotional roots. And the six-minute Epilogue – in which the first of these plaintive songs is distilled to a timeless echo, frozen in time — is a remembrance of Stravinsky’s own childhood innocence.

The Pacific Symphony, an orchestra that does things differently, celebrated the centenary of The Rite of Spring last week by exploring two Russias: the rural Russia of primal ceremony, where Stravinsky and Nicolas Roerich observed the ritual sacrifice of a straw effigy; and the St. Petersburg of the elegant Mariinsky Theatre, where Stravinsky’s father sang in the operas of Tchaikovsky.

The concert included two film clips: an excerpt from Tony Palmer’s classic 1982 Stravinsky documentary, in which Stravinsky recalled introducing The Rite of Spring to Diaghilev, and a film I created with Jeff Sells, of the Pacific Symphony staff, that combined “The Land of Eternal Dwelling” with a biographical sequence (clips culled from Palmer’s film) reviewing in retrograde the events of Stravinsky’s long life – so that music and film ended in tandem with the bliss of infancy. It looked like this.

As the concert had begun with danced excerpts from The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, the Fairy’s Kiss Epilogue (prefaced by “Lullaby in a Storm”) was the linchpin of the evening, setting the stage for a terrific Rite of Spring performance conducted by Carl St. Clair. The program as a whole aspired to humanize Stravinsky in surprising and extraordinary ways.


  1. Kit Hill says:

    Regarding “…the homeland [Stravinsky] excoriated in his Norton lectures and elsewhere as ‘anarchic’ and inimical to artistic fulfillment,” Robert Craft has written, “Pierre Souvtchinsky was one of Stravinsky’s intimates in Paris from 1924 to 1939 and, being familiar with the musical scene in the U.S.S.R., ghosted Stravinsky’s 1939 lecture on Russian music in Poétique musicale.” (Stravinsky, Discoveries and Memories, 280-1). Not to say your characterization is inaccurate, but I have to wonder whether particular colorful words are actually Stravinsky’s…

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