Fifty years ago Stravinsky died
aged eighty eight. He’d had a brilliant run
so no complaints. The death certificate
says heart failure. He’d taken on a Fifth
Avenue apartment after weeks
in hospital. Burial took place
in Venice at the graveyard San Michele.
The impresario Diaghilev
is also there. They both had travelled far
from their respective Russian birthplaces.
Stravinsky came from Oranienbaum
near St Petersburg. His father was
an operatic bass employed at the
Marinsky Theatre. His mother was
the daughter of a high-up government
official. Igor was the third of their
four sprogs. His work is usually split
into three periods: the Russian first,
then neo-Classical and Serial.
The oratorio Oedipus Rex
is neo-classical and written in
the nineteen twenties, and then premiered
in Paris nineteen twenty seven. One
year later was its U.S. premiere
given by the Boston Symphony
and Harvard Glee Club as the Chorus. I’ve
a Sony Classical CD, which I
have treasured, of the same performers with
conductor Lenny Bernstein in the year
Stravinsky died. The text is Latin which
rams home the ‘classical’ although it had
been written first in French by Jean Cocteau.
The Harvard Glee Club Chorus is distraught.
Caedit nos pestis: we have got the plague!
Thebes had quarantined and sought a cure.
The oracle revealed the cause: the king!
The pianoforte thunders minor thirds.
The clarinet laughs at the irony.
Stravinsky modernises ancient Greece
in spartan, raw originality.
In nineteen sixty five he came to London
for the last time and conducted the
New Philharmonia in Firebird.
The occasion was recorded here.
His wrist is metronomic and he shrugs
the half-beats with precise insouciance.
He’s still contemporary after death.