25 May 2018

Even the great and the famous . . .

Reading Joan Peyser’s To Boulez and Beyond (why, we certainly hope “beyond,” since Boulez est mort . . .)

American commissions for Stravinsky dried up during World War II, so he turned to the film industry;  but his efforts there failed.  A score for a film, The Moon Is Down, based on a novel by John Steinbeck, about the Nazi invasion of Norway, was rejected;  so he converted it to Four Norwegian Moods.  Another with a Russian setting became Scherzo à la russe.  The score for Orson Welles’s Jane Eyre ended up as the middle movement of the Ode, and the music he wrote for Franz Werfel’s Song of Bernadette was salvaged as the second movement of his Symphony in Three Movements.

But Stravinsky kept hammering away because he needed money:  “I have never regarded poverty as attractive,” he writes.  “I do not want to be buried in the rain, unattended as Mozart was. . . . The very image of Bartók’s poverty-stricken demise, to mention only one of my less fortunate colleagues, was enough to fire my ambition to earn every penny from a society that failed in its duty to Mozart.”

Stravinsky arranged the Firebird as a love ballad, “Summer Moon,” so that it would turn up on jukeboxes and deliver him large royalties.  He wrote his polka for the Barnum and Bailey circus and the Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman in an effort to tap Tin Pan Alley.

What is it about fabulous expatriate Russian artists who struggle to earn money for their brilliant work?  Certainly, I am thinking of the meticulously executed, virtuosically varied work of the admirably prolific Maria Bablyak, whose breathtakingly energetic Tango Dancers (below) graces the poster of this season’s Triad concerts.

(How peculiar is the Stravinsky remark, I have never regarded poverty as attractive.  Although this was a man who could – and, a thousand times, did – turn a brilliant phrase, not only does this sentence fail to sparkle, but the arc of its plunge epitomizes what investment professionals call a “dead cat bounce.”)

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