Stravinsky has been widely characterized as enigmatic, a composer whose stylistic transformations were impossible to anticipate. He cultivated this image, not in a disingenuous way, but because his eccentricity was central to his self-definition.
More than any composer of 20th-century art music, Stravinsky was able to make the leap from a rarefied intellectual world to the status of a pop icon, widely respected by people who largely did not understand his music. He needed to be public, accepted, and popular, and a surprisingly large proportion of his archival documents reflects his efforts toward these goals.
Television producers in Europe and North America found in Stravinsky the ideal nonconformist film icon: droll, quirky, conversational, contentious, and pedestaled as the epitome of the rebellious hero. He was drawn to them as well, as a natural performer who needed and commanded the spotlight.
This according to “Truths and illusions: Rethinking what we know” and “Film documentaries: The composer on and off camera” by Charles M. Joseph, two essays included in Stravinsky inside out (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 1–34 and 162–195, respectively).
Below, the composer works the camera with some of his favorite things to say about Le sacre du printemps.
In January 1900 Rahmaninov and the bass Fëdor Ivanovič Šalâpin were invited to perform for a gathering at Tolstoj’s home; they were both 26 years old. Their excitement was tempered with no little trepidation about meeting the revered author, but they could not have foreseen what transpired.
Šalâpin recalled that after the performance Tolstoj accosted him and asked “What kind of music is most necessary to men—scholarly or folk music?”
Rahmaninov’s own experience was no less harrowing, as he later described it:
“Suddenly the enthusiastic applause was hushed and everyone went silent. Tolstoj sat in an armchair a little apart from the others, looking gloomy and cross. For the next hour I evaded him entirely, but suddenly he came up to me and declared excitedly: ‘I must speak to you. I must tell you how I dislike it all!’
“And he went on and on: ‘Beethoven is nonsense, Puškin and Lermontov also.’ It was awful….
“After a while Tolstoj came up to me again: ‘Please excuse me. I am an old man. I did not mean to hurt you.’ I replied: ‘How could I be hurt on my own account if I was not hurt on Beethoven’s?’”
This according to Sergei Rachmaninoff: A lifetime in music by Sergei Bertensson, Jay Leyda, and Sof’â Aleksandrovna Satina (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001 [reprint] pp. 88–89).
Today is Rahmaninov’s 140th birthday! Below, Šalâpin sings one of his romances.
For his 1991 remake of J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 film Cape fear, Martin Scorsese had the Bernard Herrmann score of the original adapted by Elmer Bernstein.
The score was effectively re-composed for the later film, with Bernstein taking its basic components and redeploying them in often entirely new musical and filmic contexts, while also combining them with his own newly composed music and further preexisting material from Herrmann’s rejected score for Hitchcock’s Torn curtain (1966).
Bernstein later said that Scorsese “wanted the atmosphere that [Herrmann’s 1962 score] provides” and that it was “much more appropriate for the remake…the first film was not up to the strength of that score.”
This according to “Cape Fear: Remaking a film score” by Jonathan Godsall (The soundtrack IV/2  pp. 117–135). Below, Cady’s ill-advised release from prison.
The Bavarian composer Max Reger was famous for his appetite. According to his biographer Fritz Stein, he was capable of consuming up to 30 little Bavarian weißwürste or up to 12 Regensburger würste at one go. Such meals needed to be washed down with up to ten liters of beer, but after giving up alcohol while he was living in Meiningen (as conductor of the Hoforchester of Duke Georg II, from 1911 to 1915), he kept up with the sausage habit.
Thus, from a letter to the Duke of 27 May 1912: “Yesterday afternoon we took another walk to the Helenenhöhe, where I sampled the Thuringian Rostbratwürste for the first time, and immediately devoured ten of them, to my wife’s disgust. But they agreed with me extremely well; I worked until ten o’clock last night, woke up fit as a fiddle, and feel fine, although everybody warned me that the bratwurst was too greasy. They were revolted by my drinking cold milk with the ten sausages. I thus brilliantly disproved the old myth that says one has to have alcohol with greasy foods, in the form of schnapps.”
The Duke replied “In the name of God, don’t repeat that Wurstiade very often, if you don’t want to get popped underground or into the crematorium soon. Mass-produced sausages often contain nasty things.”
This according to Über die Lebensgewohnheiten eines Genies by Hans-Joachim Marks (Mitteilungen der Internationalen Max-Reger-Gesellschaft XXI  pp. 23-27. The full text of the article is here (scroll down to page 23).
Today is Reger’s 140th birthday! Below, Hans-Dieter Bauer perform’s Reger’s Humoresque for the left hand alone—presumably composed so he could continue to eat würste with his right hand. Many thanks to David Bloom for helping with this post!
Nicolas Astrinidis (1921-2010) is a free online resource that documents the life and works of the Greek composer, pianist, and conductor.
Edited by Ilias Chrissochoidis and mainly in English, the site presents a biography of Astrinidīs along with audiovisual documents, lists of works and performances, and a discussion of his life and works in Greek. Below, a work influenced by Greek traditional music.
Boccherini’s posthumous reputation has suffered because his works do not emphasize the structural coherence and teleology emblematic of 18th-century Classicism; but regarded through the lens of performance—the sensations and images involved in its bodily presentation—his works evoke those aspects of the era characterized by urgent, even volatile, inquiries into the nature of the self.
Contemporaneous theories of embodiment illuminate the heart of Boccherini’s oeuvre, the chamber music for strings, which presents sensibilité through repetitiveness, a hyperattention to details of dynamics and articulation, the grotesque and bizarre timbres and registral excesses, and Newtonian mechanistic philosophy through gestural enactments of rapidity and rigidity.
These works often distance and ironize the performer, particularly in regard to virtuosity. They thereby make a sophisticated contribution to the central Enlightenment tension between subjectivity and appearance so memorably articulated in Diderot’s Paradoxe sur le comédien.
This according to “‘One says that one weeps, but one does not weep’: Sensibile, grotesque, and mechanical embodiments in Boccherini’s chamber music” by Elisabeth Le Guin (Journal of the American Musicological Society LV/2 [summer 2002] pp. 207–54).
Today is Boccherini’s 270th birthday! Below, a work cited by Le Guin as an example.
On 26 April 1706, in a solemn ceremony in Rome, Arcangelo Corelli was accepted as a member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia; as customary, he assumed a shepherd’s name: Arcomelo.
Forty years later, the Swiss Jesuit Martin Schmid copied several of Corelli’s works into his draft-book of music for the Indian community in Bolivia that he was fostering and overseeing—a community that was sometimes known as New Arcadia.
In Bolivia, Corelli’s Arcadian music was subjected to a radical metamorphosis by those who understood Indian performers and audiences. His works were thereby consigned to a museum of cultural symbols as objects of a revered past.
This according to “Arcadia meets Utopia: Corelli in the South American wildnerness” by Leonardo J. Waisman, an essay included in Arcangelo Corelli: Fra mito e realtà storica–Nuove prospettive d’indagine musicologica e interdisciplinare nel 350° anniversario dalla nascita (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2007, pp. 651–85).
Today is Corelli’s 360th birthday! Below, the original version of one of the works that was subjected to a Bolivian metamorphosis.
Lutosławski’s Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux for choir and orchestra features many of the key elements of his mature compositional style: mirror-symmetrical sonorities, composite rhythms incorporating the element of chance, and the use of textural counterpoint.
Perhaps its most significant aspect is the intricately interwoven structural layers that form its foundation. Pitch, rhythm, and timbre unite to create texture, the main building block of the piece and the musical parameter that ultimately determines its formal subdivisions.
This according to Wheels within wheels: An examination of Witold Lutosławski’s “Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux” by Frederick Carl Gurney, a dissertation accepted by the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1999.
Today is Lutosławski’s 100th birthday! Below, the first movement of Trois poèmes (after about two minutes score excerpts are shown). Above, a portrait of the composer by Mariusz Kałdowski.
Although Stravinsky’s transplantation to the glamour-conscious culture of Los Angeles may have seemed completely out of character, he genuinely thrived there. Still, his inability to relinquish control made it impossible for him to work as a film composer, despite his efforts to break into the business.
The notable exceptions are his associations with Walt Disney, who used excerpts from the composer’s works for several films—most notably Le sacre du Printemps for Fantasia—before they had a falling-out over financial arrangements.
This according to “The would-be Hollywood composer: Stravinsky, the literati, and the dream factory” by Charles M. Joseph, an essay included in Stravinsky inside out (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 100–131).
Below, the Rite of spring segment in its entirety.
Related article: Stravinsky and recording
“I know a distinguished pianist, of tremendously nervous temperament; he often has trouble urinating, and often is subject to all the trouble in the world without being at liberty to satisfy his needs; yet whistling or a few chords on the piano frees this obstruction in an instant.”
So wrote Jan Matuszyński in an 1837 doctoral thesis for the École de Médecine in Paris, referring to his best friend and former school- and then flat-mate, Frédéric Chopin. Matuszyński’s topic, the concept of sympathetic nerves, was in the vanguard of Parisian physiological theory in the 1830s.
His thesis in his study of the suffering pianist was that “the intimate connection existing between the human ear and the abdominal viscera by the sympathetic nerves permits these organs to have a significant influence upon the organ of hearing.”
This according to “Reflecting on reflex, or, Another touching new fact about Chopin” by James Q. Davies (Keyboard perspectives II  pp. 55–82). Below, the composer’s celebrated “Raindrop” prelude, which may now be open to reinterpretation.