Stravinsky in the Americas: Transatlantic Tours and Domestic Excursions from Wartime Los Angeles (1925-1945)

Stravinsky in the Americas: Transatlantic Tours and Domestic Excursions from Wartime Los Angeles (1925-1945)

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Stravinsky in the Americas explores the “pre-Craft” period of Igor Stravinsky’s life, from when he first landed on American shores in 1925 to the end of World War II in 1945. Through a rich archival trove of ephemera, correspondence, photographs, and other documents, eminent musicologist H. Colin Slim examines the twenty-year period that began with Stravinsky as a radical European art-music composer and ended with him as a popular figure in American culture. This collection traces Stravinsky’s rise to fame—catapulted in large part by his collaborations with Hollywood and Disney and marked by his extra-marital affairs, his grappling with feelings of anti-Semitism, and his encounters with contemporary musicians as the music industry was emerging and taking shape in midcentury America. Slim’s lively narrative records the composer’s larger-than-life persona through a close look at his transatlantic tours and domestic excursions, where Stravinsky’s personal and professional life collided in often-dramatic ways. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520299924
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Series: California Studies in 20th-Century Music , #23
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 488
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

H. Colin Slim is Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of California, Irvine, where he served as the first Chair of the music program. He is past president of the American Musicological Society (1989­–1990) and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His two-volume A Gift of Madrigals and Motets was awarded the Otto Kinkeldey Award. He met Igor Stravinsky in 1952 and again in 1966, events that inspired a lifelong interest in the composer’s personal and professional life. His collection of Stravinsky ephemera, manuscripts, and documents was donated to the University of British Columbia, which published an annotated catalog of the collection in 2002. 

Read an Excerpt


TOUR I (1925)


8–9 January: New York Philharmonic
15 January: New York charity, Vincent Astor Ballroom
23–24 January: Boston Symphony, and Piano Concerto soloist with Koussevitzky
25 January: New York, Aeolian Hall (chamber music) with Greta Torpadie
30–31 January: Philadelphia Orchestra
5–6 February: New York Philharmonic, and Piano Concerto soloist with Mengelberg
12–14 February: Cleveland Orchestra (half-concert with Sokoloff)
15 February: Philadelphia Orchestra, and Piano Concerto soloist with Reiner
20–21 February: Chicago Symphony (half-concert with Stock)
24 February [?]: Chicago Arts Club with Greta Torpadie
3 March: Detroit Symphony, and Piano Concerto soloist (half-concert with Kolar)
6–7 March: Cincinnati Orchestra, and Piano Concerto soloist with Reiner

Stravinsky's initial voyage to the New World was preceded by several failed attempts. In 1916, at Lausanne, he tried to attach himself to Diaghilev's and Nijinsky's first US tour of the Ballet Russes but was foiled by Romola Nijinsky's revision of her husband's cable to its sponsor, the Metropolitan Opera. In 1919, while in New York, Nicolas Struve (director of Koussevitzky's music publishing firm) tried to arrange a Stravinsky tour of the United States. When, in 1922, Stravinsky again contemplated a concert tour of the States, his letter from Biarritz on 4 February to Diaghilev seeks advice about whether he should write to America immediately or wait, because he must make up his mind quickly. A further stimulus was surely a letter mailed from Cincinnati by his longtime close friend, composer-pianist-conductor Alfredo Casella: "a me amico carissimo," who wrote on 6 April 1923 of his own very successful second American tour, and even of his reengagement for "five similar tours."

The first of Stravinsky's five transatlantic departures from France to the United States occurred in 1925, the next one in 1935; in 1936 he sailed with his pianist son to Brazil, Argentina, and Montevideo; in 1937 to the United States and Canada; and in 1939–40 to the United States, plus a train trip to Mexico. Reconstructing his travels has shed light on many aspects of his life.

"Igor's cabin is the best one, in the exact center, and with all conveniences. A piano has been installed." On board ship for his initial transatlantic voyage in 1925, Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky traveled, as always, in high style. Arriving in New York early that January for a two-and-a half-month tour of the United States, Stravinsky might well have reflected on the women he left behind in Paris. On the verge of this, his first transatlantic crossing, he was involved with four women living in the French capital: his long-widowed mother, Anna; his sickly wife, Catherine, mother of his four children; and two women named Vera. He was probably involved with one Vera only musically but with the other certainly amorously. He had invited Vera (Janacopoulos), a well-known Brazilian singer from whom he hoped to obtain financial support, to accompany him on the tour (fig. 1.1), but she had demurred. The other Vera (Soudeikina), a Russian émigré like himself, was his mistress whom he supported financially. He did not invite her at that time, although he tried doing so later for a projected 1932 tour. Midway through his last overseas tour, she finally voyaged to the States to join him, and became his second wife in March 1940.

Stravinsky's pretour correspondence with Vera, the singer, allows some notion of repertoire he planned for this initial transatlantic venture. Writing from Biarritz on 6 August 1924, he had asked the beautiful soprano Janacopoulos, then dwelling in Paris with her lawyer-husband, Alexey Fyodorovich Staal, to learn his 1906 orchestral-song cycle, Faun and Shepherdess. During his first concert tour to the United States, he hoped that he and she would perform it together. He had previously recommended it to her in 1923. Performed only a few times since its 1907 premiere in St. Petersburg, Faun was Stravinsky's first published work and his first to be reviewed abroad. Initially, his interest in Janacopoulos had perhaps been kindled by Sergey Prokofiev. In December 1919, she had given the US premiere of Stravinsky's Pribaoutki (1914) in New York. After attending both rehearsal and concert, Prokofiev wrote to Stravinsky, approving of the work and, equally, her performance.

Was Stravinsky — married and with four children — simultaneously juggling one or even two married Vera's? Since 1921 he had been carrying on with Vera de Bosset-Lury-Shilling-Soudeikina. She had never married Sergey Yuryevich Soudeikine, because he had never divorced his wife, Olga. Stravinsky married Vera de Bosset in March 1940 in the United States, a year after the death of his first wife. This marriage was illegal if Stravinsky perjured himself before a judge in respect to Vera's nonmarriage to and nondivorce from Soudeikine.

One writer believes that Janacopulos had a love affair with Stravinsky. These allegations are not convincing. But even if so, was this before or after she married Staal? The precise date of the Janacopulos-Staal marriage is unclear. Prokofiev refers to her as "Mlle" in mid-February of 1919, but Stravinsky's letters to her in 1923 and 1924 address her as "Madame," as does a Paris critic ca. 1925. In contrast, Prokofiev, who knew Staal and Janacopulos very well from 1918 until a major quarrel in 1924, called them the "Stahls." Although he dearly loved gossip, he never penned a word about any such affair with Stravinsky.

On 19 April 1923, Stravinsky had written Janacopulos —"Bien chère Madame" — asking for a loan of four thousand francs (fig.1.2), with the implied threat that unless she agreed, he would not accompany her at her Paris concert on 29 May. There she sang several works of his, including Tilimbom (1917) accompanied by the pianola (a mechanical piano). Since he did not play for her, although he attended her concert, it seems that she made him no loan and that she was not amorously involved with him. In any event, none of the four women crossed the Atlantic with him. It was just as well, because the voyage was extremely turbulent.


Sailing in utter comfort on the SS Paris, though "twelve hours overdue ... because of four days of rough weather ... through blinding snowstorms," Stravinsky arrived in New York on 4 January 1925. He traveled with Alexis Mikhailovich Sabline, his valet, secretary, and English translator. The very day of Stravinsky's arrival, the Sunday music section of the New York World welcomed him with a column, "Stravinsky Debut with Philharmonic." It also ran an illegibly signed drawing, counterfeiting a natty 1924 frontal photograph taken by the Studio Lipnitzki in Paris, that portrayed him with a dangling monocle, holding a cigarette in his left hand.

In the words of a female observer on the Manhattan dock, it was a "flamboyant figure in black and orange who had walked down the gang plank." The same reporter described his dapper attire at a press conference the next day: "Gold chain bracelets flanked a wrist watch. Rings with vari-colored stones covered his hands. With black patent-leather dancing pumps he wore grey bags, a striped shirt, a black tie with a pearl scarf-pin and a rose and taupe sweater." She noted his talking

volubly and with precise phrasing and clever plays on words, now in French, now in German, lifting a monocle to emphasize his point and then screwing it into his eye with a determined gesture. ... "I am not a modernist. I do not pretend to write the music of the future any more than I attempt to copy the music of the past. I am of today and I hope I am writing the music of today."

The reporter simultaneously observed that

of all modern music Stravinsky is interested only in jazz. "There you have something," he says. "that is not the result of ostentatious theorizing. That almost sneaked in on us from an out-in-the-corner cabaret. We don't like to admit it, but real music has such simple origins. It comes from the soil." [sic, probably a misprint for "soul."]

His avowed interest in jazz lay dormant until the Praeludium: begun in France in late 1936, completed in New York in 1937, and thus his first work finished in the United States.

Two weeks later, the same publication ran on its front page an equally elegant, but more arresting and arrogantly posed, photograph, also taken in 1924 by Studio Lipnitzki, right hand on hip and monocle again dangling. He favored this image for a decade.

George Gershwin was apparently the sole US major American composer whom Stravinsky met in his initial visit to New York. They met at least three times between 7 and 9 January. The first encounter took place at an evening reception held in Stravinsky's honor by Paul and Zosia Kochanski, mutual friends. A Polish violinist, Paul Kochanski was then teaching at the Juilliard School. He had known Stravinsky since 1914, and met him when the SS Paris docked. Little is known about the interaction of Gershwin and Stravinsky: the former played piano and presumably gratified the latter's enthusiasm for jazz.

Gershwin's friend, the society hostess Mary Hoyt Wiborg (or Wyborg, familiarly known as "Hoytie"), arranged their second meeting for a soirée directly after Stravinsky's US conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic on 8 January. She lived on lower Fifth Avenue, but for the occasion she borrowed an apartment on East Sixty-Ninth Street, closer to Carnegie Hall. It belonged to the banker and Philharmonic patron Arthur Sachs, who in 1924 had visited Stravinsky in France to negotiate the Philharmonic concerts; his generosity toward the composer continued for decades. Hoytie's party seems not to have been the same occasion in 1925 when Sachs himself hosted a dinner for Stravinsky, Leopold Auer, Fritz Kreisler, and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Twenty years later, Sachs would commission the Symphony in Three Movements for the New York Philharmonic, and he hosted the Stravinskys often at his Featherhill Ranch in Montecito, California.

In any event, Sachs's New York apartment housed some kind of an electroacoustical piano linked to an organ, perhaps similar to the $50,000 Choralcelo then owned in New York by Stravinsky's future Los Angeles student Earnest Andersson. Among Hoytie's guests was Lester Donahue, a seasoned concert and "social" pianist (i.e., one bookable for parties). Another guest was John Hays Hammond Jr., of Hammond organ fame, who would encounter Stravinsky once again later that month when Serge Koussevitzky escorted Stravinsky to the Hammond family home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Years after the party, Donahue recalled that Hoytie, determined to force Stravinsky and Gershwin — after just two evenings' casual acquaintance — to improvise four-hands, insisted on seating them at Sachs's piano. Realizing the acute discomfort of this unexpected and unwelcome ordeal, Hammond quietly flipped a switch and the instrument made not a sound.

For the final New York meeting on 9 January, both Gershwin brothers arrived in the morning at Stravinsky's hotel room, along with young Jascha Heifetz and his older violinist friend Samuel Dushkin, former student of Leopold Auer and more recently of Fritz Kreisler. Forgetting their meeting in New York, Stravinsky could not have foreseen that, following a second introduction to Dushkin late in 1930 in Germany, he would invite the violinist to join him on his 1935 US concert tour. Stravinsky would also meet Gershwin again on this tour and once more in 1937.

During Gershwin's visit to Europe in 1928, they encountered each other in May at Kochanski's Paris apartment with composer Richard Hammond present. Gershwin asked Stravinsky for lessons but was famously turned down, a story verified by Hammond. The earliest purveyor of this well-worn anecdote may have been New York critic Olin Downes in his memorial article, "Hail and Farewell," printed six days after Gershwin's death. Downes averred he had it from an "American composer," presumably Hammond.

Stravinsky's antagonism toward Downes, said to have begun in "the mid 1940s," surely developed much earlier, long before the 1937 Gershwin memorial. However opinionated his first sentence, Downes's second one is especially daft and irrelevant:

We shall certainly expose ourselves to contumely when we say that we would prefer one of the representative Gershwin songs to many of the later compositions of Igor Stravinsky. This despite the fact that Stravinsky almost invariably succeeds in putting down on paper what he wants there, thus carrying out to the last tone his musical conception.

This was far milder than his earlier attack, inaugurated on 1 February 1925:

[Stravinsky] has not originated a new score of major importance ... in twelve years [i.e., since Rite of Spring] ... [including] the rather lamentable Octuor for wind-players. ... Every time he writes he is someone else, which is not the habit of great masters ... precisely the opposite of a prophet of a new age; he seems to have succumbed utterly to the aimlessness, the superficialities and pretenses of this one.

As for the 1923–24 Piano Concerto in its New York premiere on 5 February 1925 with Stravinsky as soloist, Downes claimed "in the melodic sense, there is not an original idea in the score." He described its opening as "called by courtesy a chorale ... a rather cheap tune ... an unlovely passage." Its slow movement was "a bad imitation of the slow movement of a violin sonata by Bach ... a false melody." After conceding "the magnificent virtuosity of Mr. Stravinsky's performance," he added, "[he] is no conductor." Yet, only two days later, even Downes had to hedge: "The concerto, heard a second time, ... impressed the more by its masterly treatment of form and its quality of very sure and brilliant rhythmic development. But the concerto does not appear ... to be of really authentic inspiration." By "authentic inspiration" Downes referred back to his previous 6 February comments about "bad imitation" and "false melody," implying that Stravinsky's themes do not sufficiently resemble those of Bach, whose works Downes was so sure that Stravinsky was imitating. Downes's tastes were mostly Franco-Germanic, and his criticisms mirrored those of British critics of the same period: Ernest Newman, Cecil Gray, and Constant Lambert. Nor did Downes greatly favor music near his own time, except for Sibelius. In 1923 he successfully concealed his prejudices from Prokofiev in Paris, but in 1930 Prokofiev met him again in New York and realized Downes's hypocrisy. Although Stravinsky could not have known it, Prokofiev took care of Downes in a hilarious diary entry for 16 January 1930:

Seven years ago he fell out of an aeroplane and landed on his head, a circumstance that prompted the largest American newspaper to offer him the job of music critic. ... To fall on one's head is not of itself a sufficient condition to begin to understand music.

Among other New York critics in 1925, Deems Taylor, a minor composer himself, might be expected to have displayed a better understanding of the post-Sacre Stravinsky. Not always so. His first review on 9 January largely concerned Stravinsky's fame and physical appearance: "His whole personality is one of almost ferocious energy." Then on 6 February he lambasted the premiere of the Piano Concerto as

the most fumbling, featureless work that we have ever heard from Stravinsky's pen. ... The style, and the subject matter, are virtually anything you please. They are no Stravinsky that we have thus far met, and I am not sure that they are anybody at all. The audience ... received the new work with the wildest enthusiasm, recalling the composer times without number.

Just how wrong were Downes and Taylor about Stravinsky's new concerto and his audience is evident from Downes's grudging second review and the final sentence of Taylor's. New York audiences were much more receptive than their city's professional critics. By the time Stravinsky arrived, they had already heard the Rite of Spring conducted by Monteux in 1924 and by Koussevitzky in 1925, as well as Firebird, Petrushka, Fireworks, Song of the Nightingale, and Pulcinella.

Two days after Stravinsky led the New York Philharmonic, a good many fine musicians in the city embraced an opportunity to meet him in person at a dinner party. The party was not really for Stravinsky but for the pianist Josef Hofmann. This surely unintended ambiguity may well have been the cause of an eruption more than a decade later in Brazil, when Hofmann lashed out against Stravinsky (see Tour III). Officially, the 1925 party had a dual purpose: it was a "reception in honor of Josef Hofmann" and a "farewell to old Steinway Hall" on Fourteenth Street, in anticipation of Steinway's new building, still found to this day on Fifty-Seventh Street.


Excerpted from "Stravinsky in the Americas"
by .
Copyright © 2019 H. Colin Slim.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Richard Taruskin


1. Tour I (1925)
2. Tour II (1935)
3. Tour III (1936)
4. Tour IV (1937)
5. Tour V (October 1939–Late May 1940)

LOS ANGELES (1940–1946)
6. Excursions (1940–1941)
7. Excursions (1942)
8. Excursions (1943)
9. Excursions (1944)
10. Excursions (1945–Early 1946)

Appendix: Stravinsky and “Neoclassicism”

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