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The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky, edited by Jonathan Cross
07 Aug 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky joins more than a dozen similar volumes published by the Cambridge University Press over the years and devoted to the life and works of a single composer. Each one traditionally is a collection of essays by leading scholars in the field, organized into three main sections — biography; works (mostly by genre); reception and posthumous legacy.

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky

Edited by Jonathan Cross, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 344 pages

ISBN-10: 0521663776 | ISBN-13: 9780521663779


Predictably, however, just like the composer in question, this Companion is much too complex to fit comfortably into the mold. The reader will immediately note the seemingly disproportionate amount of space dedicated to the issue of reception: six of fourteen articles are placed in that section of the volume, with many essays from the other two sections veering frequently in the same direction. Indeed, as Christopher Butler’s and Arnold Whittall’s essays in the opening section illustrate, contributions to this collection inevitably represent conflicting trends in Stravinsky criticism. In “Stravinsky as Modernist,” Butler casts the composer in his traditional role as a “conservative modernist” as opposed to Arnold Schoenberg’s “progressive avant-garde.” Meanwhile, Whittall, in a rather unfortunately titled “Stravinsky in Context” (now there’s a title that means everything and nothing!), often contradicts his colleague while discussing many stylistic and compositional parallels between Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Commissioned separately, the essays do not engage each other’s arguments. Instead, the authors polemicize — vehemently at times — with Richard Taruskin, whose distinct, distinguished shadow has loomed large over the Stravinsky discourse ever since the 1996 publication of his comprehensive two-volume Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions. Indeed, several essays in this Companion are heavily indebted to Taruskin’s work. This includes Rosamund Bartlett’s opening article “Stravinsky’s Russian Origins,” the only truly biographical essay in the volume. But while Bartlett’s fascinating account of the artistic life in early 20th-century Russia is well worth the reader’s attention, I hesitate to make the same claim for the two “Russian” essays in Part 2 of the collection, Anthony Pople’s “Early Stravinsky” and Kenneth Gloag’s “Russian Rites: Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, Les Noces.” While both authors make a point of summarizing the views of other scholars, such as Pieter van den Toorn and Stephen Walsh, as well as bringing their own perspectives to the table, the number of Taruskin references in Pople’s account in particular is at times so overwhelming that one feels a strong desire to abandon the Companion altogether and run back to the original.

Thankfully, that feeling disappears as the reader progresses through the volume and away from the “origins.” Martha M. Hyde’s insightful essay “Stravinsky’s Neoclassicism” explores the complex notions of engagement with time, past and present, imitation, anachronism, and the relationship between neoclassicism and post-modern pastiche. Opera lovers will be delighted to see a significant portion of the article devoted to the analysis of The Rake’s Progress, in its textual and musical dialogue with Goethe’s Faust. Music for — broadly defined — theater is also the subject of the editor, Jonathan Cross’s contribution to the volume, “Stravinsky’s Theaters,” in which he discusses the aspects of “high” and “low” in the composer’s various staged projects. One of the most valuable contributions to the volume, in my opinion, is Joseph Straus’s wonderful overview “Stravinsky the Serialist”; but a word of caution — the author’s detailed analysis of specific passages may prove prohibitive for the uninitiated.

Two of six “reception” essays in the Companion also include analysis of excerpts from Stravinsky’s serial compositions. In a part of his “Stravinsky and Us” (to be discussed below), Richard Taruskin offers an alternative (or perhaps a complementary) view of Stravinsky’s journey into serialism to the one outlined in Straus’s article through the textual analysis of the Cantata. Meanwhile, Craig Ayrey, in “Stravinsky in Analysis: The Anglophone Traditions,” traces and critiques the analytical approaches to Stravinsky’s music used in the English-speaking world by applying them to the Lacrimosa section of the Requiem Canticles. Unlike Taruskin’s, and even more so than Straus’s essay, Ayrey’s contribution is dense with formulas, and thus not recommended for amateurs or the faint of heart.

To the contrary, Nicholas Cook’s delightful essay titled “Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky” is a must equally for a scholar, performer, and intelligent listener. Cook examines the composer’s attitude toward the value of interpretation in performance, and poses questions on the relative significance of the composer’s own conducting for discerning his intentions by pointing out important interpretive deviations in his successive recordings of the Rite of Spring. The essay also includes astute observations about the connections between Stravinsky’s “new objectivity” and the issues of “authenticity” in contemporary performance practice. For a different kind of contemporary practice, Jonathan Cross’s interview with Louis Andriessen titled “Composing with Stravinsky” addresses Stravinsky’s influence on this Dutch composer, as well as on other composers today, an influence — it is asserted — that is still in its early stages. The interview is a worthy read; the only drawback perhaps is that the discourse all too frequently abandons its supposed subject matter and focuses on Adriessen’s career instead.

Two articles in the Companion address the most classic issue in Stravinsky reception — criticism. Stuart Campbell’s essay “Stravinsky and the Critics” provides an overview of the composer’s relationship with his critics throughout his long career, and elucidates the role played by these critics (including the fellow expatriates and composer colleagues) in disseminating his works and ideas. Max Paddison’s “Stravinsky as Devil: Adorno’s Three Critiques” discusses the complexities, contradictions, internal motivations, and a gradual evolution of Theodore Adorno’s Stravinsky critiques, from the late 1920s through the early 1960s.

Overall, The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky should wear the label “use with caution.” While a specialist student of Stravinsky would find in it much fascinating and useful material, the collection would not serve as a good general introduction to the composer’s life and works. The reason for this, primarily, is the absence of a continuous narrative or even a coherent argument — in a word, a single point of view. It is a pity that the format of a Cambridge Companion does not provide for an in-depth editorial introduction — beyond, that is, the four sentences available on the opening page. Without it, the diversity of angles and the sharpness of arguments may distract and confuse a reader not easily familiar with the daily fads of Stravinskian discourse. In a stroke of editorial ingenuity, Taruskin’s “Stravinsky and Us” serves as a conclusion to the volume. This essay’s main focus is unraveling a variety of self-constructed and posthumously imposed “Stravinsky” mythologies that engender our daily engagement with the phenomenon of this composer and his music. To an extent, the controversies and contradictions that fill the current Companion themselves provide a telling illustration of the enduring power of the myths, and the eternal pleasure we musicologists derive from endlessly perpetuating them.

Olga Haldey
University of Missouri-Columbia


seb lecoq — April 29, 2006 1:56 PM

Olga Hadley is plain silly for suggesting that a sholarly 'companion' has to have a 'single point of view'. She perpetuates a myth that complex subjects have to be clad in some petrified Aristotelian narrative. Her reception of the book is often biased toward what requires less effort to absorb (hence-- for Opera Today readers?). Perhaps these have the requisite single points of view.
I myself find similar weaknesses as she does in some of the essays, but mostly from J. Cross' theatre theories which are not conversant enough with Peter Brook's 'Empty Space' to negotiate these compellingly as musical analogues.

seb lecoq

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