Stravinsky & Co.
At first glance, Igor Stravinsky appears to be the ideal subject for a biographer. He led an eventful life, traveled widely, knew many celebrities and was one himself, published a memoir and several other books, and left behind an extensive correspondence. All of this, taken together, constitutes raw material sufficient for the making of a readable biography that, one might suppose, would all but write itself.
In Stravinsky’s case, however, appearances are deceiving. He was, to begin with, multilingual, and his first language, Russian, is not widely spoken in the West, save by émigrés and specialists. Many of the primary sources for a Stravinsky biography are thus intelligible only to Russian-speakers, while most of the rest require a fluent knowledge of both English and French. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western scholars did not have access to essential source materials pertaining to the first part of Stravinsky’s life, and his own autobiographical writings, which were part and parcel of his long-term project of (as I once put it) “cultivating an image of stylistic statelessness,” are—to put it mildly—not always trustworthy.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.