STRAVINSKY: The second exile
Cocteau (of all people) once declared that the artist should live in the shadows. Not so Stravinsky, who spent more than sixty of his eighty-nine years under full public gaze. Various images of him persist to this day: the cool young dandy who was one of the stars of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes; the enfant terrible who wrote The Rite of Spring; after the First World War, a severe neo-classicist, recalling the order of the past by writing wrong-note Bach; finally the seventy-year-old discovering Webern and setting out on new paths, leaving his admirers amazed for one last time.
Even during his lifetime an enormous literature grew up about him, and it must have multiplied tenfold since. Now, permanent records of everything he wrote and said, in notes and words, have been safely gathered into archive collections. But the legends and the anecdotes still circulate: everybody knows stories about Stravinsky. Personal testimony through acquaintance, or, in a few diminishing cases, long-lasting intimacy, still survives. Oddly, this embarras de richesses is a burden as well as a help to the biographer. Freshly gathered evidence has to be evaluated with extra care: followers and disciples remember things differently. Only the passage of time can wrap the true and the false in a blanket of oblivion.