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Obituary - Robert Craft  

2015-12-07 11:15:45|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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At Igor’s side
Robert Craft, conductor, musicologist and amanuensis of Stravinsky, died on November 10th, aged 92

Obituary - Robert Craft - 坚尼仔 - 人在风中

THE letter was businesslike, and Robert Craft never intended it to work out as it did when he sent it, in 1947, to Igor Stravinsky in Los Angeles. He was already “ensorcelated” by his music, ever since hearing “The Rite of Spring” as a boy—and possibly ever since, at 18 months, he had enjoyed dropping saucepans on the kitchen floor. In 1947, at 24, fresh out of the Julliard School and starting as a conductor, he needed scores for the “Symphonies of Wind Instruments”, but could find none. He wondered whether Stravinsky, then 65, could help. The reply, to “Bobsky”, started a friendship and a mutual dependence that lasted not only to the end of Stravinsky’s life, in 1971, but also to the end of Mr Craft’s.

Within a few months, Stravinsky was signing off his letters “Love—kisses”. Not much later, Mr Craft was absorbed into the composer’s household in Hollywood, together with 10,000 books, antiques, icons and curios on every surface, Stravinsky’s warm and ebullient second wife, Vera, Celeste the cat, and an all-Russian staff fed on pirozhki and samovar tea. His life now revolved around the composer’s routine, which began with a 15-minute headstand each morning; involved ferocious bans on any sound, or cooking smell, reaching the room where he worked on a surprisingly second-rate upright piano; and which was liberally lubricated with Scotch, marc and ice-cold eau-de-ginèvre swigged from terracotta bottles. Mr Craft, often praised by Stravinsky as the best interpreter of his works, found conducting the “Symphony in C” pretty hair-raising after his first initiation in hard-core Russian drinking.

Over their 23 years together, his job was never really defined. “Factotum” would have done, though with his fondness, like Stravinsky’s, for reading dictionaries (he was using “adscititious”, correctly, in letters home from his military academy at 17), he preferred the Byzantine paracoemomene. He had to answer letters (“Please clear it up, dear Bob”), and chase up music publishers; copy out scores; accompany Igor and Vera on all music tours in America and beyond, as a “trio con brio”; rebuff intrusive interviewers; book venues for concerts, as well as hotels; conduct for him if he was indisposed; sit in the control booth to check pitches (“Robert is my ears”), during recordings; read to him; and answer the telephone immediately it rang. At times he felt like a dogsbody for his tiny, witty, bantam-like boss, and mutual friends noticed that he often looked wrung out with worry as he hovered, pale, elegant and tall, at his right hand. But he admired his genius too much—and loved him too much—to leave.

He could be of use to him artistically, too. Because he spoke no Russian, Stravinsky had to make efforts with his English, which helped him to compose more confidently on English themes, notably “The Rake’s Progress”. And because Mr Craft liked his rival Schoenberg’s music as much as his, Stravinsky was gently introduced by him to the 12-tone serialism that came to colour his later works. The amanuensis liked to think that he had led the great man to something stimulating and new.

Blessings and pills

Besides, the helpfulness was not all one way. Though Mr Craft’s own musical career, anticipated to be brilliant, had now been half-hijacked, Stravinsky encouraged his conducting of Bach and Monteverdi and his rescue from obscurity of the works of Gesualdo, even filling in the lines of some of the missing part-books for him. Mr Craft’s greatest musical achievement was to record, for a largely indifferent world, all the works of Schoenberg’s pupil Webern; Stravinsky came to every rehearsal, and put pressure on Columbia when the company got cold feet. Co-conducting concerts—often humiliating for Mr Craft, whose crisp, cool, bird-like style pleased audiences less than Stravinsky’s graceful, emotional sweep—the ever-hypochondriac composer would slip him pills for nerves, and bless him in the Orthodox fashion before he took the stage.

Naturally, after his death, Mr Craft appointed himself the keeper of the flame. He became Vera’s escort round the world, fought the Stravinsky children for a share of the estate, catalogued the manuscripts, tended the grave and acted as gatekeeper for all aspirant biographers. He had always ridiculed any interviews with Stravinsky other than his own, since only he, he said, could transform those eccentric words into English that made sense. Only he—who had lived with him, knew his habits, had worked bar by bar through the scores—was qualified to speak for him. Stravinsky, he reported, had wanted no biography. But he himself produced six books of conversations, several volumes of memoirs of their friendship, photographic albums, filling with fierce determination the space the composer required. All other attempts he dismissed, as interlarded with errors.

In “An Improbable Life” (2002) several pages were devoted, harrowingly, to Stravinsky’s last days. The fading and silent composer, for once, was less prominent than Mr Craft, who was permanently at his side. He fielded visitors, exhorting them to kiss the dying man: “He wants you to.” He urged him to eat—“Mangezmangez!”—as if his own life depended on it. And at the very end he noticed that Stravinsky made his fingers into little hooks to catch on to Vera and himself, gathering him up into his death never to let him go.

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