London Letter: September, 1921
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[ 369 London Letter: September, 19211 The Dial, 71 (Oct 1921) 452-55 Looking back upon the past season in London – for no new season has yet begun – it remains certain that Strawinsky was our two months’ lion. He has been the greatest success since Picasso. In London all the stars obey their seasons, though these seasons no more conform to the almanac than those which concern the weather. A mysterious law of appearance and disappearance governs everybody – or at least everybody who is wise enough to obey it. Who is Mr. Rubenstein?2 The brilliant pianist. This summer he was everywhere; at every dinner, every party, every week-end; in the evening crisp and curled in a box; sometimes apparently in several boxes at once. He was prominent enough to have several doubles; numbers of men vaguely resembled him. Why this should have happened this year rather than last year, perhaps rather than next year, I for one cannot tell. Even very insignificant people feel the occult influence; one knows, oneself, that there are times when it is desirable to be seen and times when it is felicitous to vanish. But Strawinsky, Lucifer of the season, brightest in the firmament, took the call many times, small and correctly neat in pince-nez. His advent was well prepared by Mr. Eugene Goossens – also rather conspicuous this year – who conducted two Sacre du Printemps concerts, and other Strawinsky concerts were given before his arrival.3 The music was certainly too new and strange to please very many people; it is true that on the first night it was received with wild applause, and it is to be regretted that only three performances were given. If the ballet was not perfect, the fault does not lie either in the music, or in the choreography – which was admirable, or in the dancing – where Madame Sokolova distinguished herself.4 To me the music seemed very remarkable – but at all events struck me as possessing a quality of modernity which I missed from the ballet which accompanied it. The effect was like Ulysses with illustrations by the best contemporary illustrator. Strawinsky, that is to say, had done his job in the music. But music that is to be taken like operatic music, music accompanying and explained by an action, must have a drama which has been put through the same process of 1921 370 ] development as the music itself. The spirit of the music was modern, and the spirit of the ballet was primitive ceremony. The Vegetation Rite upon which the ballet is founded remained, in spite of the music, a pageant of primitive culture.5 It was interesting to any one who had read The Golden Bough and similar works, but hardly more than interesting. In art there should be interpenetration and metamorphosis. Even The Golden Bough can be read in two ways: as a collection of entertaining myths, or as a revelation of that vanished mind of which our mind is a continuation. In everything in the Sacre du Printemps, except in the music, one missed the sense of the present. Whether Strawinsky’s music be permanent or ephemeral I do not know; but it did seem to transform the rhythm of the steppes into the scream of the motor horn, the rattle of machinery, the grind of wheels, the beating of iron and steel, the roar of the underground railway, and the other barbaric cries of modern life; and to transform these despairing noises into music. Mr. Bernard Shaw It is not within my province to discuss Back to Methuselah, but the appearance of the book may make some observations on Mr. Shaw not impertinent , and it is an advantage for my purpose that the book is as well known in America as it is here.6 A valedictory tone in this book (already noticed by Mr. Seldes) is not inapposite to a successful season of his plays by Mr. Macdermott’scompany.7 BlancoPosnetisnowrunningattheCourtTheatre.8 The recognition indicated by this success implies perhaps that Mr. Shaw has attained, in the most eulogistic sense of his own term, the position of an Ancient.9 Seven years ago, in 1914, when Mr. Shaw came out with his thoughts about the War, the situation was very different.10 It might have been predicted that what he said then would not seem subversive or blasphemous now. The public has accepted Mr. Shaw, not by recognizing the intelligence of what he said then, but by forgetting it; but...