Notes 59.2 (2002) 340-342
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Stravinsky Inside Out. By Charles M. Joseph. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. [xx, 320 p. ISBN 0-300-07537-5. $29.95.] Illustrations, bibliography, index.
Reassessment, reevaluation, and revisitation are key words that identify many of the books that have augmented the Stravinsky bibliography since the publication of [End Page 340] Richard Taruskin's Stravinsky and the Russian Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). These new studies revisit the contributions of the composer to the music, society, and culture of the twentieth century, and hover between a reevaluation of his music and a reassessment of his biography. Jonathan Cross's The Stravinsky Legacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) and Joseph N. Straus's Stravinsky's Late Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) delve into Stravinsky's music; its lesser known corners are brought to light and its reverberations into the future presupposed. Stephen Walsh's Stravinsky: A Creative Spring (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999) takes advantage of the opening to researchers in 1986 of the Stravinsky Archives, housed at the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel, and has biographical preoccupations as its main axis. None of these books, however, is built so glaringly around the absence of Stravinsky's music as Charles M. Joseph's Stravinsky Inside Out. While Stravinsky: A Creative Spring is exhaustive in its systematization of new biographical information, Stravinsky Inside Out (it too the result of investigative research conducted in Basel) is a collection of loosely connected essays whose main focus becomes clear only by the cumulativeness of their thematic diversity.
The absence of Stravinsky's music (and of any discussion of it) weakens the substance of Joseph's book, preventing it from becoming a wholly satisfying attempt at dehistoricizing (and then rehistoricizing) Stravinsky. In the peculiar case of this composer, whose personality achieved unusually mythic proportions, the integration of music and biography is indispensable to the understanding and correct evaluation of his achievements. The wealth of data now at the disposal of researchers may have warranted yet again such a divided approach. As Joseph acknowledges, "[at the Paul Sacher Stiftung] quite unexpectedly I stumbled across aspects of Stravinsky's life about which I either knew nothing or had entirely misperceived, particularly given what presumably reliable studies of the composer had related" (p. x). As a result, Stravinsky Inside Out is a consistent, but incomplete, exercise in informed biographical reevaluation, based on recently unearthed documents whose authority seems unquestionable. Despite its highly engrossing arguments, the book might be likened to a protracted discussion on scaffolds, those sometimes gigantic if temporary structures that in time are dismantled to reveal the main structure to which they had given support. In Stravinsky Inside Out, the temporary scaffold of a life is scrutinized at length, but the main structure that resulted from it—the music—is left untouched.
A cluster of four chapters forms the core of the book. "The Would-Be Hollywood Composer: Stravinsky, the Literati, and 'the Dream Factory'" takes into account Christopher Isherwood's and Aldous Huxley's observations on the film industry to chart the many unsuccessful attempts Stravinsky made at composing film music during the 1930s and 1940s. The last sentence of the chapter ("If Hollywood didn't have the good sense to furnish a viable artistic forum for visually realizing Stravinsky's ideas, perhaps the emerging world of television would" [p. 131]) creates a kind of literary attacca that leads directly into the next chapter, "Television and The Flood: Anatomy of an 'Inglorious Flop.'" Here, vividly chronicled, are the machinations and miscalculations that framed the creation of the intractable The Flood in 1962. Also in this chapter is one of the rare instances where Joseph addresses the music directly: "The structural boundaries framing Stravinsky's instrumental works are often intentionally, and almost always brilliantly blurred. Though never abandoning their underlying classical design, the composer often transmogrified traditional sonata, concerto, and symphonic forms into something new and fresh" (p. 135). Another attacca closes this chapter: "Perhaps the cameras should focus, not on [Stravinsky's] music, but directly upon him" (p. 161), and leads into...