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Stravinsky A-Z: Letter C

Letter C
Robert Craft

In 1947, Robert Craft was just another conducting student at Julliard who happened to have a passion for contemporary music. But the following year, his life changed forever: he became Stravinsky's personal assistant, and a member of his household in Hollywood. He remained on close terms with Stravinsky to the end of the composer's life and gained incomparable insights into his life and creative work. Together, they made a good team. Stravinsky loved talking about himself and expressing his opinions on music, while Craft had journalistic or literary talents, and from this combination multiple volumes of Stravinisky-Craft conversations resulted. Stravinsky enjoyed conducting his own works, both for the artistic satisfaction and the financial rewards, while Craft was useful in rehearsing orchestras for him, and this collaboration produced several volumes of "authentic" recordings. Craft's own recordings of Stravinsky also acquired the prestige of authenticity and gave a boost to his own conducting career, while Stravinsky's prestige benefited immensely owing to the exposure he gained through Craft's writings. Moreover, the last flourishing of Stravinsky the composer also owed much to the ideas, themes, and librettos that Craft supplied. The presence of "Bobsky", as the composer affectionately called Craft in letters, might indeed have extended Stravinsky's creative life - he was still active at the ripe age of 89.

Why, then, do Stravinsky scholars grow tense when Craft is mentioned? To an extent, they resent Craft's effective ownership of the post-1948 Stravinsky. While no one can ignore the abundance of biographical material that Craft has supplied through his diaries and conversations, the very fact that it has all been channeled through Craft is unsettling for scholars. In the conversations, did Craft only write the questions and edit Stravinsky's answers? Or did he sometimes write the answers as well, and was it in fact Stravinsky who merely edited them? To what extent can we build a picture of Stravinsky's life and work independently of Craft? Craft himself claims that no one else can write a biography of Stravinsky (although people have and will).

But perhaps the main controversies revolve around Craft's claim that he was responsible for Stravinsky's unexpected turn towards serialism: as Craft says, "I can only repeat that without me Stravinsky would not have taken the path he did after The Rake's Progress". It is well known that Stravinsky hit a creative block after the premiere of The Rake in 1951, when it seemed to him that Neoclassicism was worn out after three decades of heavy use. It was at this point, according to Craft, that he turned Stravinsky's attention to the work of Arnold Schoenberg, his perennial rival, and supplied him with various writings on the 12-tone system. This belated capitulation to his rival's system was made easier by the fact that Schoenberg had recently died. The first fruits appeared in 1953, in the form of Agon, a serialist ballet. Some of Craft's opponents doubt that the composer, in the fifth decade of his career, could be so susceptible to outside influence, while others accept that his influence was at work, but consider it to have been harmful. Many others, of course, are happy with Stravinsky's late works, and content to accept Craft's role in them. Whatever opinion holds sway, Craft is still alive and active as a musician and writers, and still a force to be reckoned with.

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What's wrong with serialism? It's stockhausen I have problems with!

Tchaikovsky Experience

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Biographical A to Z

Comprehensive guides to the lives of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky

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