In 1962 the 80-year-old Stravinsky made an emotional four-week trip back to the USSR, the first time he had seen his homeland for fifty years. Now an American citizen he was received with great formality as an honoured guest by Nikita Khrushchev at the Kremlin, the grand complex of buildings old and new in Moscow where the government had decamped from St Petersburg (then Petrograd) after the 1917 revolution.
But the Russia Stravinsky now encountered was very different from the one he had left behind, and despite the best efforts of the Soviet authorities to impress him with Communism's achievements, the visit was mixed. Productions of Orpheus, Petrushka and The Firebird were imported from the Maly ('Little') Theatre in (what was then) Leningrad and staged in the Kremlin's newest showpiece, a vast glass-and-concrete 6000-seater hall. The musicians were unfamiliar with the soundworld of Orpheus and the intimacy of the productions was lost in the cavernous grand surroundings, leading to a disappointing evening. Stravinsky was unsympathetic, saying after Petrushka, 'They should be ashamed. Orpheus I can understand - a new ballet - but this has been around for fifty years!' . He left without speaking to the dancers or musicians.
In other respects, however, the visit was more positive. He met Shostakovich, Rostrapovich, David Oistrakh and Rozhdestvensky, and polite speeches were made in his honour by younger composers including Tikhon Khrennikov, the Secretary of the Union of Composers, who had so vociferously voiced the official Party condemnation of his 'formalist' music years before. Stravinsky in return declared 'I regret that circumstances separated me from my fatherland, that I did not give birth to my works here...Yet the right to criticize Russia is mine, because Russia is mine and I love it, and I do not give any foreigner that right'.
© Madeleine Ladell/BBC
References: Stephen Walsh: Stravinsky - The Second Exile (London: Jonathan Cape, 2006), p.464
Robert Craft: Stravinsky: Chronicle of a Friendship (Nashville and London: Vanderbilt University Press, 1994), p.328 (quoted in Walsh p.467).
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