Stravinsky in Hollywood A Film By Marco Capalbo
June 16, 2014
Naxos, one of the companies I review for, released a documentary DVD that caught my attention with a somewhat misleading title as far as this reviewer is concerned. It dealt with the period in his life that Stravinsky (1883-1971) lived in Hollywood from 1939-1969. The beginning of the film did touch upon his relationship he had with the studios, a section of the film I found interesting. For instance while Walt Disney did pay him $6000.00 for the use of his “Rite of Spring” he found the film silly. This film was the one that got Stravinsky to immigrate to America.
Stravinsky did try to work with the studios being offered films such as Song of Bernadette, Jane Eyre, North Star, and Commandos Strike at Dawn. His rigidity and sense of order prevented him from changing even a single note and as a result nothing ever happened. The film showed the apparition of the virgin scene with part of the middle movement of his “Symphony in Three Movements.” This piece of music didn’t fit. As history unfolded Alfred Newman did write the soundtrack and won the Oscar in 1942 for it. Commandos Strike at Dawn was another story as Stravinsky chose part of his “Four Norwegian Moods” for the wedding cake scene and dance which seemed quite appropriate but again never used. He used his Ode for Jane Eyre and Hollywood chose Bernard Herrmann and they were correct. Perhaps as a result of these rejections he commented “there is only one function of film music and that is to feed the composer.” He also said “I find it impossible to talk to film composers about music. They use their music like perfume to invoke their remembrances while I need music for the health of my soul.” This was from the same composer who wrote a circus polka for a young elephant. Stravinsky loved animals and perhaps this was one of those for the health of my soul situations.
A good part of the film dealt with his relationship with Robert Craft, a composer and conductor, who spent twenty years living with Stravinsky. I found it ironic that Craft also spent an equal amount of time with his rival Arnold Schoenberg, a person who he never spoke to and avoided any meetings with. It was only after his death in 1951 that emotions poured from Igor as well as adapting some of his twelve tone techniques. The film also brought out the strong influence of Anton Webern (1883-1945) and his twelve tone technique that changed the thinking of Stravinsky in his later life. The impact was enough for me to listen to a recording of his work Naxos 8.557530 coincidentally conducted by Robert Craft.
While I was disappointed with the use of actors that were not seamlessly inserted into some of the actual Stravinsky footage that doesn’t influence me enough not to recommend this video to you. It is available through Naxos or Amazon on June 24th.