Research Seminar: 'Stravinsky in Exile'

Wednesday 24 October 2012, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Jonathan Cross (Professor of Musicology, University of Oxford and Tutor in Music at Christ Church)

Igor Stravinsky spent most of his long life in self-imposed exile from his native Russia. After 1914 he lived first in Switzerland, then in France, then in America. Following the Bolshevik Revolutions of 1917 he was not to return to his homeland for almost half a century, and then only for a brief visit in 1962. ‘Without a doubt’, writes Milan Kundera in Testaments Betrayed, Stravinsky ‘bore with him the wound of his emigration … His only home was music, all of music by all musicians, the very history of music … He did all he could to feel at home there’. But while Stravinsky swiftly became a cosmopolitan composer, speaking the international language of modern ‘Western’ music, the sting of his estrangement never left him. Did he ever really feel ‘at home’ in the music of the West?

After Adorno, Edward Said writes of the idea of lateness as ‘a kind of self-imposed exile from what is generally acceptable, coming after it, and surviving beyond it’. Such lateness, I shall argue, is a feature of much of Stravinsky’s so-called neoclassical music. Its ‘eccentric, aloof, nostalgic, deliberately untimely’ character, to use the words of George Steiner, distinguishes it as the work of an exile. Focusing particularly on Stravinsky’s trilogy of classical ballets made with Balanchine (Apollo, Orpheus, Agon) this talk will suggest ways in which, behind the masks of western classicism, the modernism of Stravinsky’s work – its musical construction of melancholy, lament, alienation and loss – might productively be re-thought in the context of Stravinsky’s exile.

Jonathan Cross is Professor of Musicology at the University of Oxford and Tutor in Music at Christ Church, Oxford. He has written, lectured and broadcast extensively on the music of Stravinsky, including the volumes The Stravinsky Legacy (1998) and The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky (2003). He is currently completing a ‘critical life’ of Stravinsky for Reaktion Press.

Location: D/003