COMPOSERS: Igor StravinskyA film by Tony Palmer
LABELS: Digital Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Stravinsky: Once at a borderÉ
PERFORMER: Featuring: Igor Stravinsky, Vera Stravinsky, Robert Craft, Marie Rambert, George Balanchine, Jean Cocteau, Nadia Boulanger
CATALOGUE NO: DC 10015 (NTSC system; stereo; 16:9 picture ratio)
Tony Palmer has given us many remarkable films about composers, but this is probably the finest of
them all. As far as public image goes, Igor Stravinsky was a brilliant self-inventor and re-inventor. Long before the term ‘sound-bite’ was coined, he showed a mastery of that very modern technique that puts Tony Blair firmly in the shade.
When an artist wears so many masks, it must be difficult for a film director to know whether to play along with them – adding layer on layer of artifice – or to attempt to tear them off and expose the supposed ‘real’ self hiding behind them. However, fortunately for us, Palmer does something bigger and better. Effectively he lets Stravinsky speak for himself: through his own words (I had no idea he recorded so much in English), and through his music. In the process we realise it’s not a question of true or false personae: the masks are as much the truth as the passionate/ironic, nervous/joyous, gentle/tyrannical, pagan/Christian man who chose and refined those masks meticulously.
Other voices are heard: choreographer George Balanchine, Stravinsky’s second wife Vera, his amanuensis Robert Craft and three of his children. But the focus always remains directly on Stravinsky, one of the most remarkable intelligences ever applied to music, yet perhaps
the most deeply connected of all 20th-century composers with its primal essence in magic, ritual
and dance. Most of this visual material is pre-existent, not specially filmed, but Palmer weaves it into a magnificent tapestry, offering a narrative of its own without ever seeming to tell us what to think or feel. As an introduction to Stravinsky it would be hard to beat. The initiated too will learn plenty. Strongly recommended.