Artur Rubinstein was a vampire. At least, that’s what famed composer Igor Stravinsky called him, accusing him of drinking the lifeblood of composers.
They were having a heated argument over Stravinsky’s music, which Rubinstein loved and championed to many audiences, far ahead of his time in terms of piano recital programming.
But that was just the point that made Igor so angry, the fact that most concerts were constructed entirely of dead composer’s music.
Even today, that is the case.
Orchestras and soloists in those days (circa 1930) made careers and sold records on the strength of the tried and true war-horses, like Beethoven and Chopin, and left the adventurous new pieces to a few brave souls like Artur Rubinstein, and various specialists.
In fact Rubinstein played Stravinsky’s crazy-sounding (to ears in those days) music around the world, making up his own arrangements of Stravinsky’s orchestral pieces to create programs to his liking. He helped to popularize thorny Stravinsky.
Igor was a modern composer, a genius difficult to digest fully in post World War I times, when people were longing for fun and brightness. It took decades after his initial success around 1900 for Stravinsky to penetrate the popular consciousness.
Audiences loved Stravinsky’s orchestral works, which were all unique and haunting. Eventually he did prove himself a success as a modern composer, an event even more rare than flying pigs.
But back in that heated moment in 1930 when Igor spoke with the injured venom of the penniless composer, this is what Stravinsky said, more or less, to the vastly successful concert pianist Artur Rubinstein:
“You pianists become millionaires playing the music of the starving Mozart and Schubert and the poor mad Schumann, the tubercular Chopin and the sick Beethoven. Pianists are like a vampire, living off the blood of these great geniuses.”
But now it’s a hundred years later, and Stravinsky is one of the geniuses on which we vampires feed.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press