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Rubinstein Meets Stravinsky

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Arthur Rubinstein was a world famous pianist. But his London concerts were losing audience to the ballets of Igor Stravinsky.

Rubinstein attended a performance of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka during which the ballet received-thunderous applause. After a few curtain calls a small man came onstage and took a bow. He received a long ovation. Rubinstein realized that the man was Stravinsky. Eager to meet him, the 27-year-old Rubinstein hurried backstage. Stravinsky was still taking bows. Rubinstein asked a stagehand to introduce him.

“This is Rubinstein,” the stagehand said after the last curtain call. Stravinsky waited for his young visitor to say something.

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I’ve studied your Rite of Spring carefully,” Rubinstein said at last, “and I’m eager to find out if my conception of that great work is right or wrong. Could you spare me a few moments to exchange ideas on the subject?” Stravinsky replied that he could spare half an hour at breakfast.

At breakfast Rubinstein admitted that The Rite of Spring had caught him off-guard at first. Then he added, “After a long study of the score I came to the conclusion that your basic idea was to evoke the evolution of sound at the birth of nature rather than to illustrate some tribal rites of sacrifice of a maiden in order to pacify the gods.”

Stravinsky was impressed but said that The Rite of Spring was essentially an effort to infuse new blood into music. That led to a far-ranging conversation about art.

They lunched with friends of Rubinstein’s. Seeing a concert grand, Stravinsky dismissed the piano as a percussion instrument. A friend of Rubinstein’s replied, “but if you had heard Arthur play your Firebird or Petrouchka you would have changed your opinion about the piano.”

“Rubinstein is a pianist?” Stravinsky asked with astonishment. Everyone laughed, thinking Stravinsky was joking, except for Rubinstein, who realized that he had never mentioned his profession to the composer.

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