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Proof through the NightMusic and the Great War$

Glenn Watkins

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780520231580

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520231580.001.0001

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War Games, 1914–1915

War Games, 1914–1915

(p.122) 7 War Games, 1914–1915
Proof through the Night

Glenn Watkins

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

Romain Rolland believed that music could signal profound social changes prior to their appearance, and similarly, when the Great War erupted the composer Alexander Skriabin welcomed it as a manifestation of his own apocalyptic views. Others contended that the explosive language of Igor Stravinsky's Le sacre due printemps, originally titled “The Great Sacrifice” and given its premiere little more than a year before the outbreak of World War I, had also virtually prophesied the price of nationhood in the conflict to come. Stravinsky's denial of any and all programmatic associations began immediately following Le sacre du printemps with his Three Pieces for String Quartet. Following this work's premiere in New York in November 1915, the future Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Lowell wrote a set of poems in which she claimed to have attempted to “reproduce the sound and movement of the music as far as is possible in another medium.” The opening “March” of Stravinsky's Trois pièces faciles for piano duet, written in December 1914, offers a specific opportunity to test the appeal of miniature musical war games.

Keywords:   Great War, war games, music, Igor Stravinsky, poems, Amy Lowell

Only he is an artist who can make a riddle out of a solution.

Karl Kraus, Nachts

Romain Rolland believed that music could signal profound social changes prior to their appearance, and similarly, when the Great War erupted the composer Alexander Skriabin welcomed it as a manifestation of his own apocalyptic views. Others contended that the explosive language of Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps, originally titled “The Great Sacrifice” and given its premiere little more than a year before the outbreak of World War I, had also virtually prophesied the price of nationhood in the conflict to come. However we may choose to hear Le sacre today, numerous chroniclers of the time spoke of its symbolism for the war period. “Often during the scientific, chemical ‘cubist’ warfare, on nights made terrible by air raids, I have thought of Le sacre,” Jacques-Émile Blanche recalled,1 and as early as 1915 Jean Cocteau registered his opinion that in retrospect Stravinsky's Le sacre appeared as a “prelude to war.”2

All of these reactions are comprehensible if only by virtue of the work's astonishing concluding scene, “La danse sacrale,” which centers on the spectacle of human sacrifice in the name of the colony or tribe and openly portrays a familiar test of societal values. The critic Jacques Riviere noted that the sacrificial chosen one was “absorbed into a social role, and without giving any indication of comprehension or interpretation, she acts according to the will and under the impact of a being more vast than she.”3 Richard Taruskin has pointed out more recently that this adolescent, of dubious gender, is an “expendable creature” marked “for pitiless forfeiture.”4 It was clearly an awareness of these sociopolitical factors, which transcended the parameters of Primitivism and Russian cultural roots, that accounted for the first series of critical reactions. Recall, too, that the work's initial reception took place not in Russia but in Paris and London and that its creator (p.123) was virtually the only internationally recognized composer of the period who spent the entire period of the war far from his native land.

A succession of compensations followed as Stravinsky turned away from the violent manner and swollen orchestral apparatus of this pathbreaking score and began to write almost exclusively for chamber ensembles. Of equal significance is the fact that during the war he began a vigorous program of setting Russian folk texts, which included Les noces as a centerpiece and ended abruptly and forever with the completion of Mavra in 1920. Concurrent with this self-conscious assertion of national identity by an artist in exile, Stravinsky paradoxically began to insist upon the structural aspect of his music and to deny any and all programmatic associations in his purely instrumental pieces. But musical structure, posing as a game of proportion, has frequently concealed or openly supported a narrative quotient—a fact amply demonstrated by the genres of symphony, tone poem, sonata, and string quartet throughout the nineteenth century, and it should not be surprising to discover that Stravinsky's proclivities in this direction were reasonably acute if frequently unacknowledged.

Stravinsky's denial of any and all programmatic associations began immediately following Le sacre du printemps with his Three Pieces for String Quartet, written from March through July 1914. Despite the work's abstract title and the repetitive nature of the music, which throws the spotlight on its formalistic apparatus and Cubist structure, surviving correspondence between Stravinsky and Cocteau confirms that the first piece was originally intended as an illustration of the battle of David and Goliath for a ballet that was never produced.5

The appeal of this particular biblical story for the times was dramatically underscored by the Munich-based painter Albert Weisgerber, whose David und Goliath was completed in 1914 just prior to the artist's departure for the front, where he was killed in May 1915.6 Similarly, his compatriot, playwright Georg Kaiser, adopted the title David und Goliath for one of his strongest statements about the war. And in the poem “David and Goliath,” from a larger collection of the same name, Robert Graves provided a striking contrast between the innocence of youth and the barbarity of the adult male tyrant by speaking of the selfless sacrifice of two Davids—one the Old Testament figure, another a friend recently killed in battle.7

Stravinsky completed his version of the David and Goliath contest in the months just before the Black Hand assassinated Francis Ferdinand, archduke of Austria, in Sarajevo in June 1914. A complex of simple ideas are presented simultaneously but independently of one another in this composition, (p.124) and the dysphasia that results from the compulsive reiteration of the limited source materials carries more than a hint of the madness of a runaway machine. The dizzying yet magically controlled reshuffling of ideas is finally resolved when two persistently colliding patterns finally align. This constructive apparatus openly invites an exploration of the work in terms of a game—an obsessive war game between a giant and a shepherd that is based on a Russian competitive type of male dancing that honors Cocteau's meticulously detailed narrative.8 Cocteau's later dismissal of the projected ballet as being “uselessly complicated by a text from the Bible” does not wash: his awareness of the pertinence and force of the scriptures for contemporary secular action was soon made evident in the title of the journal, Le mot (1914–1915), that he co-sponsored with designer Paul Iribe.9

Three Pieces for String Quartet was premiered from manuscript by the Flonzaley Quartet in Chicago on 8 November 1915. At the New York debut of the work in Aeolian Hall on 30 November the work was given the title “Grotesques.” The performance was introduced by Daniel Gregory Mason, a Columbia professor and a recent pupil of dʼIndy's in Paris, who spoke of the pieces as contrasting studies in popular, fantastic, and liturgical moods.10 These designations accorded with the titles later provided by the composer when they were orchestrated in 1928: “Dance,” “Eccentric,” and “Canticle,” although in both instances David's opening Totentanz survived without any hint of his legendary battle.

Following the New York premier of the work, the future Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Lowell wrote a set of poems in which she claimed to have attempted to “reproduce the sound and movement of the music as far as is possible in another medium.”11 Lowell had gone to England in 1913, where she had linked up with the imagists, alienated Ezra Pound, and provoked others with her ostentatious behavior and appearance. Back in New York in 1915 and filled with recent memories of life in wartime England, Lowell implied that all three of Stravinsky's pieces were capable of being read as a commentary on the current European struggle.

In the first of her poems Lowell openly evoked Futurist and Cubist values with the words “Bang! Bump! Tong!”—a sonic concoction that would inescapably have been heard as an anglophonic equivalent of Zang, Tumb, Tuum (1914) by Marinetti, one of the most militant of the Italian Futurists. And images like “petticoats,” “stockings,” “wooden shoes beating the round, grey stones,” “delirium,” “drunkenness,” and “hot flesh,” conjure up the rape of Belgium and the flight of refugees. Similarly, Lowell's second poem, which ends with a grave-digging scene that conjures up death in (p.125) the trenches (“white Pierrot… claws a grave for himself in the fresh earth with his finger-nails”) recalls Stravinsky's perseverate two-note descending figure. In the third poem an allusion to the groaning of a church organ together with Latin citations from the Mass for the Dead (“Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” and “Lacrymosa dies illa”) support not only the liturgical references identified by Mason but also the fact that, for Lowell, the music was specifically a solemn, nightmarish farewell to those who had fallen in battle. Her response confirms that she had listened carefully and perceptively to Stravinsky's music which, following the introductory measures, plays conspicuously and repeatedly on the opening four-note motif of the “Dies irae.” Notes by Ernest Ansermet, the Swiss conductor, for the 1919 London performance of the string quartet indicate that either he had read Lowell's poem by that time or their commonly shared perspective was virtually unavoidable. “The third [piece],” Ansermet wrote, “represents priests chanting in church, now in plainsong, now with a suggestion of the Dies Irae.”12

Unlike the dance scenario developed by Cocteau around the subject of David and Goliath in February 1914 prior to the composition of the first piece, Lowell's interpretations following the New York performances of November 1915 were completely new readings of the music, obviously prompted by a war that had already reached a stalemate in the trenches.13 Indeed, her poems vividly illustrate the power of that war to prompt fresh rereadings in terms of unfolding events. They also clearly mirrored the wartime objectives of the English imagist group, led by Ezra Pound, to bring Modernist works to the masses through an appeal to popular taste.14

It may not have been Lowell's attachment of poetic imagery to his Three Pieces for String Quartet that deepened Stravinsky's resolve to avoid programmatic compositions, but it seems more than a little coincidental that shortly after their publication he initiated a campaign, through the agency of Ansermet, to suppress all programmatic aspects associated with the work, even those linked to its genesis. In March 1919, only a month after Ansermet had assigned a narrative ingredient to each of the movements, the Swiss conductor offered the view that the string quartet was intended to suggest “neither situations nor emotions” and insisted that the composer “has affixed no programme or titles to his pieces, and wishes them to be listened to abstractly.”15 This revisionist ploy had important implications in the years immediately following, when Stravinsky repeatedly endorsed this perspective for virtually all of his untexted music.16 Although Stravinsky's escalating interest in Neoclassic formalist arguments—increasingly (p.126) tuned to France's emphasis upon proportional and textural clarity17—heated up in direct response to the war, careful scrutiny reveals that underlying narratives did not totally disappear.

A March, a Dedication, and a Drawing

The opening “March” of Stravinsky's Trois pièces faciles for piano duet, written in December 1914, offers a specific opportunity to test the appeal of miniature musical war games. The set contains a “March” dedicated to Casella (CD track 6), a “Waltz” to Satie, and a “Polka” to Diaghilev, and all three are generic types with a rich history. The secondo, the lower part, is extremely simple in each of them, while the primo, the upper part, is more complex (a relationship that is reversed in his Trois pieces faciles composed shortly thereafter). This dualism gives rise to an element of game, or contest, which, in the case of the “March,” freezes the lower part in an absolutely rigid pattern with respect to rhythm and pitch. Despite the extreme simplicity of the lower-sounding part, which is confined to three pitches, it clearly maintains the controlling hand in the argument. The game is anchored in the unvarying duple metrics of the lower part—left-right, left-right—against which the capricious maneuvering of the upper part can only be termed evasive.

The metaphor of the game is compounded in a set of signals in the upper part which, after commencing with a fanfare, immediately announces a motto figure, A1 (ex. 5a), an octave higher, against a silent secondo; this figure is twice rhythmically extended, A2 and A3 (ex. 5b, ex. 5c), and set off by the silent secondo part, A2 and A3. A perusal of the score reveals that these three variants use two of the three pitches of the lower ostinato figure even as they persistently avoid the lowest pitch, G, until the end of the piece.18 When in the last measure the initial rhythmic form of the motto is finally sounded on the crucial pitch, G, in three different registers, capture is achieved and the “March” is brought to an immediate and peremptory conclusion. The alignment of pitch with rhythmic pattern proves to be the key to the resolution of the contest. Stravinsky's son Soulima later made a faithful arrangement for solo piano of the “Waltz” and the “Polka,” but not the “March,” whose three-tiered complexity virtually precludes adaptation for a single player.

Ultimately, however, and despite the disclaimers of Ansermet and Stravinsky, we are bound to ask if the “March” is simply a game of pattern and pitch or, like the first of the Three Pieces for String Quartet, a game with a scenario that is more specific than its generic title would suggest. Here the (p.127)

War Games, 1914–1915

Example 5. Igor Stravinsky, “March,” from Trois pieces faciles. (© 1919, 1991 for all countries by Chester Music, Ltd. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.)

evidence is more direct. We are obliged to note that the work is provided with a dedication, and we know that the dedicatee, Casella, was on particularly familiar terms with Stravinsky during this period.19 That same year, 1914, Casella wrote two sets of piano duet music of his own. One, for marionettes, is titled Pupazzetti, and its insistent left-right, left-right ostinato in the opening “Marcietta” is clearly related to Stravinsky's “March.”20 The other, Pagine di guerra (War Pages), with an appended subtitle “Four Films,” was written at about the same time. The opening movement of the latter—whose title, “In Belgium: Procession of Heavy German Artillery,” (p.128)
War Games, 1914–1915

Figure 14. Cover for Alfredo Casella's Pagine di guerra, 1915. (Music © 1915 G. Ricordi.)

is amply reflected in the drawing that appears on the title page of the collection—has a somewhat more raucous ostinato (fig. 14).21

In Dialogues and a Diary Stravinsky speaks of the genesis of his own “March” and his relation to Casella at the time.

I played the Polka [from the Trois pièces faciles] to Diaghilev and Alfredo Casella in a hotel room in Milan in 1915, and I remember how amazed both men were that the composer of Le sacre du printemps should have produced such a piece of popcorn. For Casella a new path had been indicated, however, and he was not slow to follow it; so-called neoclassicism of a sort was born in that moment. But Casella was so genuinely enthusiastic about the Polka that I promised to write a little piece for him, too. This, the March, was composed immediately on my (p.129) return to Morges. A little later I added the ice cream wagon Valse in homage to Erik Satie, a souvenir of a visit with him in Paris.22

A piece of popcorn, ice cream wagon music? Despite the attempt to deprecate the music, Stravinsky did not totally disguise the importance he attached to this series of miniatures.23 Given the clarity of focus and emphasis on elementary quasi-mechanical patterns, the composer's later claim that the piece exhibited a clear relation to a developing French-oriented Neoclassicism ought not to be dismissed. At the same time it is reasonable to question if Stravinsky's little four-hand “March” is sufficiently bellicose to qualify as a war document.

A sketch page of the piece, now in the Sacher Archive in Basel, Switzerland, offers some intriguing clues. At the bottom of this sketch a cannon explodes in a fiery red volley, while at the top a golden burst from another cannon spews the letters “MARRRRCHE” in red and in counterpoint with the angularly displaced letters in black that spell the name of the dedicatee, ALFREDO CASELLA! (fig. 15). The sketch is dated 19 December 1914 and carries more than a passing connection with the aggressive slogan that appeared regularly on the letterhead of Marinetti's personal stationery: “Marciare. Non Marcire.” (Advance [march]. Do not stagnate [rot].)24

Just prior to World War I Italy was still officially a member of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria, but it proclaimed its neutrality when Austria declared war on Serbia at the end of July 1914. Then, as the first months of the war passed, Italy determined to reclaim those districts that had been in Austrian possession since the summer war of 1866 and to rectify the borders that had left Italy open to invasion since that time. Italy now approached the Allies to see what advantages might be gained by joining their coalition, knowing full well that if the war ended before a choice was made Italy would be left with an empty hand. A treaty was ultimately signed in London on 28 April 1915 between Italy, Great Britain, France, and Russia, wherein it was stipulated that in return for intervention Italy was to receive the Trentino and all the Tirol up to the Brenner Pass, Gorizia, Trieste, Istria, and Dalmatia down to Cape Planka.25 A week later Italy denounced its triple alliance with Germany and Austro-Hungary.

Stravinsky's “March” from Trois pièces faciles was thus written some months before Italy had clarified its role in the conflict to come, and its martial theme is clearly related to the virulent public debate between Italian pacifists and interventionists. Moreover, beyond the dedication to Casella, a specific reference to Italy appears in the graphic component that Stravinsky appended to his sketch for the work. For the letters that spew (p.130)

War Games, 1914–1915

Figure 15. Sketch page for Igor Stravinsky, “Marche,” from Trois pièces faciles, 1914. (Paul Sacher Archive, Basel; photo courtesy of Robert Craft.)

War Games, 1914–1915

Figure 16. Gino Severini, Cannon in Action, 1915. (Photo courtesy of Volker W. Feierabend, Milan; © 2002 ARS New York/ADAGP Paris.)

forth from the cannon openly reflect the Italian Futurists' loudly advertised appetite for war and, especially, their fascination for what their leader Marinetti called parole in libertà (words in freedom).

The symbolism of Stravinsky's sketch is similar to that of Cannon in Action, a vivid painting from 1915 by the brilliant Italian Futurist Gino Severini, who had been resident in Paris since 1906 and who was well known to Stravinsky (fig. 16). It is an extraordinarily sonic painting. A resonating “BBBoumm” explodes from a cannon at the upper center, dominating the maze of other verbal expressions that litter the canvas.26 This confirmation of the unrelenting din of daily life at the front is counterbalanced, however, by another message, one that echoed Stravinsky's developing attraction to Neoclassicism. At the lower center of the painting the following words appear: “Perfection Arithmétique / Rhythme Géométrique / Puissance / Légèreté / France” (Arithmetical Perfection / Geometrical Rhythm / Power / Lightness / France). Severini wrote about this time that modern painting was capable of expressing the idea of war through symbols better than any naturalistic description of a battlefield or slaughter. His words of (p.132) fered a virtual summation of aesthetic forces currently developing in France and a call to artists to join forces in articulating the essence of war. Stravinsky's “March” indicates that its author had accepted this invitation. The use of martial motifs, in dry-point miniature, openly advertises Stravinsky's kindred perspective, and the graphic cannons secure the message.

Relative to this argument is the fact that in the first months of the war many Russian artists gave up all avant-garde pretensions and drew freely upon folk-art traditions such as the Russian lubok, with its bold colors and blatantly inscribed graffiti. It is a perspective that repeatedly served Mikhail Larionov and the rising Cubo-Futurist-Suprematist painter Kasimir Malevich.27 In addition to current projects and obligations both artists designed popular woodcuts and postcards as official anti-German propaganda. Folk art was somewhat more subtly invoked by Stravinsky's compatriot Aristarkh Lentulov, who left St. Petersburg in 1911 or 1912 and joined the avant-garde in Paris, where he became known as the “cubiste à la russe.” In a picture titled A Victorious Battle (1914), however, Lentulov softened his Cubist style by executing a mosaic-like surface and abandoned any hint of the fury of the Italian Futurists in what art historian Richard Cork has described as a “curiously childlike canvas” that seems to come directly from the nursery (fig. 17).

The confusion of fallen soldiers, rearing horses, and bayonets, which recalls Paolo Uccello's The Battle of San Romano (mid-144os), is virtually obscured by the luminous halo that spotlights the central figure.28 At the same time, this cavalry officer, a sartorially splendid chap who bears a striking resemblance to Tsar Nicholas II, gives the unmistakable appearance of being astride a wooden horse from a carousel. Stravinsky's “March” similarly provides a portrait of the naïf world of toy soldiers straight out of a coloring book. Stravinsky's manipulation of rigid march rhythms and restricted pitch content against polytonal and metrical high jinks also mirrors the tendency of Lentulov and numerous other painters to defuse war themes through reductive time-space manipulation.29

In addition, Stravinsky reflected his immediate concerns by dedicating his work to a contemporary Italian composer and, even less ambiguously, through references to his native Russia. The implication of such a juxtaposition can be traced to Stravinsky's upbringing in St. Petersburg, the most Italianate of all Russian cities, and it is underscored in an entry Stravinsky made in a sketchbook when he was in Rome in May 1917. “The soul of Latins is closer to us Slavs than the soul of Anglo-Saxons,” he wrote, “not to mention the Germans, those human caricatures. The Germans are wunderkind, but they were never young. The Germans are überwunderkind, (p.133)

War Games, 1914–1915

Figure 17. Aristarkh Lentulov, A Victorious Battle, 1914. (Moscow, collection of M. A. Lentulova.)

since they will never be old either.” Pursuing his Latin bias still further, he added: “This is not true of Spain. She is very moving in her old age. And will France really be deprived of the twilight she deserves, and deserves more than any other country?”30

Stravinsky had earlier clarified his political sentiments to Rolland, who recorded them in a journal entry for 26 September 1914, only a few weeks after the outbreak of World War I. There, with disarming clairvoyance, he relayed Stravinsky's sense of the inevitability of a future revolution in his native land.

Stravinsky declares that Germany is not a barbarian state but rather a decrepit and degenerate one. He claims for Russia the role of a noble and healthy barbarism, full of new seeds that will inseminate the thinking of the world. He thinks that after the war a revolution, which is already well prepared, will overturn the Imperial dynasty and create a Slavonic United States. Furthermore, he attributes the cruelties of the tsarist system in part to German elements which have been incorporated into Russia and now run the principal wheels of the government. The attitude of German intellectuals inspires in him a contempt without limit. Hauptmann and Strauss, he says, have souls of a lackey. (p.134) He praises the old Russian civilization, which is unknown in the West, and the artistic and literary monuments of the northern and eastern cities. He also defends the Cossacks against their reputation for brutality.31

Rolland's journal also registers Stravinsky's thoughts about Le sacre, his contempt for the Wagnerian notion of a Gesamtkunstwerk and his disdain for the consecrated masters of the past, including Bach and Beethoven. It seems almost unimaginable that Stravinsky would have mentioned the latter composer in a negative light, knowing full well that in so doing he was taking direct aim at Rolland's solar plexus.32 The Russian expressed admiration for Mozart, however, whose luster he claimed had not paled, and praised Weber for his Italianism. Among his compatriots, Rolland recalled, Stravinsky admitted only Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov (“a little bit”) because the latter had been good to him. Finally, Stravinsky announced to Rolland that his public was now in France and to a degree in England.

Rolland's journal entry of 25 July 1916 reveals the foundation of Stravinsky's opinions on the war. Having engaged Rolland in a lengthy conversation on a boat at Interlochen, the Russian made it clear that he attached little importance to the French Republic, believing (as did Rolland) that a republic could be a reactionary regime, just as a monarchy could be a liberal one. He added that he considered war as healthy, a moral exercise that eliminated the weak and promoted the strong, and that war was necessary for human progress. Finally, he believed it would serve Russia well in the cause of liberty.33

Stravinsky's first “war pages” reveal that his immediate thoughts, like Lentulov's, were as much with his native Russia as with the Western Front.34 But his fixation on setting Russian texts, with their make-believe world centering on the adult-child (or vice versa), as found in lubok, folk verse, and the fairy tale, was made to order for addressing some of the most urgent issues of the war period. Years later, in his Chroniques, Stravinsky clarified the issue: “My profound emotion on reading the news of war, which aroused patriotic feelings and a sense of sadness at being so distant from my country, found some alleviation in the delight with which I steeped myself in Russian folk poems.”35

The sincerity of Stravinsky's orientation notwithstanding, few members of any audience (even Russian-speaking ones) would have been capable of appreciating the origins and complexity of these Russian texts in the way (p.135) that the composer did. Indeed, Stravinsky's understanding had developed only recently.36 Yet comprehensibility was not the main issue; many of the texts consist of a jumble of words that emphasize verbal play and in some instances were evidently composed as personal greetings or as family entertainments.37 All bore a transcendental quality of the Ur-primitive, which many Eurasianists saw as the potential foundation of a new, truly Russian art, free of compromising European qualities. Paradoxically, the ambiguity of these pieces was prized by Russian and Western European poets, painters, and composers alike.

Unmentioned in the conversation summarized by Rolland, but frequently expressed elsewhere, was Stravinsky's abiding love and respect for Tchaikovsky. It may be no coincidence that the well-known “March of the Toys” from The Nutcracker (1892) opens with a fanfare motif similar to the one used by Stravinsky in his four-hand “March.” An even more telling and relevant scene is the opening of Tchaikovsky's opera Pikovaya dama (The Queen of Spades, 1890). There a group of boys playing soldier sing “One, two, one, two, left, right, left right! All together, brothers, Don't fall out of step!” Of course, Bizet had already introduced the image of marching children playing soldier in Carmen. But the specific connection of Stravinsky's little “March” with the opening of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades is dramatized by the fact that Stravinsky's three interrupting motto rhythms (see ex. 5) expand progressively in a fashion identical to the accompanying rhythms in the opening scene of Tchaikovsky's opera.38

From yet another perspective the act of viewing such serious matters as life, death, and war through the lens of children's games was an evasion as much as a solution. Just as Robert Graves attempted in “The Shadow of Death” to make sense out of the chaos of war by placing events “into a childhood framework in which he would have control of them,”39 so Stravinsky sought an accommodation through recourse to a child's world of make believe.

Finally, there is an additional message of national character embedded in the “March” that further serves to compound and complete the puzzle. In Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents, a volume published in 1978 by Madame Stravinsky and Robert Craft, we learn that “The source of the Marche… was a tune (No. 486) from a collection of Old Irish Folk Music and Songs.”40 Now why would Stravinsky want to manipulate Irish folk material in the construction of a seemingly simple-minded piano duet dedicated to a prominent Italian composer?

(p.136) Irish political history is almost as complex as Italian history, and the age-old questions of religious difference and home rule, which have plagued Ireland for centuries, reached a new level of intensity at precisely this time, ultimately exploding in what became known as the Anglo-Irish War. The outbreak of World War I furthered the division of loyalties in Ireland, yet 200,000 Irish volunteers eventually departed for the Continent. Such developments would have been known to everyone from the daily newspapers, and Stravinsky, turning to the composition of his march in December 1914, obviously realized that he had made a serendipitous purchase when he acquired his Irish tune collection in London the year before.41

Stravinsky's “March” can thus be heard as a children's game, a piano duet for teacher and pupil, a recognition of his colleague, Casella, and an affectionate allusion to Tchaikovsky's march in The Queen of Spades or the formally signifying fanfares in the latter's Fourth Symphony. The contrast between the structure of this simple and seemingly didactic piece for piano duet and the formal details of an opera scene or a grand symphonic sonata form is startling in their seeming incongruity. As we shall see, however, Stravinsky would later force such a comparison in another seemingly trivial wartime march, the “Souvenir dʼune marche boche.” In sum, the work pronounced specifically on Italian, Irish, and Russian national interests just as the growing momentum of the raging international conflict could no longer be ignored.42

Game Theory, War, and the Lively Arts

Game theory, a branch of mathematics that was developed in the 1920s, immediately forwarded analogies between recreational games such as poker and bridge and the more serious business of economics and war. It also transcended the classical theory of probability, in which the analysis of games is restricted to aspects of pure chance, by placing emphasis on aspects of games that are controlled by the participants. The theory arose from studies that examined the circumstances of conflicting interest and incomplete information as well as the interplay of rational decision and chance. Those who worked with the theory in its early years were forced to accept the fact that while most actual games eluded full-scale analysis, many could be profitably analyzed in miniature or simplified form.

One of the theory's most fundamental classifications hinges on the number of players, typically specified as singular, dual, or plural. The players are significant not in terms of how many parties are involved but rather in terms of the number with distinct interests. Stravinsky's musical games (p.137) frequently adopt what Neumann and Morgenstern were to designate as a two-person, zero-sum variety, in which two parties in diametric opposition introduce the element of conflict. Such a context is clearly observable in Stravinsky's so-called easy pieces for piano duet. They are “so-called” because only one of the parts is easy, the other somewhat difficult. While this has the didactic advantage of allowing a young or inexperienced player to be a partner in a somewhat more complex context than would otherwise be possible, it also provides the ingredients of a contest.

From one perspective, the more complex part of Stravinsky's “March” appears to have the upper hand because of its freedom to maneuver, while the simple part is reduced to a repetitive formula. From another perspective the rigidity of the simple part functions as a control mechanism that forces the complex part to undertake acts of evasion in order to avoid capture. On still another front the parts operate on a level playing field: the loss of autonomy by the first pianist—who, for harmonic reasons, typically defers to the second in the use of the pedal—is side-stepped in a construction that calls for no pedal at all. Finally, it should be recalled that, although the duets that constitute Five Easy Pieces were written for Stravinsky's children, Trois pièces faciles were written for adults (Casella, Satie, Diaghilev) who possessed varying degrees of keyboard prowess. That collectively these eight Easy Pieces were not intended solely for the home parlor is confirmed by the fact that the complete set was performed by José Iturbi and Stravinsky in Lausanne, Zurich, and Geneva in 1919.43

Clearly, then, these little pieces are viewable from multiple perspec-tives.44 While the element of amateurism, which the historian Johan Huizinga has described in Homo Ludens as one of the essential preconditions of all play,45 is in full view, the formal aspect of Stravinsky's miniature war games invites the assessment of similar but distinct principles that can be found in the work of the war poets. The English poets, in particular, saw war as a game inherited from the previous century, when brief and essentially localized conflicts had more of the quality of a skirmish or “a brief armed version of the Olympic Games,” as Osbert Sitwell put it: “You won a round; the enemy won the next. There was no more talk of extermination, or of Fights to a Finish, than would occur in a boxing match.”46 Even in the first autumn and winter of the struggle Rupert Brooke could write, “It's all great fun.” It was an established English perspective, which led one noted leader to describe his ideal officers as “country men… accustomed to hunting, polo and field sport” who considered war “the greatest game.”47 Long after the fighting took a grimmer turn, the notion of war as a game continued to run far deeper than that of an analogy. As we (p.138) have seen, it took such explicit forms as kicking a football toward the enemy lines while attacking—initially employed by the 1st Battalion of the 18th London Regiment at Loos in 1915—and was still operating as a ploy to generate esprit de corps on the Turkish front as late as November 1917.48

But as the months turned into years and the daily grimness and toll of human life mounted, the metaphor of the game gradually accommodated to a new perspective. The aspect of a soldier's existence that came to be most consistently explored by such English poets as Robert Graves and D. H. Lawrence, for example, was not the blood and gore but rather the sense of a prevailing organization lacking in civilian life. As a result it has been argued that many of these poets seemed to be “playing the game of structure,”49 adopting various types of rhymed metrical verse rather than some of the new experiments in free verse that were already well under way. Similarly, and beyond his patent debt to native Russian sources and customs, Stravinsky's music also began to exhibit an escalating attraction to the mechanics of structure in the mid-1910s, especially to miniature or contained forms.50

Yet, as with T. S. Eliot's early verse, Stravinsky's traditional points of reference following Le sacre underwent “a metamorphosis into fragments, which (intentionally) [did] not intellectually mediate between the poet and his audience” and, as Erik Svarny has judged, an “abortive Classicism” was the result.51 Such a perspective was in harmony with the opinion expressed by Severini in 1921 to the effect that Cubism was the most interesting new development with respect to discipline and method and that as such it offered the foundation for a new classicism.52 Severini's ultimate obsession with the Golden Section and the Fibonacci series bears startling testimony to this new direction and its relation to the Great War.53 Cubism and Neo-classicism had joined in a paradoxical but symbiotic embrace.

Similarly, in Russia, Velimir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky, the two founders of Russian literary Futurism, had initially taken the aesthetic's zeal for war as an excuse to exercise their own search for a new tempo and “the liberation of the word.” With the outbreak of Civil War in 1917, however, their verse became more stylized. With Mayakovsky “the shocking force of warfare is miniaturized, the graphic naturalism of his First-World-War poetry is replaced by the style of folk-song and fairy tale,” violence is reduced to symbolic gesture, and “hyperbole is used to comic effect instead of to shock.”54 Stravinsky, living abroad, had taken the bait somewhat earlier, setting aside the violent assaults of Le sacre for a (p.139) more oblique statement that turned on folk symbolism, moral deception, and the game. The collective evidence thus supports the historian George L. Mosse's convincing argument that this widespread reduction of war to the terms of a game was an intentional trivialization that “helped people confront war, just as its glorification did.”55 The aesthetics of structure had taken a momentous turn, and with it the whole course of modernism.


(1.) Jacques-Émile Blanche, Portraits of a Lifetime (London, 1937), 259–260. Gertrude Stein also spoke of the direct relationship between World War I and Cubism and reported Picasso's recognition of the relationship of camouflage to the Cubist painters. See Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), 288, 302–303, and the whole of chap. 11, “The Cubist War”; and David Cottington, Cubism in the Shadow of War (New Haven, 1998).

(2.) Jean Cocteau, “Nous voudrions vous dire un mot,” Le mot, 27 February 1915, p. 1; translated in Messing, Neoclassicism, 78. In 1989 Modris Eksteins also appropriated the title Rites of Spring for his book devoted to the Great War and the birth of Modernism.

(3.) Cited in Truman C. Bullard, “The First Performance of Igor Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps,” Ph.D. diss., Eastman School of Music, 1970, vol. 3, pp. 271–272.

(4.) See Richard Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically (Princeton, 1997), 386 –387, “Stravinsky and the Subhuman.”

(p.460) (5.) For the details of the background and an analysis of the first piece, see Glenn Watkins, Pyramids at the Louvre: Music, Culture, and Collage from Stravinsky to the Postmodernists (Cambridge, Mass., xd ), chap. 10, “Stravinsky and the Cubists.” With respect to the notion of the Great War as a Cubist War see especially Kern, Culture of Time and Space, chap. 11.

(6.) For a reproduction see Cork, A Bitter Truth, 48, pl. 40.

(7.) Graves's intended sermon, that of the Old Lie, is made clear in a marginal note appended to the poem, which reiterates the opinion that “War should be a sport for men above forty-five only.” See Robert Graves, Good-bye to All That (London, 1929), 288–289. Graves, like many who participated in the Battle of the Somme, was never the same after that experience. “Everyone was mad,” he said, “and this lunacy and expression were difficult to express in lyric or Skeltonic poetry.” See ibid., 290; and Quinn, The Great War, 46.

(8.) For a detailed discussion see Watkins, Pyramids at the Louvre, 260.

(9.) Regarding Le mot perspectives see Silver, Esprit de corps, 44ft.

(10.) A review of this concert by Richard Aldrich in Concert Life in New York, 1902–1923 (New York, 1941), 479, claims that Mason's lecture purported to explain the composer's intentions as follows: “a gathering of peasants on the desert steppe, singing a folksong accompanied by instruments, some kind of a bagpipe and some kind of a drum. It may be hoped that there are really no such instruments. In the second he had in mind a cathedral with a priest intoning Gregorian plain chant and the organ sounding. The last represents a Pierrot burdened with some private grief, but obliged to go through with his juggling tricks before the public.” It is clear that Aldrich switched the descriptions for the second and third numbers.

(11.) Printed in Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology, 3 vols. (London, 1915–1917). For three extracts see Eric Walter White, Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, 2d ed. (Berkeley, 1979), 233–234.

(12.) Igor Stravinsky, Selected Correspondence, 2 vols., ed. Robert Craft (New York, 1984), 1: 407 n. 1.

(13.) See Amy Lowell, “Some Musical Analogies in Modern Poetry,” Musical Quarterly 6, no. 1 (1920): 127–157, for her extended views on the possibilities of reciprocity between the arts. About her own verses for Stravinsky's string quartet pieces she is noncommittal: “Could I reproduce the effect of the music in another medium? Could I? Did I? The reader must determine” (148–150).

(14.) By 1915 Lowell, who was the most publicity-driven of all the Imagists, had outdone Pound himself and left for America. Pound consequently disbanded his group, relabeling them “Amygists.” See Greg Barnhisel, “Marketing Modernism in America during the Great War: The Case of Ezra Pound,” in World War I and the Cultures of Modernity, ed. Douglas Mackaman and Michael Mays (Jackson, Miss., 2000).

(15.) Musical Times, 1 March 1919, p. 113. Later in a pre-performance lecture (p.461) given by Ansermet on 13 February 1919, he added: “This music is absolute music in the true sense of the word, that is to say, music innocent of any and all suspicion of a literary or philosophic program.” See Ernest Ansermet, “The Man and His Work—Igor Stravinsky—His First String Quartet,” Musical Courier 25 (1915): 41.

(16.) Such tactics naturally evoke suspicion, however, and this one was a classic act of dissimulation that could not be made to square with the David and Goliath scenario Cocteau had proposed directly to the composer for the first of the pieces, let alone the autobiographical element openly admitted by the composer in later years for the second of them. See Erik Aschengreen, Jean Cocteau and the Dance (Copenhagen, 1986), 61, as well as Jann Pasler, “New Music as Confrontation: The Musical Sources of Jean Cocteau's Identity,” Musical Quarterly 75 255–278.

(17.) As described by the editors of the complete works of Rameau begun in 1895, which included Saint-Saëns, dʼIndy, Dukas, and Debussy. See Richard Taruskin, “Nationalism,” in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2d ed., 29 vols. (New York, 2001), sec. 8, “The scene shifts.”

(18.) Three statements of the motto rhythm also occur in duo textures, but they also avoid the lowest pitch of the ostinato.

(19.) On 13 February 1915, for example, only two months after the composition of the “March,” Stravinsky played four-hand arrangements of excerpts from his own music with the Italian composer, including parts of Le sacre, in a salon of the Grand Hotel in Rome for an audience that included Rodin, Balla, Boccioni, and Respighi. The next day, on 14 February 1915, Casella “had a sensational success conducting Petrushka”; Vera Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents (New York, 1978), 152. Casella also arranged one of the early performances of the Three Pieces for String Quartet on 19 May 1915.

(20.) Casella's Pupazzetti were published by J. & W. Chester with a cover design by Larionov, the designer of stage sets and costumes for Stravinsky's Renard. The work is recorded on Connoisseur Society CD 4171.

(21.) In a postcard from Casella to Stravinsky dated September 3, 1915 the former announced completion of his “four Films, inspired by cinematographic views of the war” and inquired as to when he might be receiving Stravinsky's “March,” which was dedicated to him. See Stravinsky, Selected Correspondence, 2: 127. Casella's slightly later Pezzi infantili (or Children's Pieces) of 1920, written at the time of Stravinsky's Five Fingers, further underscores the fascination of the two composers with reductive piano games.

(22.) Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Dialogues and a Diary (New York, 1963), 72–73. The dating is inconsistent here, as Stravinsky had already completed the “March” on 19 December of the previous year.

(23.) In his posthumously published monograph, Stravinski (Brescia, 1947), 77–78, Alfredo Casella recognized and emphasized this very point. Stravinsky realized, in any event, that the “March” was more than a simple “vamping” (p.462) piece and that the residual techniques of his massive Cubist experience in the Rite were ready and waiting for application to a new task, albeit now tethered to a seeming volte-face that carried a potent message.

(24.) For a surviving sample of the stationery used by Francesco Cangiullo to sketch a portrait of Stravinsky at the piano at the time of the first Futurist auditions in Milan during the spring of 1915, see Strawinsky: Sein Nachlass, Sein Bild (Basel, 1984), 60. Another later sample of Marinetti's stationery shows a figure clearly drawn from Balla's sculpture, “Boccioni's Fist,” just below the letterhead. See Rita Reif, “You Could Tell the ‘Ism’ by the Letterhead,” The New York Times, 31 March 1996, for an illustration, and Cork, A Bitter Truth, 65, for a reproduction of the original sculpture. See chapter 11 for a description of a Futurist demonstration that Stravinsky attended at that time.

(25.) See Martin Gilbert, Atlas of World War I, 2d ed. (New York, 1994), 36, for a map that illustrates this geographical redistribution.

(26.) See Harold Osborne, ed., The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Art (Oxford, 1981), “Severini.”

(27.) Stravinsky was soon to collaborate on Renard with Larionov, who with the declaration of war had returned precipitously to Russia. An exhibition of his painting planned for Berlin was cancelled, and early in the conflict, in November and December, Larionov was seriously wounded on the German front and invalided out of the service. At the end of January, the Moscow press published a photo of him in a group of “Futurist heroes.” See Mikhail Larionov, La voie vers lʼabstraction: Oeuvres sur papier 1908–1915 (Frankfurt, 1987), 191.

(28.) See Cork, A Bitter Truth, 51–54. Lentulov's use of a central figure on a rearing horse and a surface choked with details of conflict openly advertises that the work is modeled directly on the central panel of a series collectively known as The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, an early Florentine Renaissance painter. This panel is now housed in the National Gallery, London. See ibid., 52. The memory of Uccello's San Romano battle pieces also inspired a huge canvas by the American artist Man Ray (Cork, fig. 22) that was begun in the summer of 1914, titled AD MCMXIV1914; it is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

(29.) Aristarkh Lentulov, Putʼ khudoznika, Khudoznika i vromia (Moscow, 1990), 9, claims that Lentulov was highly musical, possessing a fine ear and an excellent voice.

(30.) Stravinsky and Craft, Conversations, 81–82. As Messing has put it, “The desire to stitch together diverse cultures into a single nationalist fabric was a common ploy in anti-German rhetoric; even before World War I it had been a popular theme attending the appearance of the term nouveau classicisme”; Messing, Neoclassicism, 119.

(31.) Rolland, Journal, 59.

(32.) The Beethoven issue vis-à-vis Stravinsky is complex and deserves to be examined in more critical detail; see chapter 8.

(33.) Rolland, Journal, 853.

(p.463) (34.) For a formidable discussion of the Eurasian or “Turanian” component throughout this period, see Taruskin, Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions, 1128ff.

(35.) Stravinsky, An Autobiography (New York, 1936), 53.

(36.) Taruskin, Stravinsky, 1135.

(37.) Ibid., 1136.

(38.) P. Tchaikovsky, Pique Dame (Moscow, 1983), 27–32. Regarding Stravinsky's early familiarity with Bizet's Carmen, which contains a similar scene without the developing rhythmic feature, see An Autobiography, 12. Furthermore, Stravinsky's father (1843–1902) sang in the premieres of several Tchaikovsky operas, and during Stravinsky's youth in St. Petersburg The Queen of Spades was a staple of the opera repertoire. During the fifteen years following its premiere on 7 February 1890 to the end of 1905—a time that stretched from Stravinsky's eighth to his twenty-third year, the opera was performed 120 times in St. Petersburg alone. I am indebted to R. John Wiley for these statistics.

(39.) Quinn, The Great War, 35–36.

(40.) Stravinsky and Craft, Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents, 76. The page from P. W. Joyce, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (Dublin, 1909), 269, is reproduced in Taruskin, Stravinsky, 1474.

(41.) For more on Ireland's role see Thomas Hennessey, Dividing Ireland: World War I and Partition (London, 1998); and Dungan, They Shall Grow Not Old.

(42.) The force of such simple marches with nationalistic connotations for the period can be judged from the fact that Casella, a practicing concert pianist at the time, was obliged to play the “Royal March,” Italy's unofficial national anthem, in order to quell a fight that broke out between neutralists and interventionists in the middle of a piano recital that he gave in Rome in early 1915. Both Stravinsky and Diaghilev were in attendance. See Alfredo Casella, Music in My Time: The Memories of Alfredo Casella, trans. and ed. Spencer Norton (Norman, Okla., 1955), 125. The Marcia reale dʼordinanza by Giuseppe Ga-betti was commissioned by King Carlo Felice in 1831 and served as Italy's most widely used anthem until the Inno di Mameli was adopted by the Italian Republic in 1946 at the conclusion of World War II.

(43.) See White, Stravinsky, 237.

(44.) See T. N. Dupuy, Numbers, Predictions and War (Indianapolis, 1979).

(45.) Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (Boston, 1970), 36. See Leed, No Man's Land, 54: “For Huizinga, play is ‘an activity connected with no material interest and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner.’ “

(46.) Osbert Sitwell, Great Morning! (Boston, 1947), 199.

(47.) For more on the role of English public schools in promoting the notion of war as a game, see Ferguson, The Pity of War, 201ff., and Fussell, The Great War, 25–26.

(p.464) (48.) Fussell, The Great War, 27.

(49.) Leed, No Man's Land, 56.

(50.) The compelling attraction of neoclassical order and clarity for prewar Parisian avant-garde painters beginning around 1915 has been protested in depth by art historians, and Picasso's three Ingriste portraits of Stravinsky serve only as a port of entry to a remarkable story. The Russian composer's gradual movement in this direction is thus attributable in no small measure to both the literary and visual evidence he would have encountered amongst non-musicians at the time. See particularly Silver, Esprit de corps, chap. 2, “The Rewards of War.” Russia's own neoclassical revival in architecture, and its infatuation with Palladian models in particular, was already in evidence by the twentieth-century's first decade. This was especially true in the historically Italianate city of St. Petersburg, where Stravinsky grew to manhood.

(51.) Erik Svarny, “The Men of 1914”: T. S. Eliot and Early Modernism (Philadelphia, 1988), 162.

(52.) Gino Severini, Du cubisme au classicisme: Esthétique du compas et du nombre (Paris, 1921), 34–37; translated by Scott Messing in Neoclassicism, 80.

(53.) The Golden Section was not discovered by artists and composers as a result of the war, going back as it does to the Pythagoreans and especially to its notable revival by Pacioli in the fifteenth century. But it was no doubt embraced with a new fervor by artists like Severini in the war period and after because of the sense of order it implied. Amongst the painters, a group known as the Section dʼOr endorsed its principles in 1912, and among composers it has been argued that Stravinsky followed suit as early as 1914 in the first of his Three Pieces for String Quartet. See Watkins, Pyramids at the Louvre, 263.

(54.) Katharine Hodgson, “Myth-making in Russian War Poetry,” in The Violent Muse: Violence and the Artistic Imagination in Europe, 1910–1939 (Manchester, U.K., 1994), 75.

(55.) George L. Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (New York, 1990), 143. For more on the concept of war games, the child, and masculinity, see Jonathan Bignell, “The Meanings of War-Toys and WarGames,” in War, Culture, and the Media: Representations of the Military in 20th-century Britain, ed. Ian Stewart and Susan L. Carruthers (Madison, N.J., 1996), 165–184.