In a recent column on the Rite of Spring conference at the University of North Carolina, I noted some remarks that the musicologist Richard Taruskin made on the subject of his work Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions. This 1757-page masterpiece of scholarship, which I discussed in the New York Times in 1996, dominates the Stravinsky bibliography, yet it is not invulnerable to shifting intellectual tides, as Taruskin acknowledges. In a question-and-answer session, he said that a couple of his statements — notably, the declaration that "Stravinsky was the most completely Russian composer of art music that ever was and, if present trends continue, that ever will be" — could now be seen as overzealous. At the time, Taruskin pointed out, he was "writing against the force of this entrenched discourse" — the formalist reading of Stravinsky that the composer himself encouraged, with all manner of misinformation concealing his early Russian influences.
In my column, I mentioned a paper by Annegret Fauser, in which it was suggested that the French influence on the Rite spectacle was more pronounced than the reader of Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions might assume. I should also have mentioned a subsequent paper by Brigid Cohen, since the statements quoted above were made immediately after she spoke. Cohen, drawing on the work of Raymond Williams, has made a study of migratory patterns in twentieth-century music history, particularly with reference to the extraordinary career of Stefan Wolpe; she feels that too much emphasis has fallen on "nation-centered histories." In the case of the Rite of Spring, she called for a less nationally rooted understanding of the score, for a richer awareness of its cosmopolitan context. This is an illuminating perspective on Stravinsky, complementing Fauser's account of French aspects of the Rite project, and I regret not having included it in my report. Taruskin continues to maintain, I should add, that the score of the Rite stems unmistakably from a St. Petersburg tradition.
Celebrations of the Rite centennial are just beginning. The Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, site of the première, is presenting no fewer than six versions of the score this season, three staged and three in concert. On the anniversary itself, the Mariinsky Ballet, with Valery Gergiev conducting, will dance the original Nijinsky choreogoraphy in the reconstruction by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer; a new vision by Sasha Waltz will appear on the same program. Taruskin is to speak again at an accompanying conference.