Memoirs: An Improbable Life

"The event of the spring of 1940, and indeed of my early life, was hearing the Sunday afternoon, April 7, New York Philharmonic broadcast of The Rite of Spring conducted by Stravinsky. I listened to it on the radio of my father's automobile, following the performance in the 1933 Kalmus miniature score that I still own. I lost my place three or four times and lost it for good near the end of the Danse sacrale, but no matter: this was the most exciting music I had ever heard, and its violent emotions, rhythms, harmonies, orchestral sonorities were electrifyingly new and wonderful. My world changed during this half-hour, and I had a new lodestar."
Extract from Chapter 2

Eight years later Robert Craft would begin a unique friendship with Stravinsky that would last until the composer's death in 1971. This book tells the story of his "improbable life" before, during, and after his long collaboration with Stravinsky and residence in the Stravinsky household.

It begins with the author's childhood in Kingston, New York, his time in the New York Military Academy prep school in Cornwall-on-Hudson, and his entry into Juilliard, cut short by Army service. Soon Craft's musical activities lead him into his relationship with Stravinsky in Hollywood, New York, and elsewhere, all richly documented by Stravinsky's letters in the "Dear Bobsky" section of the book.

His improbable life becomes a whirlwind of international activity at the cutting edge of modern music (and revival of early music) and in the company of celebrities. By letter or in person, figures like Edwin Hubble, Aldous Huxley, Stephen Spender, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, and George Balanchine make their appearances. A whole chapter recreates, through Isaiah Berlin's letters to the author, the texture of the relationship between Stravinsky and Isaiah Berlin that began in London in December 1956 and led to Sir Isaiah's transliteration of the text of Abraham and Isaac for Stravinsky.

In the section of the book entitled "Surviving the Legacy," Craft recounts, with his special flair for describing places and personalities, the adventures of the decades since the 1970s. He and his wife, Alva, continue to this day their heavy schedule of international performance and exploration.

Robert Craft is the recipient of the 2002 International Prix du Disque Lifetime Achievement Award, Cannes Music Festival. He has conducted and recorded with the major orchestras in this country and abroad. In addition to his special command of Stravinsky's music, Craft is well known for his recordings of works by Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Schütz, Bach, Mozart, Berg, Schoenberg, and Varese.

What the critics have to say about "An Improbable Life"

"In the body of his literary work, this personal memoir should probably be read as a supplement to Craft's previous volumes, Stravinsky: Chronicle of a Friendship especially, but make no mistake: it should be read. At its simplest, Craft offers a non-fiction version of what the Germans call a Bildungsroman--a novel in which a protagonist of unremarkable character undergoes a process of education (in the sense of 'enlightenment') and consequently acquires a deeper understanding of both himself and the world around him. Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain might serve as the most famous example. The story of Robert Craft's progress from small town New York to the highest pinnacle of our musical culture, and his subsequent 'return to earth', offers young dreamers and music lovers inspiration that extends well beyond matters musical."
David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com - Read the entire review

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