The first time that Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninov met in American exile, in Los Angeles in 1942, the subject of music apparently never came up. They arranged to meet for dinner and talked about concert agents and royalties. Stravinsky also mentioned his fondness for honey, whereupon his colleague presented him with a large jar a few days later.
That their work was not a topic of conversation was solely an act of diplomacy. Stravinsky’s and Rachmaninov’s conceptions of composing were fundamentally different, as can be experienced at this concert of works by both. On other occasions, Stravinsky had expressed his opinion of Rachmaninov, nine years his senior, in no uncertain terms, when he maliciously referred to his highly emotional works as overblown movie music. Rachmaninov explained his own artistic creed as follows: “What I try to do when writing down my music is to make it say simply that which is in my heart. If there is love there, or bitterness, or sadness, or religion, these moods become part of my music.”
That he also had no programmatic ambitions and hardly altered his style over the decades was for Stravinsky almost a provocation. For him every composer unquestionably had a continuing obligation of renewing music, to push its boundaries ever further. To this attitude we owe such epoch-making scores as The Rite of Spring, the overpoweringly energetic ballet music which is performed in this concert. Juxtaposed with it and exemplifying Rachmaninov is his cantata The Bells, after the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, whose appeal lies in quite different qualities – for example, in the warmth of its authentic, unaffected emotion.