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Reading the blurb – ‘Hear the name Igor Stravinsky and the first thing that comes to mind is a composer of ponderous, “serious” music’ – I immediately disagreed. The first words in my mind would be brilliance, wit, vitality, piquancy. Even the author’s own words – ‘fresh, piquant and appetizing’ – disagree. Neither do I accept that the ‘volatile mix’ of Stravinsky’s music includes ‘plaintive high-alcohol emotion bordering on kitsch (or indeed, kirsch)’. I do not know what Maconie means by ‘high-alcohol emotion’ but, more importantly, I find one of his main themes – that Stravinsky was heavily influenced by Hollywood and all modern communication technologies – over-stated. Words like ‘flashback’ and other references to film techniques appear to me over-used. To get rid of all complaints first, I must warn that the author has a penchant for over-long, indigestible sentences, sometimes extending to ten lines.

This book does add to our understanding of Stravinsky, but only if one can work out what Maconie is saying – here, for instance: ‘The Rite of Spring is perhaps music’s ultimate statement of animation in a movie sense, corresponding to “a perception of movement as the byproduct of structured errors in dense information processes exposed at too rapid a repetition rate for each event change to be clearly apprehended in isolation, the totality for that reason perceived in an approximate manner as coherent and continuous”.’ [The quote is not attributed, which doesn’t help.]

His general style is dense, overloading the reader with too much information, though occasionally he does turn a nice phrase. Maconie discusses every single piece Stravinsky wrote, usefully adding details of CDs and drawing upon an impressive range of references from the worlds of literature, art, poetry, film, recording techniques and other media. His grasp of popular classics is much less impressive, however – the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy does not include glockenspiel and Zadok the Priest is not from Messiah. Such howlers should have been picked up by the editor. The index is pretty unreliable, with many omissions and entries one page out.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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