Thanks to the devoted efforts of Claudio Spies, Instructor in Music, a Harvard audience heard the most recent manifestations of Igor Stravinsky's art-last Sunday evening in a Sanders Theatre concert. An instrumental Septet (1953), the Cantata (1952), and Three Songs from Shakespeare (1953) comprised the program. The quality of performance throughout was superb with the exception of William Hess' tenor; and its strained quality was probably attributable to a cold. Both Mr. Hess and mezzo-soprano Eunice Alberts mastered vocal parts of exceptional difficulty. The modulations of mood and expressiveness which Miss Alberts achieved were striking. The precision and suppleness of conductor Spies' rhythmic impulse and the virtuosity of the instrumentalists resulted in a vital reading of the Septet.
In terms of musical technique the works exhibited Stravinsky's continuing "homage to Apollo." (". . . the Dionysian elements . . . must be properly subjugated before they intoxicate us, and must finally be made to submit to the law: Apollo demands it." he has written.) For the first time he has based complete movements and works upon a determined succession (or row) of tones; yet he does not necessarily use 12 tones in the row nor abandon a tonal center in the manner of Schoenberg.
An approach to the Cantata might be made by way of Gide's aphorism (which Stravinsky quotes in his Poetics of Music) that the beauty of classical works is made evident only by virtue of their subjugated romanticism. One must constantly look for those moments which bring to brief light that underlying level of passion and intensity in the music which is continually evinced on the surface by the texts themselves. The diversity of these texts (all late-Medieval English lyrics) pose another challenge for the listener. "Contrast is everywhere," Stravinsky has written, "Similarity is hidden . . . and is found only after the most exhaustive efforts." The "general dance" which provides the framework of the central movement of the Canata draws into its whirl the Sacred History, the Lyke-Wake Dirge, the plaints of innocents and of sinners, and shapes a unified but very personal pilgrim's progress. To wrest objective experience from it, a listener must begin with a faith in this unity and yet with the expectation that it will be justified only eventually, by increasing familiarity with the work.