Flèche: Brief Encounter with Stravinsky

by Tony Scotland

Left: Lennox Berkeley, 1938 (Photo Howard Coster). Right: Igor Stravinsky with the violinist Samuel Dushkin, 1934 (Photo Paul Tanqueray)

When the young English composer Lennox Berkeley caught the boat train from London to Paris on 30 November 1934, he little expected to share the journey with his musical hero, Igor Stravinsky. He had attended the British première of Stravinsky’s melodrama Perséphone at the Proms two nights earlier, and, full of ideas, he had hurried back to his own new work, the sacred drama Jonah, over which he had been agonising for some months. Working on through the next day, he missed the royal wedding that gripped the rest of London. Early on the morning of the 30th he set off for Victoria and the Flèche d’Or luxury express to Paris and home. Still working on Jonah over coffee and brioches in the Pullman bar, he was thinking of Stravinsky’s scoring, when suddenly he caught the familiar whiff of a Caporal bleu, the unmistakable sounds of Russian French, and there the great man was. Pleased to see Berkeley again, Stravinsky insisted that he should join his ‘secretary’, Vera Sudeikina, and his collaborator, the violin virtuoso, Samuel Dushkin, for bridge, drinks and talk, and luncheon in the Wagon Restaurant.

For six hours and forty minutes the two contrasting composers – one at the top of the tree, the other still on the lower branches – talked about Perséphone and Sudeikina’s influence, Jonah, neo-classicism, the purpose and meaning of music, reactionary critics, Mussolini, crayfish and steam engines; the encounter also stirred them both to take stock of their complicated emotional lives. In this new book, based on a brief clue in a letter which Berkeley wrote the following day, his biographer Tony Scotland has reconstructed the journey, inventing their conversation from thoughts and ideas the two composers expressed on other occasions. The result is an unusual Brief Encounter which casts a fresh light on both.

Left: Vera de Bosset, Mme Sudeikina, 1920 (Portrait by her husband Sergei Sudeikin).   Right: Nadia Boulanger, London 1936 (Photo Centre International Nadia et Lili Boulanger)

Flèche is designed by Susan Wightman of Libanus Press and published by Shelf Lives, in a signed and numbered limited edition. Like the other volumes in the series, it should appeal to collectors and bibliophiles as well as to discerning readers. A slim volume of 80 pages, with 30 colour and black and white illustrations, it is available in hardback (measuring 218 x 138 mm; ISBN 978-0-9955503-2-2) at £15 including UK postage.

To buy Flèche please click on the ORDER NOW tab.