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Open Features: Stravinsky - A Collector Of Anecdotes

David Marsh tells a juicy tale about the composer Igor Stravinsky, a collector of anecdotes.

The ballet music for "Petrouchka" includes a quotation from the Russian folk tune "Down the Petersky". This was also used by Balakirev in his "Overture on Three Russian Themes". The great Russian bass Chaliapin recorded the song, and Leo Tolstoy mentions a troop of soldiers marching and singing it in "War and Peace".

Petrouchka also includes a quotation from a song Stravinsky heard from a street singer in Paris, the title being "Elle avait une jambe a bois" (She had a wooden leg). The quotation is 26 bars long and lasts about 40 seconds. Unfortunately it was not a folk song, but had been composed by one Emile Spencer (d. 1921). To this day one twelfth of the royalties on any performance of Petrouchka goes to Spencer's estate and other parties.

Stravinsky saved anecdotes, possibly apocryphal, concerning one Baron Ungern-Sternberg. The composer and some of his friends were not happy about German nationals occupying positions of power in Russia, particularly in the diplomatic service. The word "ungern" happens to mean "unfortunately" in German.

One such anecdote concerns the Baron and a fellow passenger on a train journey. The fellow passenger asked the Baron his name, and received the reply "Ungern- Sternberg". When the Baron asked the other traveller's name, the answer was "Ungern -Finkelstein" (Finkelstein, unfortunately). "And where are you travelling too?" asked the passenger. "Baden - Baden." said the Baron, "And where are you going?". "Minsk - Minsk" replied Finkelstein.


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