How I got Stravinsky his royal jelly honey

How I got Stravinsky his royal jelly honey


norman lebrecht

January 23, 2015

Marianne Langner Zeitlin, widow of the late violinist Zvi Zeitlin, got to know Igor and Vera Stravinsky while they were touring Israel for concerts in the summer of 1962. She has some wonderful tales to tell. For instance:

That evening at dinner, the Stravinskys regaled us with stories about their recent visit at the White House. The Kennedys were charming, they were elegant, and the dinner, French haute cuisine, but of course, as Jackie was proud of her newly-acquired French chef. Kissing his thumb and forefinger expressively, Stravinsky said: “Tres delicieux, tres delicieux… But…”

It turned out to be a long, drawn-out and big “but.” “Yes, elegant, charming but they surprised me, these people.” He lifted his eyeglasses to place them on his forehead and raised his voice a notch. “They never hear of my ‘Sacre’ [‘Sacre du Printemps,’ or ‘Rite of Spring’]. Never heard the work, never heard about the premiere.”

“Ah, bubushkin,” Vera said, shaking her head disdainfully. “What did you expect? He doesn’t know the first thing about music. But from Jackie, with her cultural background, I expected better, but no, she didn’t say anything. Maybe she didn’t want to show him up.”

Igor Stravinsky and wife received at the White House




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  • Martin Haub says:

    Sadly, most American politicians, even the ones from the upper rungs of society, are cultural buffoons, knowing nothing of the classics. The only President I can recall having an affection for it was Richard Nixon who had the Philadelphia Orchestra play for his inaugural concert. The current occupant of the White House seems to know all about Rap, Hip Hop and other low-quality amusements, but has no interest in great music. But then, I would bet that fewer than 5% of Americans have ever heard of the Rite of Spring, either. But boy, we all know about deflated footballs!

    • Patrick says:

      It’s exactly the elitist, snobbish attitude exhibited in this comment that will diminish Classical music to the wider public. The Classical music world cannot expect the wider world to respect it when all it can offer is insults.

  • Stephen Cera says:

    President Jimmy Carter loves classical music, and invited Vladimir Horowitz to perform in the East Room of the White House in February 1978. I was fortunate to be in attendance at that event. Horowitz played works by Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff. When I chatted with the President at the reception afterward, he told me that he listened to classical music whenever possible, and that he often had it piped into his office. He referred me to an assistant who could give further details about the pieces he listened to. President Carter seemed awestruck by Horowitz’s performance, and remarked to me, “I can’t imagine the piano being played any better than that.”

  • CDH says:

    I would imagine Jacqueline Kennedy, a lifelong francophile due to her pride in her own French heritage, knew ALL about Stravinsky’s compositions and the history of their openings. Her husband may have been more interested in Lerner and Loewe, but he certainly turned up for all those evenings when the guests and guest performers were the likes of Casals, Bernstein, Edward Villella, etc. No presidency has done more to showcase the arts, including the highest forms of classical music, than the Kennedy Administration. Nixon may have had more personal feel for it, but he did not champion the arts the way the Kennedys did.

  • John says:

    ‘Twas ever thus… Remember Beecham asking George V after a gala at Covent Garden which was his favourite opera..?
    “La Bohème of course ” replied the King.
    “Really Your Majesty ” said Beecham. “I would have expected something more martial. Why Bohème?”
    “It’s the shortest one I know!”

  • Ann Bruce says:

    “The current occupant of the Whitehouse” – that would be the President, yes?
    I was not aware of his keen interest in rap, hip hop and other low quality amusements, but it seems he is something of an expert, since he knows all about them! Thanks so very much for enlightening us as to the President’s hobbies.
    When you have a moment, perhaps you’d be kind enough to present us with a list of high quality amusements? It gets so confusing sometimes…..

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Just a footnote here: the much maligned Ronald Reagan brought Rudolf Serkin to the White House. The current President, indeed, knows nothing and cares less about serious performing artists. And, of course, felt it unnecessary to join western world leaders for the recent Paris rally.

    • Andy Lim says:

      but because of President Obama the world enjoyed live on TV the “unlive” or playback performance of YoYo Ma and Perlman at his 2009 inauguration!

    • Dave T says:

      Who knew that Barenboim, Mutter, Argerich, Terfel, and the Vienna Philharmonic would all be performing at that Paris rally.
      That Philistine!

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    It is a very rare occurrence in the US to see an elected official at a classical concert or opera or ballet performance. One reason is that attending such an event might reveal the politician to be elitist and not aligned with the people. Even worse, such a politician would run the risk of being perceived as an intellectual, an educated elitist. There are exceptions, as I have witnessed at Symphony Hall in San Francisco: Nancy Pelosi, State Representative Tom Ammiano, State Senator Mark Leno. Of course, former Mayor Willy Brown’s exquisitely groomed and fashionably brilliant appearances at SF Opera Opening Nights are considered historic and one of a kind. Governor Jerry Brown recently graced Davies Symphony Hall with his presence during MTT’s 70th birthday bash. Even President Obama represented himself via video to offer his congratulations to the Maestro. A few high points in an otherwise relentlessly dire situation. Would be great to mount Goetterdaemmerung on the steps if Capitol Hill – just kidding;-).

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Can you cite any actual criticism of politicians as elitist for attending classical music concerts? Of course more plausibly they could be criticized as well by social-justice warriors for reinforcing the paternalistic cultural hegemony of dead white European males. Few politicians understand statistical thermodynamics or semiconductor design either but practioners of these aren’t so insecure that they feel they need validation by outsiders.

      Intellectual pursuits by politicians may make them better people but it doesn’t necessarily make them better at what they do. Long-time Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn had no interest whatever in art or music, “I’d just as soon hear someone beat on a washtub as play the piano.” This lack of aesthetic sensitivity didn’t stop Rayburn from being one of the most admirable figures in 20th century US politics.

      Ordinary citizens don’t really mind their representatives being more intelligent or going to classical concerts or having intellectual interests. Theodore Roosevelt was a prolific author. Woodrow Wilson was a professor and president of Princeton. Calvin Coolidge translated Dante as a hobby. However, they didn’t look down their noses at people who didn’t. Artists don’t seem to have that sort of restraint.

    • MacroV says:

      I don’t believe President Obama is a serious classical music lover, though he did narrate Lincoln Portrait with the Chicago Symphony when he was a senator.

      As President, one needs to cut him some slack; the President going to a public performance becomes the event, with security making things a hellish experience for all involved. I’m sure most concert/opera-goers at the Kennedy Center are glad the President rarely makes his way over there.

  • CDH says:

    Once again, the Kennedy years were full of major classical artists at the White House and the First Lady and occasionally the President at the concert hall, ballet, etc. They also both read widely and did not hesitate to discuss books, quote them, etc. Robert F. Kennedy, on a very sad night not long before he died (the night MLK died) began a portion of a critical and dangerous speech to a black audience by saying “My favourite poet is Aeschylus…” When his brother had been killed, he quoted Romeo and Juliet in another speech. Those were the days, when being well-educated and not afraid of learning were regarded as aspirational goals, when those at the pinnacle of power felt they ought to embody excellence, not play to the lowest common denominator. If that is elitist, then lament its passing in favour of the cheap appeal to the dumbed-down (which of course makes it unnecessary to address the problems that have led to failed education, the growth of a celebrity-driven “culture,” and the increasing inequality in all societal aspects of the 1% and the rest.

  • William Safford says:

    One of these days I want to attend one of the Fortas chamber music concerts in Washington, DC.

  • Robert Lennon says:

    Maybe it’s simply that JFK and his advisors should have done their homework.

  • Dave T says:

    To which the President shot back, “If Ways and Means ever gets that budget out of mark-up, it can go through rec without having Ag appropriations subcommittee hold additional hearings– all over again, I would add– on the bill which Secretary Freeman gave OMB in the first place.”
    (Monsieur Stavinsky gave a mild smile and politely nodded his head.)

  • Nigel Curtis says:

    In 1963 Stravinsky wrote ‘Elegy for JFK’ which is all of 2 and a half minutes long.