When Stravinsky met Nabokov

When Stravinsky met Nabokov


norman lebrecht

July 28, 2018

Not the novelist.

His CIA cousin Nicolas, a bon viveur and unsuccessful composer.

Igor engages with him in five languages and a bottle of Chivas.

Gripping stuff.


  • RE Irizarry says:

    Not Chivas, but Johnny Walker. Can’t tell precisely if it is Red or Black.

    • V.Lind says:

      Yup. Fancy not recognising a Johnnie Red label? (I’m pretty sure — the black one would have been darker in the photo).

    • Robert Hairgrove says:

      At about 4:15 into the clip there is a closer view of the bottle. Looks like “Black Label” to me.


    • Martin says:

      Norman, what is so difficult of making one – only one – post without any mistake in your text, headline or gossip?

      • steven holloway says:

        Martin, I don’t think that the error in the header is that the Nabokov is not Vladimir — I think that’s a bit more of the perpetual clickbaiting. But the header is definitely in error in its wording, for it makes it sound as if this was IS’s and NN’s first meeting — possibly a momentous event if the Nabokov were Vladimir, possibly not. But Nicolas and Stravinsky had been friends since 1927, so if this is truly “When Stravinsky Met Nabokov”, the sound is mind-boggling, as are the appearances of the two, respectively 45 and 24 years-old.

    • John Borstlap says:

      it’s a wonderful video but I don’t think all that drinking did Stravinsky any good.

    • Novagerio says:

      Red label! 😀

  • Rob says:

    There’s more slurring than slur marks in Le Sacre

  • John Borstlap says:

    The simple humanity of a great man.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    This short film comes from Stravinsky’s last travel to Europe which was documented by a Canadian film team, and in the follow up Stravinsky asks the film team to go. I don’t remember just now the title of the movie which I have seen a long ago. Some scenes (including that one) were included in Tony Palmer’s documentary film “Stravinsky: Once, at a Border…” (which I recommend unreservedly).

  • John G. says:

    Apparently, Chivas is Stravinsky’s favorite, but they’re drinking Johnny Walker “Black.” It’s perhaps notable that they’re not drinking vodka.

    • Robert Hairgrove says:


      If he had a choice, I’m sure he would have bought black instead of red.

      • Robert Hairgrove says:

        Besides, the color “red” would have been very unsympathetic to a Russian who fled the country due to the Soviet revolution.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Nicolas Nabokov was NOT an “unsuccessful composer.” He was highly esteemed in his time and remains well-regarded among musicologists and performers.

    • Robert Hairgrove says:

      If he was asked by Diaghilev to compose something for his ballet troupe, then I agree that “unsuccessful” is a somewhat misplaced epitaph (although it is worth bearing in mind that Diaghilev was broke most of the time and often couldn’t pay his dancers and composers…)

      But apparently, he is not performed very often these days. Maybe he needs to be discovered again?

    • buxtahude says:

      This was the same Nabokov who humiliated Shostakovich at a 1949 press conference in New York by asking questions which could not be answered truthfully — the composer was for the second time, at least, on less than thin ice and Stalin in a highly dangerous mood vis-a-vis soviet art and artists.

      Nor, by this time, did the American public need such help as Nabokov’s for sensing what was going on.

      Once question had been whether S approved of his government’s denunciation of Stravinsky, who S personally greatly admired. The eventual meeting of the two was not a success; Stravinsky did not trifle to distinguish much the regime from artists who’d chosen to remain under it nor — if I remember — admit any difference between Stalin and Hitler. For Shostakovich of course the patriotic response had been of the highest importance.