Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Igor Stravinsky, Isaiah Berlin and the Scraper

The Observer Newspaper has for some time been showcasing the work of the acclaimed photographer Jane Bown. Last Sunday's portrait was of the famous philosopher and academic Sir Isaiah Berlin, who was on the Board of Directors at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, during the 1980s.

Seeing the photograph, the Scraper was reminded of the following story:-

Sir Isaiah Berlin

Members of the Orchestra had been invited to a reception in the Crush Bar at the Opera House, where the Scraper and a colleague were engaged in conversation by Sir Isaiah. The name Stravinsky came up and prompted the great man to recall the occasion, some twenty years earlier, when the 50th anniversary of the first performance of the Rite Of Spring, in Paris in 1913, was being celebrated at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Pierre Monteux had conducted the premiere and his services had been secured to conduct the anniversary concert.

Stravinsky, who had never admired Monteux, was invited to the celebration.

Igor Stravinsky

Stravinsky accepted. He had no intention of attending the actual performance but he was willing to take a bow afterwards.

He therefore contacted his old friend, Sir Isaiah, and asked him to obtain six tickets for that night's performance, at the Royal Opera House of 'The Marriage of Figaro', which customarily had three intervals. Stravinsky planned to leave during the third interval, jump into a waiting taxi and reach the Albert Hall just in time to take the applause.

Unfortunately, this particular production provided for no more than a quick scene change before the last act, and when Stravinsky and his party rose to leave, the usherette rushed up and whispered urgently, " Sir, there is no interval, you cannot leave your seats".

Stravinsky, undeterred, continued the exodus and, from his great height, looked down on the unfortunate usherette, and said loudly, " We all have diarrhoea, we are leaving!"


  1. I love your tales. you find some very interesting and funny ones to pass along. I enjoy so much the interesting ones funny or somber. You are a very interesting person, Friko.

  2. Oh WOW, this is a great post & you have the most gorgeous site here. I had to stop by to leave this comment for you – and to say hello of course ! Your posts are creative and original and you have interesting pictures. It's all perfect ! Thank you for sharing your site and best wishes....

  3. I so enjoyed the story you posted about Stranvinsky. It was brilliant! I love his music and this summer in Portugal I had dinner with some friends who showed us a black and white photograph of Stravinsky's coat hanging on a hook. The photo was taken by this American friend when Stravinsky lived in Los Angeles. I liked so much looking at the photograph, imagine how much I enjoyed your story!

  4. Yikes! That man had nerve!........but how many times have any of us wished to get up and leave a boring/bad performance and stayed put out of good manners. I guess a genius doesn't worry about such things.
    Another great story.

  5. Stored away for future reference!

  6. Great story. Once I actually was stricken with diarrhoea at the opera, and held on for a miserable half hour until I could leave at the interval. I wonder whether Stravinsky ever really had this problem, so that it came to mind so readily.

  7. Fantastic! Like Chris I might even use this one, preferably in a different venue to Chris, don't want to look suspicious.

  8. Another excellent tale from The Scraper. Wonderful tonic.

  9. hi friko, it's always refreshing to read or hear a story about an icon who through some situation in their life is revealed as the warm, breathing, human that they actually are. lovely story. thanks. steven

  10. I can't imagine choosing the Marriage of Figaro over the Rite of Spring! (Well, I guess he didn't like Monteux.) It does sound like the Scraper has had a very interesting life and must have many life stories to share! As an aside, I read Ravel's biography, and when he attended performances of his work, he had to be taught how to stand and grasp his hands over his head in acknowledgement!

  11. I guess even the famous are human. Thanks for this very enjoyable post.

    CJ xx

  12. Bonnie - Thanks, Bonnie.

    Lucy - Thanks, Lucy.

    Elise - Thanks very much; this is the second time you've visited when I've mentioned the Opera and/or Ballet. Is there a Cuttings service?

    Celeste Maia - Thanks Celeste Maia. did your friends take the photo of the coat? How very polite, not taking a photo - surreptitiously - of the man himself.

    Pondside - Maybe a genius is forgiven more easily than the rest of us. Besides, he really had to get to the Albert Hall.

    ChrisH - what, the anecdote or the excuse for leaving?

    20thC woman - Now that is something Berlin didn't say.

    elizabethm - ah, your use will be as an excuse.

    Martin H - Thanks Martin

    Steven - humanity is the one thing that connects us all.

    Margaret - Hm, I love opera, so I would find the choice difficult.

    Crystal Jigsaw - They sure are, thank you.

  13. Splendid. There's no reply to that, is there?

  14. So funny. Can visualise it all. You are full of such wonderful information and stories!

  15. Maybe he learned his bad behavior from the crowd at the premiere.

  16. I think it took a lot of gall to say six people all had diarrhea. Only the rich and famous would get away with that.

    This was a very funny anecdote, Friko. Thanks so much for the research and the laugh.

  17. Hi Friko....yet another great story...but also an interesting link to Jane Brown's photography:
    Thanks for that - it's worth a look.

  18. The usher's reply would surely have been, "Well, then, you better run."

    Great post, Friko.

  19. One womders what the scatological Mozart would have made of it! Lovely story.

  20. Dave King - Not really.

    Celtic Heart - Thank you very much for that.

    Mark Kerstetter - Ah, you are the first to point that out.

    Darlene -- Thanks Darlene and I agree; we ordinary mortals wouldn't be able to do that.

    Jay Diamond - Thanks Jay, and thanks for the link.

    Lydia - Quite, but would she have had the nerve?

    Fennie - something very rude.


Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.