An excerpt from

Sanctuary: A pictorial history of Dartington Summer School of Music

Harriet Cunningham

What is Dartington Hall?

First of all, it’s a place. The River Dart carries the rain, melted snow and spring water down from Dartmoor to its final destination, the English Channel, via Dartington, Staverton, Totnes and, eventually, Dartmouth. The Dartington Hall Estate is tucked into a series of bends in the river, its banks giving onto deep green water pastures fringed by willows and ash trees. The land rises steeply up from the river, and the clutch of buildings that make up Dartington Hall proper line the winding, precipitous road through the estate. Above the road is the Courtyard, a quadrangle of medieval stone buildings, beautifully restored by the owners since 1925, the Elmhirsts. At one end there is the gatehouse, a great stone tunnel into the courtyard. At the other is the Great Hall, with its clock tower and buttressed stone walls.

Beyond the Hall lies the private garden, and then, through another mighty stone wall, the landscape gives way to the Dartington Hall Gardens, created by Dorothy Elmhirst. The centrepiece is the Tiltyard, a sunken rectangular arena bounded by massive terraces. Along one side are twelve ancient yew trees; the twelve apostles, as they are known. Opposite, there used to be a magnificent cedar tree clinging precariously to the cliff face of one of the terraces, dominating the view. That tree fell in 2009, due to old age, but it’s still there in my memory.

Around the tiltyard the gardens continue to spread, in picturesque vistas: a stone pond with a sculpture of two swans, nested together; the glade, a marshy pond full of vibrant water flowers; the folly, a pseudo-Greek temple; the echo-point, the cascade steps. And everywhere mature trees, with trunks metres thick, trees that must have borne silent witness to centuries of change. It’s curious to think that this picturesque oasis has only really existed for 100 years. The river is timeless. The trees have been there forever, of course. And the Hall dates from the fourteenth-century. But the roads, the car park, the houses – they grew, like mushrooms, from 1925 onwards, as did the intricately designed anatomy – the paved walkways, the elegant steps, the secret sculptures -- of the gardens.

When Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst took ownership of the Dartington Hall Estate, it was a noble ruin. It was overgrown, frequently inundated, and the Banqueting Hall had no roof. Within ten years, its miraculous renaissance was in full swing.

By the time the Summer School of Music moved in, in 1953, the foundations were all there: besides the progressive school, the working farm, the rural industries and social structures, the Arts Department was well-established. In the Elmhirsts’ time-honoured fashion, this crucial aspect of the Dartington Hall Estate had bubbled up to the surface through a mixture of ideology and serendipity, fed by generous injections of cash. There was Dorothy’s passion for theatre, Leonard’s adventurous taste in painting and sculpture, and their mutual belief in the ennobling effects of the pursuit of art and artisanry. Then there was the wave of artists, architects, designers, dancers and musicians driven inexorably West from an increasingly hostile Europe. Some came to rest in South Devon. These fortunate ones included Kurt Jooss and his Ballet company, architect and designer Walter Gropius and Russian theatre director Michael Chekhov. This was twenty years before the Summer School arrived, but Michael Young’s description of 1930s is a lively evocation of the atmosphere which, for me, will always hang in the air like a mist of benign ghosts.

“For a few years the courtyard, itself a cross between a theatre and a Court, was teeming with young Germans, young Hollanders, young Americans. ...Robin Johnson, the Dartington archivist, remembers the whole courtyard abuzz with talk, people standing on the grass arguing or flirting, others hanging out of the windows of the students’ rooms. There were endless parties...”

The Second World War put a stop to the parties, but not to the Arts Department. It eventually became a fully-fledged education centre, with studios and practise rooms for dance, drama, music and visual arts. It was this purpose-built facility into which Glock’s Summer School moved, with grateful ease, in August 1953.

************

My earliest memories of Dartington Hall are coloured by childhood. Eating ice-cream sandwiches by the swimming pool at Aller Park; the broken concrete and patterns on the pavement outside the schoolhouse; the smooth wooden bannisters down the big staircase, with elegant little spikes every three steps, to discourage sliders; the tennis courts where I sat, hot, fat, bored and inconvenient, while my mother ran around like a young Diana, glowing in the admiring gaze of her opponent. My brother and I were often inconvenient in those early years.

We were usually billetted at Aller Park because it was the only accommodation with family rooms. Sometimes we were in the big house, and sometimes we were in one of the three flat-roofed, Bauhaus-inspired school blocks, Blacklers, Orchards and Chimmels.

I never appreciated then that they were designed by William Lescaze, Swiss-born US architect, who built one of New York’s first modernist skyscrapers. William Curry, headmaster of the progressive Dartington Hall School, had commissioned Lescaze to design him a residence near the senior school. The result -- High Cross House -- is a stunning example of 1930s modernism, a machine-for-living, a perfectly white, razor cut sculpture set in the spongy green hills. The bonus school buildlings, Blacklers, Orchards and Chimmels, were less luxurious than High Cross in their use of space, but had the same stark simplicity. Forty years on, I thought them hideously ugly. Flat roofs might be Lescaze’s signature style, but they did not fare well in a South Devon climate. The grass grew ever greener as the rain fell, but the walls faded to grey and, inside, bloomed with mould.

Ugliness aside, my brother and I were always beside ourselves with delight to arrive at Aller Park. It was our place. I’m sure there must have been adults around in those early days, but I don’t remember them. I just remember days exploring the woods behind the school – “Don’t go near the river!” – or climbing the rope rigging left in the trees by students. One year someone had managed to sling a rope over a high branch of one of the great trees in the woods. My brother and his chums discovered it on one of their sorties and persuaded me to come and see. It all felt very adventurous. Especially when my brother let go of the rope at the height of its arc, where the land fell away, and fell ten metres to the ground. Dense thicket broke his fall but he still howled all the way home.

Going up to the Hall was a double-edged treat. It meant seeing our parents – we must have been farmed out to friends or in the charge of au pairs – and, if we were lucky, there might be a sticky bun and a glass of cloyingly sweet orange juice. However, it was clear to me that my parents weren’t overly glad to see me. Once we had done with the cute-child-runs-round-in-the-courtyard-and-asks-amusingly-innocent-question-of-famous-European-conductor act we were hustled off to play in the gardens – to ride the Donkey, a bronze statue by Willi Soukop, or roll down the terraces. Or even better, we would be given 50p to go to the Shop, the Estate’s convenience store, which, aside from the usual shelves full of toilet paper and pasta, had a big glass case, divided up into compartments holding a grand range of penny chews. Oh, the pain of the decision! Rhubarb and Custards or Blackjacks? Or blow the whole lot on a Mars Bar?

After the visit to the shop, there was the trudge back to Aller Park, down the road regularly paved with cowpats as the Dartington herd were moved from one pasture to another. “Fresh country air!” as my father would say when we got that instantly familiar whiff of manure.

This was where I spent every summer of my life until the age of 25. An endless, magical summer.




Stravinsky's Lunch

[1]

 

When Igor Stravinsky came to Dartington in 1957 he was, for musicians, ranked somewhere between a rock star and a god. More palatable than the hardcore modernists, more intellectually rigorous than the pastoralists, more downright sexy than his owlishly experimental colleagues, Stravinsky was as close to being a celebrity as classical composers get.

By the 1950s Stravinsky was a naturalised American, living in Los Angeles with his second wife Vera. He fitted right in with the little colony of artists fleeing war-torn Europe, enjoying long lunches with Aldous Huxley, tea with Arnold Schoenberg and dinner with W H Auden. He also graciously assumed the role of living legend, with a string of disciples led by conductor and composer Robert Craft on hand to realise the untrammelled flow of musical invention.

William Glock, artistic director of Dartington Summer School and, by then, Controller of the BBC’s Radio 3, met with the Great Man in 1956 in London, where the Stravinsky entourage was attending performances of a new work, Canticum Sacrum. Amongst Glock’s many talents – he was a notable pianist and writer – was his ability to lunch well. He ran the International Music Association, a club for professional musicians, from a house in South Audley Street. It had an excellent restaurant, and Glock entertained the Stravinskys regularly.

“...we met many times for lunch or dinner at one place or another. Sometimes there were other guests, such as Jean-Louis Barrault or Pierre Boulez; at others we were alone. Altogether this visit in December 1956 left memories of a splendid concert, of conversations that blossomed to the accompaniment of Montrachet, Mission Haut Brion, and Chateau Latour 1944, of warmth and kindliness, of the promise that the Stravinskys and Robert Craft would come the following year to Dartington...”[2]

Glock was already a trusted champion of Stravinsky. At some of his earliest programs, (when the Summer School was still at Bryanston) he served up, alongside the grim post-war cuisine, lashings of Stravinsky including, in 1950, three performances of the spiky Dumbarton Oaks. Just to get people’s ears used to it.

By 1957 the music of Stravinsky was a given at the Summer School, but the presence of the man himself was something altogether more extraordinary. The idea of the infamous Russian iconoclast, immortalised by Picasso, fabled lover of Coco Chanel, whose music could induce riots, coming to the rolling green hills of deepest South Devon, was almost inconceivable.

The correspondence between Glock and Peter Cox, head of the College of Arts at Dartington, documents the nervous anticipation of the Stravinskys’ visit:

As the last sentence reveals, it was far from certain that the Stravinskys would actually make an appearance at this point, despite the advanced state of planning of the Summer School program. At one point Peter Cox asks whether it can be announced in the pre-publicity, but Glock is cautious.

“I would rather not put anything in print about their stay at Dartington. On the other hand, do please spread the news by word of mouth on every possible occasion. They will be arriving on August 7th or 8th.”

The problem of accommodation is the subject of much correspondence between Cox and Glock. Aller Park, the old schoolhouse, will not do. Nor will anywhere in the local town of Totnes, because the conductor Robert Craft, who will be staying with them, must be close enough for daily rehearsals. The problem is finally resolved in July: the Stravinsky party will stay in a house on the Dartington Hall Estate, next door to where Peter Cox and his family live. The owners of the house, Mr and Mrs Nightingale, will move to Aller Park for the duration of the Stravinskys’ stay.

Cox is anxious for everything to be just so for the great man. He writes:

“I have had a long session with Mrs Nightingale and have been carefully over the house. She is being very helpful and I have no doubt that we can bring the house up to a reasonable standard...

“There are two items which are a problem. The first is bed linen. We can lend from the Arts Centre but it seems we shall be very short there and in any case the sheets belong to the grade of ‘institutional cotton’.”

The great Stravinsky, sleeping between scratchy boarding school sheets? Unthinkable. Dartington could not provide linen of the sophistication suited to an internationally renowned composer, so Cox advised bringing sheets from London. Likewise, wine.

“I could let the Stravinskys have two/three bottles of a reasonable claret from Averys (value about 8/- to 9/- a bottle) but if you want something very much more expensive it would be best for you to bring it from London or order it in advance from Bentall Lloyd’s catalogue...”

Cox also explained how he was finding ‘certain bits of furniture and carpet’ to supplement the existing furniture, and how he hoped an English upright piano would do, rather than a Steinway.

What his letter doesn’t say is that the weekend before Stravinsky’s arrival, Cox and his pregnant wife, Bobbie, repaint the Nightingale’s house themselves, with the help of one of the Estate handymen. Peter Cox also arranges for Judith Sutherland, “a woman of infinite tact and charm”[3], to act as their housekeeper.

The Stravinskys travel from America by boat, arriving at Plymouth, where they are met by Peter Cox and the Elmhirst’s chauffeur, Dick Rushton. According to Cox, the 75-year-old Stravinsky takes charge of the luggage, carefully counting 22 pieces into the car. On their arrival, however, there are only 21 pieces. Stravinsky’s briefcase is missing. Dick Rushton is sent back to Plymouth. The briefcase is found, sitting on the harbour wall. [4]

The Stravinsky party consists of Igor, his second wife Vera, and his ubiquitous assistant and agent musicale, the conductor and musicologist Robert Craft.

A series of photos taken by Catharine Scudamore, a regular Summer School attendee, capture the Stravinsky party at work and play. First, a picture of Robert Craft in the courtyard. He stands tall, feet together, fastidiously dressed in a suit with an open-necked shirt and neckscarf. His arms are clasped in front on him, holding a score, and he eyes up the camera with a look that is not quite hostile, but not quite welcoming.

(Craft and Stravinsky first met in 1947 when Craft, still a student at Juilliard School of Music in New York, wrote to the composer inquiring about hiring parts for a performance of his 19xx Symphony of Winds. For some reason, which even Craft seems unable to explain, Stravinsky wrote back offering to come and conduct the work himself, and from that moment on he and Craft were inseparable.)

Catherine Scudamore catches Stravinsky several times in the courtyard, at leisure as it were, but never in a crowd. William Glock and his wife Anne can stand by and chat, as can a dour-looking Elizabeth Lutyens (one of England’s most uncompromisingly modernist composers at the time) and her husband, the distinguished conductor, friend and champion of Stravinsky, Edward Clark. But these are all candid shots, snatched without the subjects acknowledging the camera. In the only full frontal shot Mr and Mrs Stravinsky are captured on the lawn in front of the steps to the Great Hall. Vera Stravinsky (or ‘Madame’, as she preferred to be known) models a long coat and hat, accessorised with a frilly parasol, and smiles girlishly at the camera, but her husband, six inches shorter, stands with his arms folded across his chest – just like Craft -- his face like stone, tolerating the attention. It’s neither a grin nor a grimace. A grinnace, perhaps.

­

The program of events while the Stravinskys were ‘in residence’ focused mostly, but not exclusively, on his music. There were three all-Stravinsky chamber music concerts and a semi-staged performance of his proto-music-theatre piece, The Soldier’s Tale. Robert Craft also coached and conducted the Summer School Choir, an enthusiastic bunch of all-comers, teaching them Stravinsky’s Cantata.

Stravinsky did not teach, perform or lecture as such. He did, however, attend all the rehearsals and performances, hovering over his scores, listening with intent, shadow conducting the music. An eminence grise.

Another series of photos -- Scudamore again -- shows Stravinsky and Craft in rehearsal. We’re in the Great Hall, and it’s an action shot, the small ensemble blurred with movement as the black clad Craft conducts Three Japanese Songs. Stravinsky, is standing, bent over a score, obviously intent on the notes coming off the stage. In the next shot he’s on the move, heading for the soloist, Alice Bodjhalian, who is looking very un-diva-like in a woolly cardigan and stout shoes. Stravinsky is addressing some comments to her. She cocks her head attentively, while the first violin flicks back through his music. Then in the next picture Stravinsky is returning to his chair, and we see his buttoned-up grey suit and tie, with a white handkerchief spilling out of his breastpocket, and the dome of his cranium shining in the light. Finally, he’s back in his front row seat, head down, bent over the score as the rehearsal continues.

Three Japanese Songs is a miniature, written in 1912, a setting of poems from an anthology of Japanese poetry translated into Russian. The young Stravinsky was in Paris at the time of writing, working with Diaghilev on a series of ballets including his riotous The Rite of Spring. These three songs also talk about the transformative arrival of spring, but the brutish glare of the Rite is absent. This is delicate brush-painting, with each gesture carefully chosen and placed to make a spare composition. The composer says of the poems that inspired his music:

"The impression which they made on me was exactly like that made by Japanese paintings and engravings. The graphic solution of problems of perspective and space shown by their art incited me to find something analogous in music."

The two all-Stravinsky programs that week covered a lot of ground: there was Two Balmont Songs from the same year, the Concertino for string quartet (1920) the Concerto for two pianos (1932), and the Cantata and Septet, written in 1951 and ’52 respectively. So, music from a radical Russian emigre in turn-of-the-century Paris; from a struggling artist in living in Lausanne with his young family; from a successful businessman who flitted between his family in Nice and his lover in Paris; and then from a widowed, remarried, re-moved Franco-Swiss-Russian naturalised American citizen and resident of West Hollywood.

Stravinsky is hardly the first person to reinvent themselves over a long life, particularly a life lived across two world wars. Nevertheless, to see so many selves unfold in music over the course of an evening, and all in the presence of that small, immaculately presented 75 year old, must have been enlightening, not least because of the dramatic, self-imposed changes in artistic direction.

Many musicologists have analysed his stylistic developments (and with far more detail and rigour than I can) but Hans Keller, music guru and Dartington habituel, describes what feels to me like a key to this protean, yet instantly recognisable voice:

“...long before Wilde said ‘each man kills the thing he loves’ many a distinguished cannibal made a meal of his love-objects, and Stravinsky was the most distinguished cannibal of them all.”[5]

Is Keller saying that Stravinsky is – horrors – derivative or unoriginal? Absolutely not. But a musical magpie who could dispassionately pick over a dead thing and turn it into something strange and new? Perhaps yes. After all, as one of Stravinsky’s Parisian drinking companions said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky were both undoubtably great, and undoubtably great thieves.

Stravinsky, however, as Keller observes, prefers a corpse to a living victim. Or if not entirely dead, he looks to objects frozen in time, like a Japanese drawing, or the lithographs of Hogarth (in The Rake’s Progress) or Latin, the language of Classical Rome in Oedipus Rex, a language, in Stravinsky’s words, "not dead but turned to stone.” "[6] If the things that catch his eye (or ear, or imagination) are still growing, mutating, developing, he bides his time. When they stop moving, he pounces.

By the time Stravinsky came to Dartington in 1957, Arnold Schoenberg -- the supremely influential composer who unleashed atonality on the world through his experiments with ‘Serialism’– had been dead for five years. Long enough, in fact, to become of interest. Stravinsky’s Cantata introduced serial techniques and Threni, his longest entirely dodecaphonic work, was begun that very summer. Dartington Summer School archivist Jeremy Wilson suggests that Stravinsky might have made his first jottings for Threni after cream teas and Beaujolais in the little house at the end of Warren Lane in Dartington. (Robert Craft claims otherwise, saying it was begun two weeks later, on the piano of the nightclub in the hotel where they were staying in Venice...) Either way, even as Stravinsky enjoyed the verdant tapestry of the Devonshire landscape and sat in the Great Hall listening, intently, to the vibrant products of his imagination over a forty year career, he was re-inventing, de-inventing, re-composing himself.

At the second all-Stravinsky concert that week, the Summer School Ensemble, a professional scratch band, played Dumbarton Oaks not once but twice, at the beginning and end of the program, as part of William Glock’s conscious efforts to acclimatize his audiences to unfamiliar sounds. The Dartington audience, for the main part, lapped it up: it was something of a mark of honour to be able to sit through cutting edge cacophonies, and then to gush about them enthusiastically over one’s cool tea or warm beer afterwards. Glock even trusted the Summer School Choir to sing Stravinsky’s Cantata. As John Amis, the administrator, reports in his memoir, Robert Craft was genial and encouraging to the amateurs, but bit his lips throughout the performance.

The other major Stravinsky event was a semi-staged performance of The Soldier’s Tale, the 1920s proto-music theatre work described by the composer as “à lué, joueé et danser” – “to be read, played and danced.” The Soldier’s Tale is an acerbic take on a Russian folktale about a deserter who makes a deal with the devil – sort of Faust meets Rip Van Winkle meets The Red Shoes. In it a fiddle-playing soldier comes across a stranger who asks for his violin in exchange for a magical book which answers all questions in the world. The stranger is, of course, the devil, and the price the soldier pays is that when he arrives home, three days after his encounter, he is greeted with fear. It turns out thirty years have gone by, his mother is dead and his fiancee is an old woman. Eventually, the soldier wins back his fiddle at a game of cards, and then defeats the devil by making him dance to death. Until, that is, the devil comes back to life...

It’s a cracking story, but the music, with its funky, jazzy polyrhythms, and the juxtaposition of raucous outbursts and seductive songs, makes it thrillingly unpredictable -- an object lesson in how to write suspense in music. No wonder, then, that it has been performed and recorded many times, including versions involving Gerard Depardieu, Sir Ian McKellen, Frank Zappa and Sting.

The Soldiers Tale had its first performance in Britain in 1927, but thirty years later it still sounded ‘new’ to 14 year old music student Clare Addenbrooke.

“I didn’t know much about Stravinsky but I knew he was very important. I remember The Soldier’s Tale with Robert Craft conducting. The music has been imprinted on my mind completely. It made a big impression on me. I remember the violinist coming to the theatre and asking us our permission to use the dressing room, [where the students were sleeping] and practising away like mad. What difficult parts they were! In those days it was actually still quite new music.”[7]

One of the great thrills of Dartington was the sheer proximity of all this real live talent. Indeed, it was one of the core premises of the Summer School: performers, composers, artists, students and audience members all living together, existing in the same place, rather than on opposite sides of the imaginary screen between stage and seats. Of course, most of the students ended up in humble dwellings, such as the boarding school cells of Foxhole, or the dank cubicles at Aller Park. But even if you were sleeping in the attic, you could still have tea on the lawn with the great and good, still sit on the grass in front of the grand entrance to the hall and listen to the gods within rehearsing.

Except in the case of Igor Stravinsky. One of the earliest directives – via Robert Craft – was ‘a car, an excellent supply of Bordeaux, and freedom from stargazers.’ So no chatting over breakfast in the dining hall, no cosy drinks at the bar. The Stravinsky party, according to housekeeper Judith Sutherland, spent free nights at their digs, drinking wine and playing multi-lingual Scrabble.

John Amis, the Summer School administrator, writes about the tense stand-off between Stravinsky and his eager public.

“Eye-gore (as Nadia Boulanger inexplicably called him) came to rehearsals in his beret, dodged autrograph-hunters and would come after concerts for a drink with just a few of us. These were days before the conversation books were published and we were all hungry for anecdotes. After one story, perhaps two, Vera (who no doubt knew them all by heart) would say: ‘Igor, to bed,’ and, cursing her, we had to let them go.”

The mystique was preserved.

Writing in his autobiography, William Glock talks enthusiastically about the visit. After the tense prequel revealed by the letters between him and Peter Cox, his memories of the actual visit are of an idyllic week blessed by this rare, royal visitation.

“There is no doubt that his presence at Dartington made a deep impact. Many distinguished musicians came to meet him and pay homage and the air was keener and more vibrant.”

He even imagines Stravinsky developing a fondness for Dartington. “I think for some time he treasured the idea of buying a house there,” says Glock. Whether that thought was real, or just a fond imagining of a starstruck host, is impossibly to know. It was certainly never to be. At the end of the week the Stravinsky party left, at speed, for the next engagement in a busy tour of Europe.

Peter Cox recounts their exit in his memoir.

“Bobbie [Cox’s wife] had been fetched to say goodbye. Seeing her coming, Stravinsky jumped out of the Rolls, seized off Madame’s lap the huge and enormously expensive cellophaned-covered bouquet of flowers which had been presented to him the night before after the performance of The Soldier’s Tale, and presented it to Bobbie. Madame was furious and Bobbie, highly embarrassed, tried to refuse it but clearly failing, said at least he must have one flower for his buttonhole. However, the cellophane would not tear. Stravinsky, becoming impatient, seized back the bouquet, bit the cellophane open and returned the bouquet to Bobbie who picked one flower out of this magnificent bunch and put it in his buttonhole. He climbed back into the Rolls which went off immediately, with Madame scowling.”[8]

They left little behind them nothing but a couple of broken glasses, a large grocery bill and a warm afterglow, but the Summer School of 1957 will always be celebrated as the time Stravinsky came to Dartington.

 

[1] Excerpt from final account for the Stravinsky’s stay (Dartington Summer School Archive)

[2] Glock, William, Notes in Advance: an Autobiography in Music, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) p.74

[3] Glock, William, ibid. p 75

[4] Jeremy Wilson, Dartington Archives

[5] Hans Keller / Milein Cosman, Stravinsky, the Music Maker, Writings, prints and drawings

[6] Brown, Frederick, An Impersonation of Angels: A Biography of Jean Cocteau New York: Viking Press, 1968

[7] Interview: Clare Addenbrooke-Brittain

[8] Cox, Peter: The Arts at Dartington: 1940-1983, (Dartington: Peter Cox, 2005) pp. 94-95