It was on this day in 1882 that the Russian Composer Igor Stravinsky was born.
The composer was a man whose tastes must have been eclectic, for I remember hearing an anecdote about an encounter between Stravinsky, who would probably have been seventy at the time, and the jazz musician Charlie Parker, thirty-eight years his junior.
Stravinsky and a group of friends had gone to a club where Parker and his band were playing and had taken a table in front of the stage. The band had come out for their performance and Red Rodney the trumpeter had spotted the group, “Stravinsky’s sat in the middle of the front row”, he whispered to Charlie Parker.
Parker stared into the middle distance and began the opening piece, interpolating the opening of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The composer had been so delighted that he had raised his glass with such ferocity that those behind had been showered with ice and liquor.
It was one of those delightful stories that suggested true genius brought with it a true humanity: Parker being mischievous in pretending a world famous figure was not sat in front of him; Stravinsky making no attempt to conceal his childlike delight at Parker’s tribute to him.
Hearing the anecdote recalled a story about Sir Thomas Beecham, where the world renowned composer was rushing across a hotel foyer when he met a woman he felt he should have recognized, he bade the lady a good day and went to get into the lift. As he was stepping through the lift door, he remembered the woman had a brother, so he leaned out of the lift and said, “By the way, what is your brother doing these days?”
“Oh,” said the woman, “he’s still the king.”
True genius comes with a true humility, people so caught up with their field of expertise that they do not worry about trivial priorities of the materialistic world. The photographs of Albert Einstein illustrate how a true genius displays an indifference to the sort of values now regarded as important.
Had Charlie Parker and Igor Stravinsky behaved as some of the celebrities in our time, they would have been on stage together, stroking the ego of each other. They would have engaged public relations companies and held press conferences and had followers on social media. Except neither of them would have done so, true genius doesn’t need to prove itself.