The Stravinsky Years

Chronology Part 4:
1962: The Great Year


In 1962, much of the world celebrated the eightieth birthday of Igor Stravinsky. At the start of the new year of 1962, Stravinsky finished composing “Anthem—The Dove Descending Breaks the Air,” a four-part, twelve-tone motet for a capella choir, based on Section IV of the Little Giddings portion of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Four Quartets.” Stravinsky's composition uses two stanzas of the much longer poem.

Stravinsky contacted Lawrence Morton of the Monday Evening Concerts about premiering the composition. The Gregg Smith Singers was contacted shortly after that, in January of 1962, with a view to performing the new piece.

Igor Stravinsky's “Anthem—The Dove Descending Breaks the Air” was premiered on February, 19, 1962 at the Monday Evening Concert series by the Gregg Smith Singers. This was the first new work by Stravinsky to be premiered by GSS.

“Anthem—The Dove Descending Breaks the Air” was recorded by the Toronto Festival Singers in Toronto Canada on April 29, 1962, with Stravinsky conducting.

During 1962, CBS began recording a work for which they had commissioned Stravinsky. It was to be a special telecast. The piece, entitled “Noah and the Flood,” was to be broadcast nationally by CBS; it was subsequently entitled “The Flood” by Stravinsky for later, non-televised performances. This was Stravinsky’s first (and only) composition for the “television medium,” according to Stravinsky.

CBS both audio recorded and created the broadcast tape of “Noah and the Flood” in late March 1962 at the CBS TV studios in West Hollywood with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. The Gregg Smith Singers audio-recorded the choral sections at that time.

Soloists included: John Reardon (baritone) and Robert Oliver (bass) as the joint voice of God and Richard Robinson (tenor) as the voice of Satan. Lawrence Harvey narrated. Other spoken vocals included: Sebastian Cabot as the voice of Noah, Elsa Lanchester as the voice of Mrs. Noah, and Paul Tripp as the “Animal Caller.”

There was also a brief film clip on the broadcast of Igor Stravinsky speaking about the creation of “Noah and the Flood.” Stravinsky was not in the United States when the production was broadcast.

The length of the full score was twenty-four minutes, and the text was taken from the book of Genesis and the York and Chester mystery plays. Interestingly, Benjamin Britten also used the Chester mystery plays as a basis for his 1957 version, entitled “Noye's Fludde,” but his composition is geared to feature children as the main performers, and Stravinsky's composition is serial in form and was created to blend soloists, spoken verse, chorus, orchestra and choreography.

The choreography was created by George Balanchine. Principal dancers were from the New York City Ballet, and included: Jacques d'Amboise, who played both Adam and Lucifer, Jillana, who played Eve, Edward Villella (Satan), Ramon Segarra (Noah) and Joysanne Sidimus (Mrs. Noah).

The set design and dancers' costumes for the television broadcast were created by Rouben Ter-Arutunian.

CBS telecast “Noah and the Flood” on June 14, 1962. While the piece is only 24 minutes long, its run-time is listed at 55 minutes. The production was only broadcast at the original time of release and has never been subsequently re-released. One element that may have contributed to its being not as well received as other Stravinsky premieres was the fact that “Noah and the Flood” was broadcast with commercial interruptions.

“The Flood” has since been performed, however, including August 20 (1962) of the same year with the Santa Fe Opera, with Robert Craft conducting. A later stage adaption was created by Balanchine for the New York City Ballet in 1982. Though the broadcast was never re-released, the audio recording of “Noah and the Flood” was released by Columbia Masterworks, entitled “The Flood.” The audio recording includes the choral sections by the Gregg Smith Singers.