Robert Simpson’s Penguin Guide to 20th century Symphonies, which I devoured as a teenager, did not include the two mid-career symphonies by Stravinsky. They did not satisfy Simpson’s definition of symphonic criteria. Of course, they truly are symphonies – even if Stravinsky’s musical processes do not work along the lines of development demanded by Simpson (himself a famous symphonist).


Stravinsky’s music never expressed private feelings or personal references, as Shostakovich’s does. The neoclassical Symphony in C, written at the outbreak of war in 1938-40 at a time when the composer lost his wife and daughter to tuberculosis, is basically cerebral, despite containing moments of pure beauty. The one and only time Stravinsky referred to extramusical connections was in regard to his “war” Symphony in Three Movements, the first major work he composed after his evacuation to the USA. It was written between 1942 and 1945, and despite its coherence, uses material from rejected or unfinished works. The piano part in the first movement comes from an incomplete piano concerto; the music of the slow movement from an aborted Hollywood film score for The Song of Bernadette