I knew that Stravinsky was in Spain in 1916 (a lot of Spanish people does’t even seem to know this), I knew it was with the Ballet Russes, but I didn’t know anything else about it. But now I read about it, as I’m in the process of reading Stravinsky’s autobiography, which I ordered via AbeBooks (along with 26 other books, as a Christmas/Three Kings present to myself), and I’d like to share with you the passages where he describes his impressions of what I nowadays call my country:
I awaited Diaghileff’s return from America with impatience and excitement. He sent me word in March of his arrival in Spain, and I at once took the train to join him. He told me of the terrible fears which he had experienced in crossing by an Italian ship, laden with munitions of war, which had constantly had to change its course by reason of warnings of submarines. They even had a rehearsal of an alarm, and I still possess a photograph which Diaghileff gave me in which he is wearing his lifesaving apparatus.
It was my first visit to Spain, and I was struck by much that I saw directly I crossed the frontier. First there was the change in railway gauge, exactly as in Russia. I expected to find different weights and measures; but, not at all! Although the railways were different, the metric system prevailed as in the greater part of the globe. At the very boundary the smell of frying oil became perceptible. When I reached Madrid at nine o’clock in the morning I found the whole town still fast asleep, and I was received at my hotel by the night watchman with lantern in hand. Yet it was spring. The people rose late, and life was in full swing after midnight. At a fixed hour every day I heard from my room the distant sound of a banda playing a passodoble, and military exercises always apparently ended with that sort of music. All the little characteristics of the Spaniards’ daily life pleased me immensely, and I experienced and savoured them with great gusto. They struck me as marking a vivid change from the monotony of the impressions generally received in passing from one European country to another, for the countries of Europe differ far less among themselves than all of them together do from this land on the edge of our continent, where already one is in touch with Africa.
[…] I must record the tremendous impressions made on my by Toledo and the Escorial. My two short excursions to them showed me a Spain for which I should have searched in vain in historic treatises. My glimpses of these two places evoked in me visions not so much of the horrors on the Inquisition or the cruelties of the days of tyranny as a revelation of the profoundly religious temperament of the people and the mystic fervor of their Catholicism, so closely akin in its essentials to the religious feeling and spirit of Russia. I especially noticed the difference which exist between the Catholicism of Spain and that of Rome, which impresses all observers by the impassive grandeur of its authority. I found a logical explanation of that difference in the consideration that the Chatholicism of Rome, as the Metropolis and center of Western Christianity, must necessarily wear a more austere and immutable aspect than the Catholicism of the outlying countries.