11 Dec 2016

Interrupted Cadences - Stravinsky and the Spanish 'flu

From The Sunday Feature, 2:00 pm on 11 December 2016
Igor Stravinsky portrait

Igor Stravinsky portrait Photo: Jacques-Emile Blanche, Public Domain

The first wave of Spanish 'flu struck in March 1918, in American army camps.

While the numbers catching the disease seemed unusually high, the mortality levels were not a matter of real concern, and no one took a great deal of notice, even when it spread to Europe and then to Africa and Asia. There were other matters to be concerned about in this, the fifth and most critical year of the First World War.

But in early September the virus seems to have mutated into something much more dangerous, and a new version of it broke out in three widely spaced cities – Brest in north-west France, Boston on the eastern seaboard of the USA and Freetown in West Africa.

With extraordinary speed the newly mutated virus became an epidemic, and then a pandemic, reaching out across the world. In terms of mortality, this second wave of Spanish 'flu was the most devastating outbreak of disease in recorded history.

One of the many millions of people who caught it was a thirty-six year-old Russian composer named Igor Stravinsky.

John Drummond explores critical moments in the history of Western music when things might well have turned out differently.

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