Composers Datebook®

Stravinsky and JFK

Composers Datebook - Jan. 18, 2024


On today’s date in 1962, President John F. Kennedy received two memos regarding a dinner party at the White House scheduled the following evening honoring composer Igor Stravinsky and his wife, Vera. The Kennedys were famous for inviting the finest artists and performers to the White House for special presentations. Mrs. Kennedy was a true arts maven, but JFK was not, and needed background information on figures like Stravinsky, which the first memo provided. The Kennedy’s social secretary even worked out secret signals and cues for the president when he attended White House recitals so he wouldn’t applaud at the wrong time.

The second memo informed JFK that after a photo shoot with the Stravinskys, they would join the others invited that evening for cocktails in the Blue Room. After dinner, the 80-year-old Stravinsky expressed his gratitude and told the press that the Kennedys were “nice kids.”

Four months after Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Stravinsky asked poet W.H. Auden for “a very quiet little lyric” that he might set to music in tribute to Kennedy’s memory. The resulting work, Elegy for JFK for medium voice and three clarinets, premiered in 1964.

Music Played in Today's Program

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) Three Movements, fr Petrouchka; Louis Lortie, piano Chandos 8733

On This Day


  • 1835 - Russian composer César Cui, in Vilnius, Lithuania (Julian date: Jan.6);

  • 1841 - French composer Emmanuel Chabrier, in Ambert, Puy-de-Dôme;

  • 1903 - German-born English composer and conductor Berthold Goldschmidt, in Hamburg;


  • 1908 - Delius: "Brigg Fair" in Liverpool;

  • 1930 - Shostakovich: opera "The Nose" (after Nikolai Gogol), in Leningrad at the Maliiy Opera Theater;

  • 1942 - Ibert: "Ouverture de fête" in Paris;

  • 1947 - Elie Siegmeister: "Prairie Legend," by the New York Philharmonic, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1963 - Harris: Symphony No. 9 ("1963"), by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1968 - Richard Rodney Bennett: Symphony No. 2 in New York City;

  • 1991 - David Ott: Symphony No. 2, by the Grand Rapids ( Michigan) Symphony, Catherine Comet conducting;


  • 1958 - "What Does Music Mean?", broadcast, the first of a series of televised New York Philharmonic "Young People's Concerts" on CBS-TV hosted by Leonard Bernstein; The series continued until 1972, with 53 different programs hosted by Bernstein;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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