Robert Lawson Craft is an American conductor, noted for his association with Igor Stravinsky and his championing of the music of Anton Webern and other composers of the Second Viennese School.
Craft had a middle-class upbringing in upstate New York. After service as an Army medic during World War II, he studied at Juilliard and Berkshire Music Center and privately with Pierre Monteux. From 1947 to 1950 he conducted the Chamber Arts Society of New York, attracting attention for his adventurous programming.
His conducting led to a meeting with the 65-year-old Igor Stravinsky, who hired him as musical assistant and secretary. Moving to Stravinsky's home in Los Angeles, Craft assisted him with the English text of the opera The Rake's Progress. Craft also conducted two concert series in Los Angeles, the Evenings-on-the-Roof and its successor, the Monday Evening Concerts. Again, he scheduled music of Schoenberg, Webern, Varèse, late Stravinsky, and older music such as that of Gesualdo.
After the premiere of The Rake in 1951, Stravinsky found himself creatively blocked, but also unexpectedly stimulated by hearing Craft's performance of Schoenberg's Septet. The Russian master (generally considered the greatest rival of Schoenberg and his school) now asked Craft to provide some Schoenberg and Webern scores for study. Craft also gave Stravinsky Ernst Krenek's invaluable teaching books on the twelve-tone system. Over the next few years Stravinsky startled the musical world by embracing Schoenberg's system. Craft's position with Stravinsky altered from assistant to collaborator. The composer welcomed Craft's suggestions and advice even to the shaping of some of his late works. Craft also began rehearsing orchestras for Stravinsky to conduct in concert and for a great series of recordings for Columbia Records, making both endeavors possible.
In connection with the composer's 75th birthday, Craft suggested that he and Stravinsky prepare a written interview dealing with the most frequently asked questions and release it to the press rather than subject the old man to long, repetitive personal interviews. This format proved so successful that Craft and Stravinsky co-wrote several volumes of Stravinsky's memoirs and thoughts on music. After Stravinsky's death, Craft continued to edit Stravinsky documentation and write his own memories of life with Stravinsky.
Craft has pursued his own career as a lecturer, conductor, writer, and musicologist. While recording the Columbia Stravinsky cycle, he used odd moments available during studio sessions to produce the first integral recordings of the complete numbered works of Anton Webern. The turn of the 21st century found him recording the works of Stravinsky and of Schoenberg for Koch International Classics, which were subsequently licensed for reissue on Naxos.
He is a highly skilled and precise conductor who could no doubt have established a career of higher profile if he were more interested in the standard repertory and if he had not devoted much of his time to Stravinsky, both during and after the master's life. But he has gone firmly on record as saying the opportunity to know and work with the great man was, without doubt on his part, fully worth the trade-off.