Igor Stravinsky

(5 June/17 June -New Style 1882, Oranienbaum - 6 April 1971, New York)


Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was a Russian-born (later, a naturalized French and American) composer, pianist and conductor. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, his music had a revolutionary impact on musical thought and sensibility. He was born in a family with musical background, his father was a bass singer at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. As a boy he was given lessons in piano and music theory.

Despite having received musical training no more than that of any other Russian upper-class child, by the age of 15, he had mastered Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G minor and finished a piano reduction of a string quartet by Glazunov, who reportedly considered Stravinsky unmusical, and thought little of his skills. Like in many cases, although he was enthusiastic about music, his parents wanted him to study law. He enrolled at the University of Saint Petersburg in 1901 where he studied law and philosophy, graduating in 1905.

In this period, although enrolled as a law student, he became more and more interested in music. He was guided by the composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and after he finished his law studies, Stravinsky took twice-weekly private lessons from Nikolai, whom he came to regard as a second father. These lessons continued until Rimsky-Korsakov's death in 1908. Rimsky-Korsakov tutored Stravinsky mainly in orchestration and acted as the budding composer’s mentor, discussing each new work and offering suggestions. He also used his influence to get his pupil’s music performed. 

In February 1909, two orchestral works, the Scherzo fantastique and Feu d'artifice (Fireworks) were performed at a concert in Saint Petersburg, where they were heard by Sergei Diaghilev, who was at that time involved in planning to present Russian opera and ballet in Paris. Impressed by Stravinsky's music, Diaghilev quickly commissioned some orchestral arrangements for the summer season of his Ballets Russes in Paris and then a full-lenght ballet score, The Firebird. This work enjoyed great success at its premiere at the Paris Opéra on 25 June 1910, and quickly established Stravinsky as one of the most gifted of the younger generation of composers.

Over the next four years, Stravinsky composed two further works of the Ballets Russes: Petrushka (premiered on June 13, 1911, with Vaslav Nijinsky dancing the title role to Stravinsky’s musical score) and Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring; 1911-1913), intended as a kind of symphonic pagan ritual to be called Great Sacrifice. Its first performance at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées on May 29, 1913, provoked one of the more famous first-night riots in the history of musical theater. This highly original composition, with its shifting and audacious rhythms and its unresolved dissonances, was an early modernist landmark.

On 28 March 1914, Stravinsky completed his first opera The Nightingale (Le Rossignol), which he had begun in 1908. Due to the bankruptcy of Moscow Free Theater, this work was premiered under Diaghilev's auspices at the Paris Opéra on 26 May 1914. Le Rossignol enjoyed moderate success with the public and critics because it failed to meet their expectations of the composer of The Rite of Spring. However, composers including Maurice Ravel, Béla Bartók, and Reynaldo Hahn found much to admire in the score's craftsmanship, even alleging to detect the influence of Arnold Schoenberg.

In the following years his musical production is dominated by sets of short instrumental and vocal pieces, variously based on Russian folk texts, ragtime, and other style models from Western popular or dance music. Some of these ideas were expanded into large scale pieces. The Wedding, a ballet cantata begun by Stravinsky in 1914 but completed only in 1923 after years of uncertainty over its instrumentation, is based on the texts of Russian village wedding songs. The “farmyard burlesque” Renard (1916) is similarly based on Russian folk idioms, while The Soldier’s Tale (1918), a mixed-media piece using speech, mime, and dance accompanied by a seven-piece band, eclectically incorporates ragtime, tango, and other modern musical idioms in a series of highly infectious instrumental movements.

After World War I the Russian style in Stravinsky’s music began to fade, but not before it had produced another masterpiece in the Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920). That same year, the premiere of Pulcinella by the Ballets Russes followed in Paris on 15 May. He began to reconsider his aesthetic stance, abandoning the Russian features of his early style and adopted a Neoclassical idiom. Having lost his property in Russia during the revolution, Stravinsky was compelled to earn his living as a performer, and many of the works he composed during the 1920s and ’30s were written for his own use as a concert pianist and conductor. His instrumental works of the early 1920s include the Octet for Wind Instruments (1923), Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1924), Piano Sonata (1924), and the Serenade in A for piano (1925).
In 1926 Stravinsky experienced a religious conversion that had a notable effect on his stage and vocal music. His works in which the religious element can be detected are: the operatic oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927), the cantata Symphony of Psalms (1930), and the ballets Apollon musagète (1928) and Persephone (1934). During his later years in Paris, Stravinsky had developed professional relationships with key people in the United States: he was already working on his Symphony in C for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and he had agreed to deliver the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University during the 1939–40 academic year.

Having sailed (alone) for the United States (1939) to fulfill his engagement at Harvard, Stravinsky settled in 1940 in West Hollywood and later, in 1945, became a naturalized United States citizen. During the World War II period, he composed 2 of his most important symphonic works, the Symphony in C (1938-1940) and the Symphony in Three Movements (1942-1945). The Symphony in C represents a summation of Neoclassical principles in symphonic form, while the Symphony in Three Movements successfully combines the essential features of the concerto with the symphony.

His only full length opera, The Rake's Progress (started in 1948 and completed in 1951), is in essence a neoclassical work which depicts Stravinsky's brilliance, wit, and refinement. In his attempt to overcome his previous success, he embraced the serial, or 12-tone, compositional techniques of the Viennese composers Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton von Webern. A series of cautiously experimental works (the Cantata, the Septet, In Memoriam Dylan Thomas) was followed by a pair of hybrid masterpieces, the ballet Agon (completed 1957) and the choral work Canticum Sacrum (1955), that are only intermittently serial. These in turn led to the choral work Threni (1958), a setting of the biblical Lamentations of Jeremiah in which a strict 12-tone method of composition is applied to chantlike material whose underlying character recalls that of such earlier choral works as The Wedding and the Symphony of Psalms. In his Movements for piano and orchestra (1959) and his orchestral Variations (1964), Stravinsky refined his manner still further, pursuing a variety of arcane serial techniques to support a music of increasing density and economy and possessing a brittle, diamantine brilliance. Stravinsky’s serial works are generally much briefer than his tonal works but have a denser musical content.

Despite declining health in his last years, Stravinsky continued to compose until just before his death in April 1971. Stravinsky's output is typically divided into 3 general style periods: the Russian period (1907-1919), the neoclassical period (1920-1954), and the serial period (1954-1968). Stravinsky is widely regarded as one of music's truly epochal innovators. Aside from his technical innovations (including in rhythm and harmony), the most important aspect of his work is the constant reinvention of his compositional style.

Here  you can find a list of compositions by Igor Stravinsky.