Igor Fedorovich Stravinsky
Igor Fedorovich Stravinsky
The Russian-born composer Igor Fedorovich Stravinsky (1882-1971) identified himself as an "inventor of music." The novelty, power, and elegance of his works won worldwide admiration before he was 30. Throughout his life he continued to surprise admirers with transformations of his style that stimulated controversy.
Every aspect of music was renewed again and again in the work of Igor Stravinsky. Rhythm was the most striking ingredient, and his novel rhythms were most widely imitated. His instrumentation and his ways of writing for voices were also distinctive and influential. His harmonies and forms were more elusive. He recognized melody as the "most essential" element. Even if his rhythm and his sheer sound sometimes seemed independent of melody, stimulating composers like Edgard Varèse, Olivier Messiaen, Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen to explore further possibilities of such independence, Stravinsky's own works constituted integral melodies, as much as Claude Debussy's or Ludwig van Beethoven's or Carlo Gesualdo's, if not quite Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's. Stravinsky constantly subordinated all "technical apparatus" to what he recognized in 1939 as "a general revision of both the basic values and the primordial elements of the art of music," a revision continuing throughout his life. "The so-called crisis of means," he insisted in 1966, "is interior."
Beginnings in Russia
Stravinsky was born at Oranienbaum near St. Petersburg on June 17, 1882. Although his father was a star singer of the Imperial Opera, he rather expected the boy to become a bureaucrat. Igor finished a university law course before he made the decision to become a musician. By this time he was a good amateur pianist, an occasional professional accompanist, an avid reader of avant-garde scores from France and Germany, and, of course, a connoisseur of Italian, French, and Russian opera.
The closest friend of Stravinsky's youth was Stephan Mitusov, stepson of a prince. Stravinsky acknowledged that Mitusov was "a kind of literary and theatrical tutor to me at one of the greatest moments in the Russian theater." Mitusov translated the poems of Paul Verlaine that Stravinsky set to music in 1910, and he arranged the libretto of Stravinsky's opera The Nightingale (1908-1914).
One of Stravinsky's classmates at the university was Vladimir Rimsky-Korsakov, son of the composer, whose reputation as master orchestrator and teacher at the St. Petersburg Conservatory surpassed the fame of his operas. Stravinsky became Rimsky's apprentice; he did not enter classes at the conservatory but worked privately and intensely at his home. For the sake of the most advanced craftsmanship, Stravinsky gladly submerged his independent taste, confident that he could exercise it later. As demonstration of his learning, with few original features, he composed his Symphony in E-flat (1905-1907), dedicated to his teacher. For Madame Rimsky, there was a charming Pastorale (1907) for wordless voice and piano, later to become a favorite in various instrumental arrangements. For a wedding present to Rimsky's daughter Nadia and his favorite pupil, Maximilian Steinberg, Stravinsky composed a brilliant short fantasy for orchestra, Fireworks (1908). When Rimsky died in the same year, Stravinsky wrote a funeral dirge which he later recalled as the best of his early works; it was not published, and the manuscript was lost.
Scandal, Glory, and Misunderstanding in France
The great impresario Sergei Diaghilev, hearing Fireworks, recognized both the mastery and the budding originality. He at once enlisted Stravinsky to make some orchestral arrangements of Chopin for the season of Russian ballets that he was producing in Paris. Then Diaghilev assigned him bigger tasks, for which Stravinsky postponed his opera Nightingale. Diaghilev soon brought him into the center of an illustrious group of artists in Paris and during the next few years evoked his utmost daring in collaborations with Michel Fokine and Vaslav Nijinsky, among others.
Each of Stravinsky's three ballets for Diaghilev's company scandalized the first audiences. Each quickly became a classic. Each is unique. Firebird (1910) surpasses all Rimsky's variegated splendor and sweetness. Petrushka (1911) brings a new fusion of irony and pathos to the piano, the trumpet, and the dance. The Rite of Spring (1912-1913) is a frenzied breakthrough of 20th-century affinities to prehistoric mankind. Genteel audiences were provoked to riotous protest. The three ballets together made Stravinsky's influence on all the arts enormous and established him alongside older composers like Maurice Ravel and Arnold Schoenberg as a leader of a heroic musical generation.
Among countless testimonials to the power of the Rite, one by John Dos Passos is typical: to him it seemed "just about the height of what could be accomplished on the stage…. Stravinsky's music got into our blood. For months his rhythms underlay everything we heard, his prancing figures moved behind everything we saw…. The ballet would do for our time what tragedy had done for the Greeks."
The young hero was a small man with a big face. Stravinsky's elegant clothes, his thin hair brushed straight back, and a very thin mustache contrasted with his bulging nose, readily grinning or smacking lips, busy bright eyes, and huge ears. In speech and action he exuded aggressive energy, like that of the Rite of Spring, matched and controlled by correspondingly fastidious craftsmanship. Nijinsky described him as "like an emperor … but cleverer."
World War I interrupted the expansion of Diaghilev's enterprise, and the Russian Revolution uprooted Stravinsky from the home to which he had been returning from Paris. During the war he lived in Switzerland, where he collaborated with the poet C. F. Ramuz on a series of astonishing works based on folklore and, to some extent, on popular music, including ragtime. The most surprising and appealing of these was The Soldier's Tale (1918) for narrator, three dancers, and seven instrumentalists. This work deeply influenced Bertold Brecht, Jean Cocteau, and other dramatists of the 1920s, as well as composers and performers of each later generation. Stravinsky's new turn to concision and counterpoint in The Soldier's Tale was often compared with the contemporary trend of his new friend, the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, who was to work with him on his next Diaghilev assignment, Pulcinella (1920).
But another ballet, begun in 1914, composed in 1917, and finally orchestrated only in 1923, was the grandest fulfillment of these years: Svadebka (Les Noces, or The Little Wedding) for chorus and four solo singers in the pit, with four pianos and percussion. Here the barbaric power of the Rite and the modern concision of The Soldier's Tale met in an austere affirmation of love—too austere to be recognized as affirmation by many people. Alongside these very diverse major works were several smaller ones, for voices and for instruments in various combinations, all of which won frequent performance only much later. Outstanding among these was a memorial to Debussy, Symphonies for Wind Instruments.
A short comic opera, Mavra (1922), revealed a new lyricism in Stravinsky's complicated development. Mavra was a declaration of continuity with the Russian traditions of Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Glinka, and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Though it was not a popular success (to Stravinsky's great disappointment), it influenced young men like Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Kurt Weill, Sergei Prokofiev, and Dmitri Shostakovich as much as had the Rite. For them, as for their contemporary Paul Hindemith, Stravinsky seemed now to have left not only Ravel but Schoenberg and his school in a backwater of history; Stravinsky belonged with the young. Stravinsky's instrumental works of the 1920s, including the Piano Concerto, the Octet for winds, the Sonata, and the Serenade in a for piano solo, justified the slogan "Back to Bach," though just what Stravinsky meant by the slogan was seldom fully grasped despite his meticulous qualifications.
An opera-oratorio, Oedipus Rex (1927), and a "white" ballet, Apollo (1928), both defined and transcended the "neoclassicism" that was much talked about between the wars. That Stravinsky's taste was by no means so narrow as this fashionable label suggests is indicated by the next ballet, The Fairy's Kiss (1928), a new tribute to Tchaikovsky, making use of themes from Tchaikovsky's songs and piano pieces. The Divertimento for orchestra and the Capriccio for piano and orchestra likewise testify to Stravinsky's continuing versatility. But these works dissatisfied some admirers of Mavra as much as those of the Rite, without winning the bigger audience of Tchaikovsky's symphonies, not to mention the ever-growing mass of consumers of other music.
The death of Diaghilev in the year the Great Depression began (1929) marked the end of an epoch, the extinction of a social focus for much of Stravinsky's work. Though he was to become a French citizen in 1934, he was not able to win in France the recognition and security he needed. He found some solace with friends like the French poet Paul Valéry, the philosopher Jacques Maritain, and the philosopher-critic Pierre Souvchinsky. These thinkers, more than any musician, helped him seek order and discipline "at a time," as he wrote, "when the status of man is undergoing profound upheavals. Modern man is progressively losing his understanding of values and his sense of proportions." Stravinsky reaffirmed membership in the Orthodox Church, which he had neglected since adolescence.
The Symphony of Psalms (1930) for chorus of men and boys and orchestra without violins became the most widely known of all Stravinsky's works after the Rite. At first its gravity seemed incongruous with the worldliness of the ballets; after it got to be familiar, it was often recommended as a good starting point for acquaintance with Stravinsky's work as a whole.
The theatrical works Persephone (1934) and A Game of Cards (1936) were as obviously unique as the Symphony of Psalms. They were somewhat subordinate to a series of purely instrumental works on a grand scale: the Violin Concerto (1931), Duo concertante for violin and piano (1932), Concerto for two pianos (1935), Concerto for chamber orchestra ("Dumbarton Oaks," 1938), and Symphony in C (1940). If composers like Arthur Honegger, Bohuslav Martinu, Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, and Benjamin Britten abstracted from Stravinsky's procedures models for their own various recurring problems, this was irrelevant to the lasting values of the Stravinsky works, for he continued to set himself fresh problems and to find fresh solutions.
The true sequel to the Symphony of Psalms was to be liturgical. From 1942 to 1948 Stravinsky worked intermittently on an uncommissioned setting of the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass for chorus and winds. He had been spurred to this work by Mozart's Masses but not in any obvious way; rather, he said, "As I played through these rococo-operatic sweets-of-sin, I knew I had to write a Mass of my own, but a real one." And on another occasion he said, "One composes a march to facilitate marching men, so with my Credo I hope to provide an aid to the text. The Credo is the longest movement. There is so much to believe."
Stravinsky's tone in language matches the aggressive originality of his music. His originality, nevertheless, is at the service of orthodox belief, and his polemics are written "not in my own defense, but in order to defend in words all music and its principles, just as I defend them in a different way with my compositions."
Renewals in America
When he settled in the United States in 1939, Stravinsky renewed his interest in popular music long enough to compose several short pieces culminating in the Ebony Concerto (1946) for Woody Herman's band. His arrangement of the Star-spangled Banner (1944) was too severe to become a favorite. Several projects for film music were begun, and though none was completed, the music for them found various proper forms; most expansive, and at moments reminiscent of the Rite, was the Symphony in Three Movements (1945).
A collaboration happier even than that with Diaghilev developed with the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine. The first fruit of this collaboration was Orpheus (1948). From then on, though Agon (1957) was the only later piece composed especially for dance, the ballet made use of many old and new works, illuminating and popularizing them, gratifying and inspiring the composer as did comparatively few other performances of his work. Apollo and Orpheus rivaled the Firebird in the New York City Ballet repertory, and the symphonies, concertos, and miscellaneous pieces came to life.
At last Stravinsky was able to undertake a full-length opera, The Rake's Progress (1948-1951). This was a fulfillment not merely of his celebrated anti-Wagnerian stylistic principles but also of capacities and aspirations that had seemed only natural at the outset of his career and of his mature ethical and religious concerns. On the advice of his friend Aldous Huxley, he applied to the poet W. H. Auden for a libretto, to be based on his own vision derived from William Hogarth's prints of The Rake's Progress. Auden's work, in collaboration with Chester Kallman, provided an ideal "fable," embodying elements of farce, melodrama, pastoral, and allegory. The music includes some of Stravinsky's most melodious ideas, contrasting with bold dry recitative, colorful choruses, and concise episodes for the Mozartean orchestra. Performed all over the world, The Rake's Progress was especially successful in versions designed by Ingmar Bergman and Gian Carlo Menotti.
The young conductor Robert Craft became a devoted aide of Stravinsky while he worked on the opera. Soon Craft's pioneering work with the music of Anton Webern aroused Stravinsky's interest. During the 1950s, alongside several younger composers in Europe and America, Stravinsky deeply studied Webern and gradually absorbed new elements into his own still evolving, still very individual, style. Some old friends, like Poulenc, unable to keep up the pace, felt betrayed. But now, as in the 1920s, Stravinsky belonged with the young.
The Cantata on medieval English poems (1952) and the Septet (1953) show a new density of contrapuntal ingenuity in the service of wonderfully lively expression. The moving Song with dirge canons in memory of Dylan Thomas (1954) is still more densely made, with every note accountable as part of a five-note series continually varied. In the oratorio Canticum sacrum in honor of St. Mark (1956), there are passages with Webernish sounds and silences, melodies made mostly of wide skips, and series of twelve notes treated according to Schoenberg's technique. Similar passages in Agon (1953-1957), a plotless ballet for twelve dancers, are combined with references to 16th-century dances and strong C-major cadences in a fantastic synthesis.
Threni, i.e., Lamentations of Jeremiah (1958) for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra appeared as a major historical landmark, for in this work Stravinsky made the twelve-tone technique a "point of departure" throughout, as he continued to do in later compositions. Of these the largest ones are settings of religious texts: A Sermon, a Narrative, and a Prayer (1961), The Flood (1962), Abraham and Isaac (1963), and Requiem Canticles (1966). Some smaller vocal works deserve a place beside the larger ones: the unaccompanied Anthem on stanzas from T. S. Eliot's Quartets, The dove descending breaks the air (1962), the setting for voice and three clarinets of Auden's Elegy for J. F. K. (1964), and even the song for voice and piano on Edward Lear's poem The Owl and the Pussycat (1968). In each of these works the complexities of rhythm and sound, as well as the fascinating harmony and counterpoint, serve to clarify and intensify the meanings of the texts.
Stravinsky's major instrumental works after the Septet were the Movements for piano and orchestra (1959) and the Variations for orchestra (1964), both of which were interpreted in ballets by Balanchine that could disarm any candid critic of the music. Both were "major" despite a brevity worthy of Webern—the Movements about 10 minutes, the Variations less than 5. Balanchine simply had the Variations played three times, with the threefold dance accumulating power.
Stravinsky died on April 6, 1971, in New York City. He was buried with pomp in Venice.
Assessments of the Composer
The poet Herbert Read declared in 1962 that Stravinsky was "the most representative artist of our own 20th century." The critic François Michel a year earlier gave a reason for calling him "the greatest musician of our epoch"—he was "the only one who could transform its characteristic defects, which he took upon himself, into ways of seeing the truths of all time." The publisher Ernst Roth in 1967 went further, hailing Stravinsky as "the most prophetic of all men of our time. His life is like a symbol of future mankind."
That same year Stravinsky characteristically made fun of "the natural desire to cling to an old man in hopes that he can point the road to the future. What is needed, of course, is simply any road that offers enough mileage and a good enough safety record. And my road … will soon become a detour, I realize … but I hardly mind that. Detours are often pleasant to travel, far more so than those super-turnpikes on which the traffic has yet to discover that the race is not always to the swift."
With his Autobiography (1936), Stravinsky became an important writer on music. His Poetics of Music (1942; translated by Arthur Knodel and Ingolf Dahl, 1947) is his most systematic literary work, unique among discussions of music for its authority and scope. But these books, he said later, were "much less like me, in all my faults, than my conversations," which he compiled in collaboration with Robert Craft in a series of volumes: Conversations (1959), Memories and Commentaries (1960), Expositions and Developments (1962), Dialoguesand a Diary (1963), Themes and Episodes (1966), and Retrospectives and Conclusions (1969).
The most comprehensive collection of facts about his life and all his works is Eric W. White, Stravinsky (1966). Other studies include Heinrich Strobel, Stravinsky: Classic Humanist (1955); Roman Vlad, Stravinsky (trans. 1960; repr. 1968); and Robert Siohan, Stravinsky (1969). □
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Few composers have made such dramatic breaks from the status quo in classical music as Igor Stravinsky did in the twentieth century. As Harold C. Schonberg remarked in The Lives of the Great Composers, “What Stravinsky represented, among many other things, was a compete rupture with Romanticism.” Long considered the leader of the musical avant garde, Stravinsky developed his reputation by putting his own musical label on the classical styles of the past. His shift to Neo-classicism after World War I resulted in a series of compositions hallmarked by simplicity and restraint that were often critically praised but not favored by the public.
Stravinsky stressed that music was notes and nothing more, and that composition should be an expression of form and logic rather than passion. While his so-called “intellectual” scores often didn’t strike a chord with audiences, his colleagues generally regarded him as one of the best musical technicians of his time. He also had a tremendous influence on other composers who followed him, although he had little interest in discussing his own music.
As the son of a renowned singer at the Imperial Opera in Russia, Stravinsky was surrounded by classical music while growing up. He began taking piano lessons at the age of nine, and also studied composition as a child. Trips to the ballet and opera were commonplace for the young Stravinsky, but his early training did not reveal any significant talent, nor did his compositions foreshadow his musical explorations of the future. As a teenager he became more interested in improvisation and began dabbling in composition.
A key influence of Stravinsky’s early work was the famous Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whom Stravinsky met around 1900. When Stravinsky’s father died in 1902, Rimsky-Korsakov became the young man’s substitute father and musical mentor as he continued with studies at law school. Stravinsky became the composer’s private student in 1903 and continued in this capacity until Rimsky-Korsakov’s death in 1908. One of his first big compositions, the Symphony in E-flat Majorin 1907, clearly showed the influences of Rimsky-Korsakov’s style. Other early influences on Stravinsky’s work were Scriabin, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, and Dukas.
Serge Diaghilev, who had recently established his Ballet Russe in Paris, attended a 1908 performance of Stravinsky’s Fireworks in St. Petersburg. He was so impressed by Stravinsky’s work that he asked the composer to write the music for a ballet based on the Russian fairy tale of the Fire Bird. Stravinsky agreed
Born Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky, June 17, 1882, in Oranienbaum, Russia; died April 6, 1971, in New York, NY; son of Fyodor Stravinsky (opera singer) and Anna (Kholodovsky) Stravinsky; one of four children; married Katerina Nossenko, 1906 (died 1939); children: Fyodor, Ludmila, Svyatoslav, Sulema, Milena, Nicholas, and Katherine; married Vera de Bossett, 1940.
Studied piano and composition as a child; began taking private lessons with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov while attending law school, 1903; composed first major work, Symphony in E-flat Major, 1907; wrote Firebird for Ballet Russe, Paris, France, 1908; created major furor with The Rite of Spring, 1913; made first public appearance as a conductor, 1915; composed series of Neo-classical works that featured polytonal features; became known as leader of avant-garde music, 1920s; made first tour of U.S., 1925; began composing more religious works, starting with Symphony of Psalms, 1930; toured South America with son Sulima, a professional pianist, 1936; moved to Hollywood, CA, 1939; gave series of lectures at Harvard University as Elliot Norton Chair, Cambridge, MA, 1940; served as guest conductor with numerous American Symphony Orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic; had major worldwide success with The Rake’s Progress, an opera, 1951; compared scores for a number of ballets choreographed by George Balanchine; developed partnership with conductor Robert Craft; experimented with serialism, late 1950s; composed Elegy for J.F.K. following President Kennedy’s assassination, 1964; completed last major composition, Requiem Canticles, 1966; moved to New York, NY, 1969; died at the age of 88 in New York, NY, and was buried in Venice, Italy, 1971.
Awards: Gold Medal, Royal Philharmonic Society, 1954; U.S. State Department Medal, 1962.
and became famous overnight as a result of his Firebird, which backed choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky and received rave notices in France. Despite six decades of composing to follow, the Firebird would remain Stravinsky’s most popular work. He followed this with 1911’s Petrushka, which, according to Schonberg, “solidified Stravinsky’s position as the coming man of European music.” Quite daring for its time, this work featured a section that had two unrelated harmonies converging.
Nothing Stravinsky had done before prepared the pubic for his legendary next work, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), which was also choreographed by Nijinsky. In his discussion of the work, New York Times music critic Paul Griffiths wrote, “By means of syncopation and rapid changes of metre Stravinsky did away with the regular pulse which had governed almost all Western music since the Renaissance.” Most shocking about this ballet was its reception at its premiere, where members of the audience jeered and booed during the performance. Schonberg explained the response by writing, “Hardly anybody in the audience was prepared for a score of such dissonance and ferocity, such complexity and such rhythmic oddity.” In a single stroke, Stravinsky had thrown out the time-honored standards of harmony and melody and created a new set of musical values.
Prevented from returning to his native land due to World War I, Stravinsky and his family moved to Switzerland. After the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, he lived in France and soon encountered financial trouble, as funds had been cut off from Russia. Money problems forced Stravinsky to curtail his composing time by working more often as a performing musician and conductor. At this point he began composing a different type of music, focusing on concise works for small groups of instruments rather than majestic scores for large orchestras. One of these was a folk-tale piece composed in 1918 called Histoire du Soldat, which was an early example of musical theater. Based on a Russian tale about a deserting soldier, the piece used the services of a narrator, two actors, a dancer, and seven instrumentalists, while featuring a ragtime number and a chorale. Other notable Neo-classical works that he composed around this time include the Symphonies of Wind Instruments in 1921, a one-act opera entitled Mavra in 1922, and the cantata Les Noces (The Wedding) in 1923. Up to this time many of his pieces still drew heavily on the folk tales of Russia, but eventually his music left that heritage behind.
With his music after 1920 labeled as abstract and cosmopolitan, Stravinsky never again had the impact on audiences that he did with his Russian ballets. This was no surprise to him; he did not expect his anti-sentimental works to cater to the general public. By now his music was much more controlled and featured a strict economy of composition and little bombast. This approach was considerably evident in his oratorio called Oedipus Rex, composed in 1927. His Violin Concerto in the early 1930s was also an example of traditional musical forms put through Stravinsky’s ultramodern filter. His evolution during this period created two schools of thought among critics, one side admiring his newly found simplicity and restraint, the other yearning for the urgency and energy of his previous composition. The composer made his thoughts quite clear in his 1930 autobiography: “I consider that music is, by its very nature, powerless to express anything at all…. The phenomenon of music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things.”
In the 1930s Stravinsky was devoting much of his attention to religious works. He wrote a Symphony of Psalms for chorus and orchestra in 1930, and his late 1930s Symphony in C was, according to him, written to honor God’s glory. During this decade he also found himself more in demand in the United States. He had visited America in 1925 and conducted the New YorkPhilharmonic Orchestra, and in 1935 he returned there to conduct a number of major American orchestras.
Tragedy struck the Stravinsky family in the late 1930s. The death of his daughter of tuberculosis in 1938 was followed the next year by the death of his wife. The composer then lost his mother three months later. As World War II began to gain steam in Europe, he moved to the United States, which remained his home for the rest of his life. After settling in Hollywood in 1939, he received a number of requests to compose music for films, but little became of them. His most significant work during his first decade in the U.S. was the very dynamic Symphony in Three Movements completed in 1945. He also composed his Mass for chorus and woodwinds in 1948 for use in church services.
In the U.S. Stravinsky reconnected with the Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine, with whom Stravinsky had worked previously in Europe. They formed a successful partnership in ballets, including 1948’s Orpheus. Stravinsky’s greatest post-World War II success was an opera collaboration with W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman entitled The Rake’s Progress, which premiered in 1951 and gained international popularity. By this time Stravinsky had lost his position as leader of the avant garde, being upstaged by the rising popularity of Austro-Hungarian Arnold Schoen-berg’s 12-tone techniques and the school of serialism (a musical style whereby a series of different notes is used as the basis of a whole composition). For many years he had condemned serialism, but then had a change of tune in the 1950s due partly to increasing exposure to younger European composers resulting from the European premier of The Rake’s Progress. He was also urged to explore serialism by his friend Robert Craft, an American conductor who had a major influence on Stravinsky in his later years. Stravinsky dabbled with serial elements in a ballet score for Agon, commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein and Balanchine in 1957. Other serial works included Threniin 1958 and Movements for Piano and Orchestra in 1959. Some critics attacked the composer’s embracing of serialism as just a stunt to regain his status in the avant-garde world, but few of Stravinsky’s works in this vein have had any staying power in the musical repertory.
In 1962 Stravinsky returned to Russia for the first time in half a century, giving a series of concerts in Moscow and Leningrad. His visit helped eliminate restrictions against the playing of his work in the Soviet Union. Many of Stravinsky’s compositions in the 1960s were elegies or sacred music, among them the Elegy for J.F.K. in 1964. He wrote his last major composition, the serialism-influenced Requiem Canticles, in 1966, most likely with consideration of his own approaching death.
By 1967 Stravinsky’s health was deteriorating rapidly, and that year he conducted his last public performance, of the Pulcinella Suite, in Toronto, Canada. In 1968, he and his second wife moved to New York City from Hollywood, then spent three months in 1970 at Evian on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Stravinsky died at his home in New York City the following year. Soon after his death scandal broke out regarding books he had co-written with Craft when LillianLibman, Stravinsky’s personal representative, claimed that many of the details conveyed about the composer’s life were fraudulent. Bernard Holland noted in the New York Times that Stravinsky “rearranged past events, experienced memory lapses (convenient or otherwise) or just plain lied.”
Although he experienced many changes during his more than 65 years as a composer, Stravinsky maintained a commitment to precision and directness. As was noted about the composer in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, “His life was a varied one, and his music too went through several changes, often startling at the time but revealing an inner consistency when viewed with hindsight.”
Symphony in E-flat Major, Opus 1, 1907.
L’Oiseau de Feu (The Firebird) (ballet), 1910.
Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) (ballet), 1913.
Histoire du Soldat (A Soldier’s Tale), 1918.
Mavra (an opera), 1922.
Oedipus Rex, 1927.
Jeu de Cartes (ballet), 1936.
Four Norwegian Moods, 1942.
The Rake’s Progress (opera), 1951.
In Memoriam Dylan Thomas, 1954.
Agon (ballet), 1957.
Elegy for J.F.K., 1964.
Requiem Canticles, 1966.
Stravinsky: An Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 1936.
Poetics of Muse, Harvard University Press, 1942.
Arnold, Denis, ed., The New Oxford Companion to Music, Volume 2, Oxford University Press, 1983, pp. 1757-1760.
Sadie, Stanley, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Volume 18, Macmillan, 1980, pp. 240-265.
Schonberg, Harold C., The Lives of the Great Composers, Revised Edition, W.W. Norton, pp. 484-506.
Stravinsky, Igor, Stravinsky: An Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 1936.
Stravinsky, Igor, Poetics of Muse, Harvard University Press, 1942.
Taruskin, Richard, Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works Through “Mavra,” University of California Press, 1996.
New York Times, October 7, 1996, p. C15.
New York Times Book Review, August 4, 1996, p. 10.
"Stravinsky, Igor." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/stravinsky-igor
"Stravinsky, Igor." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved June 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/stravinsky-igor
Stravinsky, Igor (Fyodorovich)
Stravinsky's place as a seminal figure in 20th-cent. mus. and individually as a great composer seems assured. Though it used to be said he ‘changed his skin’ every few years, and though he did, superficially at any rate, alter his style more than once, he remained fundamentally himself throughout his life. Like his antithesis Strauss, he was a time-traveller, at home in centuries other than his own. Yet when he touched Pergolesi, Gesualdo, and Tchaikovsky, they became Stravinskyan re-creations. Where the prin. features of Strauss's mus. are complex harmonic and contrapuntal textures, the overriding feature of Stravinsky from first to last is rhythm. It is rhythm, in many wonderful forms from the primitive (Les Noces) to the sophisticated (Rite of Spring), which is the mainspring of his work. With the great Diaghilev ballets he took part in a golden age in assoc. with some of the most extraordinary talents of the century, not only Diaghilev but Nijinsky, Picasso, Bakst, Fokine, and others. Later Cocteau, Auden, and Dylan Thomas came within his orbit. The sense of th. and of the dance is never wholly absent from even his most austere works, such as the Mass of 1948, nor his delight in childlike fun (the Circus Polka, Jeu de cartes, etc.), and his sardonic humour. It seems appropriate that almost his last work was a setting of Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat. His critics once wrote of a ‘soulless’ mus., bare of expression and emotion. As he recedes from us and his mus. comes into perspective, the wrongheadedness of this judgement provokes either mirth or anger. Prin. works:OPERAS: The Nightingale (1908–9, 1913–14); Mavra (1921–2); Oedipus Rex (1926–7, also can be perf. as oratorio); The Rake's Progress (1947–51).THEATRE PIECES: Renard, burlesque (1915–16); L'histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale) (1918); Perséphone, melodrama, ten., ch., orch. (1933–4); The Flood, mus. play (1961–2).BALLETS: The Firebird (Zhar-Ptitsa) (1909–10); Petrushka (1910–11); The Rite of Spring (Vesna Svyashchennaya) (1911–13); Les Noces (1914–17, and revisions); Pulcinella (after Pergolesi) (1919–20); Apollo Musagetes (1927–8); The Fairy's Kiss (Le baiser de la fée) (after Tchaikovsky) (1928, rev. 1950); Jeu de cartes (1936); Circus Polka (1942); Orpheus (1947); Agon (1953, 1956–7).ORCH.: syms.: No.1 in E♭ (1905–7), Sym. in C (1938–40), Symphony in 3 Movements (1942–5); Scherzo Fantastique (1907–8); Fireworks (1908); Suite, The Firebird (first version 1911, 2nd version 1919, 3rd version 1945); Song of the Nightingale, sym.-poem from mus. of the opera (1917), Ragtime, 11 instr. (1918); Suites, small orch., No.1 (1917–25), No.2 (1921); Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1918–20, rev. 1945–7); Suite from Pulcinella, chamber orch. (c.1922, rev. 1947); Divertimento (arr. from The Fairy's Kiss) (1934, rev. 1949); Preludium (orig. for jazz band 1936–7, orch. 1953); Conc., chamber orch. Dumbarton Oaks (1937–8); Danses Concertantes (1941–2); 4 Norwegian Moods (1942); Ode (1943); Scherzo à la Russe (1943–4, version for Paul Whiteman Band 1944); Circus Polka (1944, orch. of pf. piece 1942); Conc. in D, str. (1946); Tango, 19 instr. (1953, orch. of pf. piece 1940); Greetings Prelude (1955); Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum, 3 Gesualdo madrigals recomposed for instr. (1960); Variations (in memoriam Aldous Huxley) (1963–4).SOLO INSTR. & ORCH.: conc., pf., wind instrs. (1923–4); Capriccio, pf., orch. (1928–9); vn. conc. (1931); Ebony Concerto, cl., chamber orch. (1945); Movements, pf., orch. (1958–9).VOICES & INSTR(S).: The King of the Stars, cantata, male ch., orch. (1911–12); Symphony of Psalms, ch., orch. (1930); Babel, cantata, narr., male ch., orch. (1944); Mass, mixed ch., double wind quintet (1944–8); Cantata, sop., ten., female ch., chamber ens. (1951–2); Canticum Sacrum ad honorem Sancti Marci Nominis, ten., bar., ch., orch. (1955); Threni, sop., cont., 2 tens., bass, basso profundo, ch., orch. (1957–8); A Sermon, A Narrative, and a Prayer, cantata, alto, ten., spkr., ch., orch. (1960–1); Abraham and Isaac, bar., chamber orch. (1962–3); Introitus ( T. S. Eliot in memoriam), tens., basses, chamber ens. (1945); Requiem Canticles, alto, bass, ch., orch. (1965–6).UNACC. VOICES: Saucers: 4 Russian Peasant Songs, unacc. female vv. (1914–17, rev. for equal vv., 4 hn., 1954); Pater Noster, mixed ch. (1926); Credo, mixed ch. (1932, 1949, 1964); Ave Maria, mixed ch. (1934, 1949); Little Canon, 2 tens. (1947); The Dove Descending, mixed ch. (1962).CHAMBER MUSIC: 3 Pieces, cl. (1919); Concertino, str. qt. (1920), arr. for 12 instr. (1952); Octet, fl., cl., 2 bn., 2 tpt., ten. tb., bass tb. (1922–3, rev. 1952); Duo Concertant, vn., pf. (1931–2); Suite Italienne (arr. from Pulcinella), vn. or vc., pf. (1932); Elegy, vn. con sordini (1944); Septet, cl., hn., bn., pf., vn., va., vc. (1952–3); Epitaphium, fl., cl., hp. (1959).PIANO: Sonata in F♯ minor (1903–4); 4 Studies (1908); 3 Easy Pieces, duet (1914–15); 5 Easy Pieces, duet (1916–17); Piano Rag-Music (1919); Sonata (1924); Serenade in A (1925); Conc., 2 solo pf. (1931, 1934–5); Tango (1940, arr. for 19 instr. 1953); Circus Polka (1942, arr. for orch. 1944); Sonata, 2 pf. (1943–4).SONGS WITH PIANO OR OTHER INSTR.: Faun and Shepherdess, song suite, mez., orch. (1906); Pastorale, sop., pf. (1907); 2 Melodies, mez., pf. (1907–8); 2 Verlaine Poems, bar., pf. (1910, with orch. 1951); 2 Balmont Poems, high v., pf. (1911, with chamber orch. 1954); 3 Japanese Lyrics, sop., pf. (1912–13); Pribaoutki, v., instr. (1914); Cat's Cradle Songs, alto, 3 cls. (1915–16); Berceuse, v., pf. (1917); 3 Shakespeare Songs, mez., fl., cl., va. (1953); In Memoriam Dylan Thomas, ten., str. qt., 4 tbs. (1954); Elegy for J.F.K. [ J. F. Kennedy, President of USA], bar., 3 cls. (1964); The Owl and the Pussycat, v., pf. (1966).ARRANGEMENTS: Chopin: Nocturne in A♭ and Valse brillante in E♭, orch. for Les Sylphides (1909); Bach: Vom Himmel hoch, mixed ch., orch. (1955–6); 2 Preludes and Fugues from the ‘48’, str., ww. (c.1969); Gesualdo: Tres sacrae cantiones, reconstructed parts (1957 and 1959); Sibelius: Canzonetta, Op.62a (orig. for str., 1911), arr. for 4 hns., 2 cls., hp., db. (1963); Wolf: 2 Sacred Songs from Spanisches Liederbuch, mez., 9 instr. (1968). Other works: Song of the Volga Boatmen, orch. (1917); La Marseillaise, solo vn. (1919); The Star-Spangled Banner, orch., optional ch. (1941).
"Stravinsky, Igor (Fyodorovich)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/stravinsky-igor-fyodorovich
"Stravinsky, Igor (Fyodorovich)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved June 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/stravinsky-igor-fyodorovich
The Russian-born American composer Igor Stravinsky identified himself as an "inventor of music." The novelty, power, and elegance of his works won him worldwide admiration before he was thirty. Throughout his life he continued to surprise admirers with transformations of his style that stimulated controversy.
Beginnings in Russia
Igor Fedorovich Stravinsky was born at Oranienbaum near St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 17, 1882. Although his father was a star singer of the Imperial Opera, he expected the boy to become a bureaucrat. Igor finished a university law course before he made the decision to become a musician. By this time he was a good amateur pianist, an occasional professional accompanist (someone who plays along with a singer), an enthusiastic reader of avant-garde (non-traditional) scores from France and Germany, and a connoisseur (expert) of Italian, French, and Russian opera.
The closest friend from Stravinsky's youth was Stephan Mitusov, the stepson of a prince. Mitusov translated the poems of the French poet Paul Verlaine (1884–1896) that Stravinsky set to music in 1910, and he arranged the libretto (text that accompanies a musical work) of Stravinsky's opera The Nightingale.
One of Stravinsky's classmates at the university was Vladimir Rimsky-Korsakov, the son of the composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908). Stravinsky became an apprentice to the elder Rimsky-Korsakov. He did not enter classes at the conservatory but worked privately at his home.
For the sake of learning the most advanced craftsmanship from Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky hid his independent taste, confident that he could exercise it later. His Symphony in E-flat (1905–1907), Pastorale (1907), and Fireworks (1908) demonstrate this. Stravinsky also wrote a funeral dirge (a dark, moody piece) for Rimsky-Korsakov, which he later recalled as the best of his early works. It was not published, and the manuscript was lost.
Scandal, glory, and misunderstanding in France
The great impresario (sponsor of entertainment) Sergei Diaghilev (1872–1929) heard Stravinsky's works in St. Petersburg and invited him to go to Paris, France, to write orchestral arrangements of Chopin's (1810–1849) works for ballets that he was producing. Each scandalized (caused a debate among) the first audiences. The ballets were also unique and quickly became classics. The three ballets—Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1912–1913)—together made Stravinsky's influence on all the arts enormous. They established him as a leader of a heroic musical generation alongside older composers such as Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) and Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951).
World War I (1914–18; a war involving Germany, Turkey, and Austria-Hungary on one side, and Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, and the United States on the other) prevented Stravinsky from writing more for Diaghilev's company. The Russian Revolution (1917; two revolutions that first overthrew the monarchy then replaced it with the Communists) prevented Stravinsky from returning home from Paris. During the war he lived in Switzerland, where he collaborated with the poet C. F. Ramuz on a series of works based on folklore, including The Soldier's Tale (1918). This work deeply influenced Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956), Jean Cocteau (1889–1963), and other dramatists of the 1920s.
Another ballet, begun in 1914, and finally orchestrated in 1923, was the grandest achievement of these years: Svadebka (Les Noces, or The Little Wedding). In it the barbaric power of The Rite of Spring and the modern concision (shortness) of The Soldier's Tale met in a serious affirmation of love. Along with these very diverse major works were several smaller ones, for voices and for instruments in various combinations. Outstanding among these was a memorial to Claude Debussy (1862–1918), Symphonies for Wind Instruments.
A short comic opera, Mavra (1922), revealed a new lyricism (personal, emotional) in Stravinsky's complicated development. Though it was not a popular success—to Stravinsky's great disappointment—it influenced young composers including Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Kurt Weill, Sergei Prokofiev, and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Stravinsky's instrumental works of the 1920s included the Piano Concerto, the Octet for Winds, the Sonata, and the Serenade for a piano solo. He produced an opera-oratorio (a long work usually without action or scenery), Oedipus Rex, in 1927, and a ballet, Apollo, in 1928. The Fairy's Kiss (1928), a ballet in tribute to Tchaikovsky, made use of themes from Tchaikovsky's songs and piano pieces. The death of Diaghilev in 1929 marked the end of a social focus for much of Stravinsky's work. Though Stravinsky became a French citizen in 1934, he was not able to win in France the recognition and security he needed.
The Symphony of Psalms (1930) for a chorus of men and boys and an orchestra without violins became the most widely known of all of Stravinsky's works after The Rite of Spring. At first its seriousness seemed at odds with the worldliness of the ballets. Later it was often recommended as a good starting point for acquaintance with Stravinsky's work as a whole. The theatrical works Persephone (1934) and A Game of Cards (1936) were as unique as the Symphony of Psalms. Stravinsky also wrote instrumental works on a grand scale: the Violin Concerto (1931), Duo concertante for violin and piano (1932), Concerto for two pianos (1935), Concerto for chamber orchestra ("Dumbarton Oaks," 1938 ), and Symphony in C (1940).
From 1942 to 1948 Stravinsky worked intermittently (on and off) on an uncommissioned (through his own initiative) setting of the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass for chorus and winds. He had been spurred to this work by Mozart's Masses but not in any obvious way.
Renewals in America
When Stravinsky settled in the United States in 1939, he renewed his interest in popular music. He composed several short pieces, including Ebony Concerto (1946) for Woody Herman's band. His arrangement of the "Star-Spangled Banner" (1944) was too severe to become a favorite. Several projects for film music were begun, though none was completed. A collaboration happier even than that with Diaghilev developed with the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine (1904–1983). The first fruit of this collaboration was Orpheus (1948). In 1948 Stravinsky undertook a full-length opera, The Rake's Progress. This was a fulfillment of his mature ethical and religious concerns. The music included some of Stravinsky's most melodious ideas.
The young conductor Robert Craft became Stravinsky's devoted aide while he worked on the opera, and he introduced Stravinsky to the work of Anton Webern. During the 1950s Stravinsky studied Webern and gradually absorbed new elements into his own still evolving, still very individual, style. This is evident in the Cantata on medieval English poems (1952), the Septet (1953), the Song (1954) with dirge canons in memory of Dylan Thomas (1914–1953), the oratorio Canticum Sacrum (1956) in honor of St. Mark, and the ballet Agon (1953–1957).
Stravinsky's works of the 1960s continued to demonstrate complex rhythms and sounds, as well as fascinating harmony and counterpoint. These included Threni, i.e., Lamentations of Jeremiah (1958), A Sermon, a Narrative, and a Prayer (1961), The Flood (1962), Abraham and Isaac (1963), Requiem Canticles (1966), the unaccompanied Anthem on stanzas from T. S. Eliot's (1888–1965) Quartets, The Dove Descending Breaks the Air (1962), the setting for voice and three clarinets of W. H. Auden's (1907–1973) Elegy for JFK (1964), and the song for voice and piano on Edward Lear's (1812–1888) poem The Owl and the Pussycat (1968). Stravinsky's last major instrumental works were the Movements for piano and orchestra (1959) and the Variations for orchestra (1964), both of which were interpreted in ballets by Balanchine.
Stravinsky died on April 6, 1971, in New York City and was buried in Venice. His approach to musical composition was one of constant renewal. Rhythm was the most striking ingredient, and his novel rhythms were most widely imitated. His instrumentation and his ways of writing for voices were also distinctive and influential. His harmonies and forms were more elusive (difficult to grasp). He recognized melody as the "most essential" element.
For More Information
Joseph, Charles M. Stravinsky Inside Out. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.
Stravinsky, Igor. Autobiography. London: Calder and Boyars, 1975.
Strobel, Heinrich. Stravinsky: Classic Humanist. New York: Merlin Press, 1955.
White, Eric W. Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.
"Stravinsky, Igor." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stravinsky-igor
"Stravinsky, Igor." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stravinsky-igor
Stravinsky, Igor Fedorovich
Igor Fedorovich Stravinsky (ē´gər fyô´dərô´vyĬch strəvĬn´skē), 1882–1971, Russian-American composer. Considered by many the greatest and most versatile composer of the 20th cent., Stravinsky helped to revolutionize modern music.
Stravinsky's father, an actor and singer in St. Petersburg, had him educated for the law. Music was only an avocation for Stravinsky until his meeting in 1902 with Rimsky-Korsakov, with whom he studied formally from 1907 to 1908. Stravinsky's First Symphony in E Flat Major (1907) is pervaded by the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov's nationalistic style. The work of Stravinsky interested the ballet impressario Sergei Diaghilev, and Stravinsky's first strikingly original compositions—L'Oiseau de Feu (The Firebird, 1910) and Petrouchka (1911)—were written for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris.
In the ballet Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring, 1913) he departed radically from musical tradition by using irregular, primitive rhythms and harsh dissonances. The audience at the premiere of the ballet reacted with riotous disfavor. However, in the following year the work was performed by a symphony orchestra, and ever since it has been recognized as a landmark and masterpiece of modern music.
At the beginning of World War I, Stravinsky moved to Switzerland, where he composed several works based on Russian themes, including the ballet Les Noces (The Wedding, 1923). Influenced by 18th-century music, he embarked on an austere, neoclassical style in such works as the poetic dance-drama Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier's Tale, 1918), the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927; text by Jean Cocteau after Sophocles), and the choral composition Symphonie de psaumes (Symphony of Psalms, 1930).
In the 1930s, Stravinsky toured throughout Europe and the United States as a pianist and conductor of his own works. He became a French citizen in 1934, but five years later he moved to the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1945. Compositions of the 1940s include such diverse works as the Ebony Concerto (1946) for clarinet and swing band; the Third Symphony (1946) in three movements; the ballet Orpheus (1948); and a mass (1948) for voices and double wind quintet.
After composing the opera The Rake's Progress (1951; inspired by Hogarth's engravings, with libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman), Stravinsky turned to experiments with serial techniques (see serial music). In Cantata (1952) the new technique was evident, and in the chamber piece Septet (1953) he made the full transition to serialism. He continued to compose in this exacting style in the abstract ballet Agon (1957) and in Threni (1958), a work for voices and orchestra. His creative originality was undiminished in his late works, which display remarkable freshness, meticulous craftsmanship, and an experimental quality.
Stravinsky's influence on 20th-century music is immeasurable. He revitalized the rhythms of European music and achieved entirely new sonorities and blends of orchestral colors. A series of lectures he delivered at Harvard were published as Poétique musicale (1942, tr. Poetics of Music, 1948).
See his autobiography Chronicles of My Life (1935, tr. 1936); his Memories and Commentaries (1960), Expositions and Developments (1962), and Dialogues and a Diary (1963), all three written with R. Craft. See also biographies by R. Siohan (1959, tr. 1966), A. Dobrin (1970), P. Horgan (1972), R. Craft (1972), L. Libman (1972), and S. Walsh (2 vol., 1999–2006); studies by J. Pasler (1986), P. van den Toorn (1987), S. Walsh (1988), and C. M. Joseph (2001 and 2002).
"Stravinsky, Igor Fedorovich." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stravinsky-igor-fedorovich
"Stravinsky, Igor Fedorovich." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stravinsky-igor-fedorovich
Stravinsky, Igor Feodorovich
"Stravinsky, Igor Feodorovich." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stravinsky-igor-feodorovich
"Stravinsky, Igor Feodorovich." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved June 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stravinsky-igor-feodorovich