This article is about the 20th-century composer. For other uses, see Stravinsky (disambiguation).
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (sometimes spelled Strawinsky or Stravinskii; Russian: Игорь Фёдорович Стравинский, transliterated: Igorʹ Fëdorovič Stravinskij; Russian pronunciation: ˌiɡərʲ ˌfʲjodɐrɐvʲɪt͡ɕ strɐˈvʲinskʲɪj; 17 June O.S. 5 June 1882 - 6 April 1971) was a Russian, and later French and American composer, pianist and conductor. He is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.
Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev and first performed in Paris by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). The last of these transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary who pushed the boundaries of musical design. His "Russian phase" was followed in the 1920s by a period in which he turned to neoclassical music. The works from this period tended to make use of traditional musical forms (concerto grosso, fugue and symphony). They often paid tribute to the music of earlier masters, such as J.S. Bach and Tchaikovsky. In the 1950s, Stravinsky adopted serial procedures. His compositions of this period shared traits with examples of his earlier output: rhythmic energy, the construction of extended melodic ideas out of a few two- or three-note cells and clarity of form, of instrumentation and of utterance.
1 Life and career
1.1 Early life in the Russian Empire,
1.2 Life in Switzerland,
1.3 Life in France,
1.4 Life in the United States,
4.1 Russian Period (c. 1907-1919)
4.1.1 Early ballets
126.96.36.199 The Firebird (L'Oiseau de feu),
188.8.131.52 The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps),
4.1.2 Other works,
4.2 Neoclassical period (c. 1920-1954),
4.3 Serial period (1954-1968),
5 Innovation and influence
8 Recordings and publications,
12 Further reading,
13 External links,
Life and career:
Early life in the Russian Empire:
Stravinsky was born on 17 June 1882 in Oranienbaum, a suburb of the Russian imperial capital, and was brought up in Saint Petersburg. His parents were Fyodor Stravinsky, a bass singer at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, and Anna (née Kholodovsky). His father was of Polish noble descent, of Strawiński family of Sulima coat of arms. He recalled his schooldays as being lonely, later saying that "I never came across anyone who had any real attraction for me". Stravinsky began piano lessons as a young boy, studying music theory and attempting composition. In 1890, he saw a performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Sleeping Beauty at the Mariinsky Theatre. By age fifteen, 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 to be unmusical and thought little of his skills.
Despite his enthusiasm for music, his parents expected him to study law. Stravinsky enrolled at the University of Saint Petersburg in 1901, but he attended fewer than fifty class sessions during his four years of study. In the summer of 1902 Stravinsky stayed with the composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and his family in the German city of Heidelberg, where Rimsky-Korsakov, arguably the leading Russian composer at that time, suggested to Stravinsky that he should not enter the Saint Petersburg Conservatoire, but instead study composing by taking private lessons, in large part because of his age. Stravinsky's father died of cancer that year, by which time his son had already begun spending more time on his musical studies than on law. The university was closed for two months in 1905 in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday: Stravinsky was prevented from taking his final law examinations and later received a half-course diploma in April 1906. Thereafter, he concentrated on studying music. In 1905, he began to take twice-weekly private lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov, whom he came to regard as a second father. These lessons continued until Rimsky-Korsakov's death in 1908.
In 1905 he was betrothed to his cousin Yekaterina Gavrilovna Nosenko (called "Katya"), whom he had known since early childhood. In spite of the Orthodox Church's opposition to marriage between first cousins, the couple married on 23 January 1906: their first two children, Fyodor (Theodore) and Ludmila, were born in 1907 and 1908, respectively.
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. Diaghilev was sufficiently impressed by Fireworks to commission Stravinsky to carry out some orchestrations and then to compose a full-length ballet score, The Firebird.
Life in Switzerland:
Stravinsky became an overnight sensation following the success of The Firebird's premiere in Paris on 25 June 1910.
The composer had travelled from his estate in Ustilug, Ukraine to Paris in early June to attend the final rehearsals and the premiere of The Firebird. His family joined him before the end of the ballet season and they decided to remain in the West for a time, as his wife was expecting their third child. After spending the summer in La Baule, Brittany, they moved to Switzerland in early September. On the 23rd, their second son Sviatoslav Soulima was born at a maternity clinic in Lausanne; at the end of the month, they took up residence in Clarens.
Over the next four years, Stravinsky and his family lived in Russia during the summer months and spent each winter in Switzerland. During this period, Stravinsky composed two further works for the Ballets Russes: Petrushka (1911), and Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring; 1913).
Shortly following the premiere of The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky contracted typhoid from eating bad oysters, and was confined to a Paris nursing home, unable to depart for Ustilug until 11 July.
During the remainder of the summer, Stravinsky turned his attention to completing his first opera The Nightingale (usually known by its French title Le Rossignol) which he had begun in 1908 (that is, before his association with the Ballets Russes). The work had been commissioned by the Moscow Free Theatre for the handsome fee of 10,000 roubles.
The Stravinsky family returned to Switzerland (as usual) in the fall of 1913. On 15 January 1914, a fourth child, Marie Milène (or Maria Milena), was born in Lausanne. After her delivery, Katya was discovered to have tuberculosis and confined to the famous sanatorium at Leysin, high in the Alps. Igor and the family took up residence nearby, and he completed Le Rossignol there on 28 March.
In April, they were finally able to return to Clarens. By then, the Moscow Free Theatre had gone bankrupt. As a result, Le Rossignol was first performed under Diaghilev's auspices at the Paris Opéra on 26 May 1914, with sets and costumes designed by Alexandre Benois.Le Rossignol enjoyed only lukewarm success with the public and the critics, apparently because its delicacy did not 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 July, with war looming, Stravinsky made a quick trip to Ustilug to retrieve personal effects including his reference works on Russian folk music. He returned to Switzerland just before national borders closed following the outbreak of World War I. The War and subsequent Russian Revolution made it impossible for Stravinsky to return to his homeland, and he did not set foot upon Russian soil again until October 1962.
In June 1915, Stravinsky and his family moved from Clarens to Morges, a town 6 miles south-west of Lausanne on the shore of Lake Geneva. The family would continue to live there (at three different addresses) until 1920.
Stravinsky struggled financially during this period. Russia (and its successor, the USSR) did not adhere to the Berne convention and this created problems for Stravinsky when collecting royalties for the performances of all his Ballets Russes compositions. Stravinsky blamed Diaghilev for his financial troubles, accusing him of failing to live up to the terms of a contract they had signed. He approached the Swiss philanthropist Werner Reinhart for financial assistance during the time he was writing Histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale). Reinhart sponsored and largely underwrote its first performance, conducted by Ernest Ansermet on 28 September 1918 at the Theatre Municipal de Lausanne. In gratitude, Stravinsky dedicated the work to Reinhart and gave him the original manuscript. Reinhart supported Stravinsky further when he funded a series of concerts of his chamber music in 1919: included was a suite from Histoire du soldat arranged for violin, piano and clarinet, which was first performed on 8 November 1919, in Lausanne. In gratitude to his benefactor, Stravinsky also dedicated his Three Pieces for Clarinet (October-November 1918) to Reinhart, who was an excellent amateur clarinetist.
Life in France:
Following the premiere of Pulcinella by the Ballets Russes in Paris on 15 May 1920, Stravinsky returned to Switzerland. On 8 June, the entire family left Morges for the last time, and moved to the fishing village of Carantec in Brittany for the summer while also seeking a new home in Paris. On hearing of their dilemma, couturière Coco Chanel invited Stravinsky and his family to reside at her new mansion "Bel Respiro" in the Paris suburb of Garches until they could find a more suitable residence; they arrived during the second week of September. At the same time, Chanel also guaranteed the new (December 1920) Ballets Russes production of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) with an anonymous gift to Diaghilev, said to have been 300,000 francs.
He formed a business and musical relationship with the French piano manufacturing company Pleyel. Pleyel essentially acted as his agent in collecting mechanical royalties for his works and provided him with a monthly income and a studio space at its headquarters in which he could work and entertain friends and business acquaintances. Under the terms of his contract with the company, Stravinsky agreed to arrange (and to some extent re-compose) many of his early works for the Pleyela, Pleyel's brand of player piano. He did so in a way that made full use of all of the piano's eighty-eight notes, without regard for human fingers or hands. The rolls were not recorded, but were instead marked up from a combination of manuscript fragments and handwritten notes by Jacques Larmanjat, musical director of Pleyel's roll department. Among the compositions that were issued on the Pleyela piano rolls are The Rite of Spring, Petrushka, The Firebird and Song of the Nightingale. During the 1920s, Stravinsky recorded Duo-Art rolls for the Aeolian Company in both London and New York, not all of which have survived.
Patronage was never far away. In the early 1920s, Leopold Stokowski gave Stravinsky regular support through a pseudonymous 'benefactor'. The composer was also able to attract commissions: most of his work from The Firebird onwards was written for specific occasions and was paid for generously.
Stravinsky met Vera de Bosset in Paris in February 1921, while she was married to the painter and stage designer Serge Sudeikin, and they began an affair which led to Vera leaving her husband.
In May 1921, Stravinsky and his family moved to Anglet, near Biarritz, in the south of France. From then until his wife's death in 1939, Stravinsky led a double life, dividing his time between his family in southern France, and Vera in Paris and on tour. Katya reportedly bore her husband's infidelity "with a mixture of magnanimity, bitterness, and compassion".
In September 1924, Stravinsky bought "an expensive house" in Nice: the Villa des Roses.
The Stravinskys became French citizens in 1934 and moved to the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. Stravinsky later remembered this last European address as his unhappiest, as his wife's tuberculosis infected both himself and his eldest daughter Ludmila, who died in 1938. Katya, to whom he had been married for 33 years, died of tuberculosis a year later, in March 1939. Stravinsky himself spent five months in hospital, during which time his mother died. 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.
Life in the United States:
Despite the outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939, the widowed Stravinsky sailed (alone) for the United States at the end of the month, arriving in New York City and thence to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to fulfill his engagement at Harvard. Vera followed him in January, and they were married in Bedford, Massachusetts on 9 March 1940.
Stravinsky settled in West Hollywood. He spent more time living in Los Angeles than any other city. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1945.
Stravinsky had adapted to life in France, but moving to America at the age of 57 was a very different prospect. For a while, he maintained a circle of contacts and emigré friends from Russia, but he eventually found that this did not sustain his intellectual and professional life. He was drawn to the growing cultural life of Los Angeles, especially during World War II, when so many writers, musicians, composers and conductors settled in the area: these included Otto Klemperer, Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, George Balanchine and Arthur Rubinstein. Bernard Holland claimed Stravinsky was especially fond of British writers, who visited him in Beverly Hills, "like W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Dylan Thomas. They shared the composer's taste for hard spirits - especially Aldous Huxley, with whom Stravinsky spoke in French". Stravinsky and Huxley had a tradition of Saturday lunches for west coast avant-garde and luminaries.
Stravinsky sometimes conducted concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and he conducted other orchestras throughout the United States. His plans to write an opera with W. H. Auden coincided with a meeting with the musicologist Robert Craft, who became Stravinsky's interpreter, chronicler, assistant conductor and factotum for countless musical and social tasks, including working together as the Music Directors of the Ojai Music Festival in 1955 and 1956, living with him until his death.
Stravinsky's unconventional major-minor seventh chord in his arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner" led to an incident with the Boston police on 15 January 1944, and he was warned that the authorities could impose a $100 fine upon any "rearrangement of the national anthem in whole or in part". The incident soon established itself as a myth, in which Stravinsky was supposedly arrested for playing the music.
Stravinsky was on the lot of Paramount Pictures during the recording of the musical score to the 1956 film The Court Jester. The red 'recording in progress' light was illuminated to prevent interruptions and Vic Schoen, the composer of the score, had started to conduct a cue, but at that moment he saw that the entire orchestra had turned to look at Stravinsky, who had just walked into the studio. Schoen said, "The entire room was astonished to see this short little man with a big chest walk in and listen to our session. I later talked with him after we were done recording. We went and got a cup of coffee together. After listening to my music Stravinsky told me, "You have broken all the rules". At the time I didn't understand his comment, because I had been self-taught. It took me years to figure out what he had meant".
Stravinsky's professional life encompassed most of the 20th century, including many of its modern classical music styles, and he influenced composers both during and after his lifetime. In 1959, he was awarded the Sonning Award, Denmark's highest musical honour. In 1962, he accepted an invitation to return to Leningrad for a series of concerts. During his stay in the USSR, he visited Moscow and met several leading Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian.
In 1969, Stravinsky moved to the Essex House in New York, where he lived until his death in 1971 at age 88 of heart failure. He was buried at San Michele, close to the tomb of Diaghilev.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1987 he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2004.
Stravinsky displayed an inexhaustible desire to explore and learn about art, literature and life, which manifested itself in several of his Paris collaborations. Not only was he the principal composer for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, but he also collaborated with Picasso (Pulcinella, 1920), Jean Cocteau (Oedipus Rex, 1927), and George Balanchine (Apollon musagète, 1928). His taste in literature was wide and reflected his constant desire for new discoveries. The texts and literary sources for his work began with a period of interest in Russian folklore, which progressed to classical authors and the Latin liturgy and moved on to contemporary France (André Gide, in Persephone) and eventually English literature, including Auden, T. S. Eliot and medieval English verse.
According to Robert Craft, Stravinsky remained a confirmed monarchist throughout his life and loathed the Bolsheviks from the very beginning. In 1930, he remarked, "I don't believe that anyone venerates Mussolini more than I ... I know many exalted personages, and my artist's mind does not shrink from political and social issues. Well, after having seen so many events and so many more or less representative men, I have an overpowering urge to render homage to your Duce. He is the saviour of Italy and - let us hope - Europe". Later, after a private audience with Mussolini, he added, "Unless my ears deceive me, the voice of Rome is the voice of Il Duce. I told him that I felt like a fascist myself... In spite of being extremely busy, Mussolini did me the great honour of conversing with me for three-quarters of an hour. We talked about music, art and politics". When the Nazis placed Stravinsky's works on the list of "Entartete Musik", he lodged a formal appeal to establish his Russian genealogy and declared, "I loathe all communism, Marxism, the execrable Soviet monster, and also all liberalism, democratism, atheism, etc.." Towards the end of his life, at Craft's behest, Stravinsky made a return visit to his native country and composed a cantata in Hebrew, travelling to Israel for its performance.
Stravinsky proved adept at playing the part of a 'man of the world', acquiring a keen instinct for business matters and appearing relaxed and comfortable in public. His successful career as a pianist and conductor took him to many of the world's major cities, including Paris, Venice, Berlin, London, Amsterdam and New York and he was known for his polite, courteous and helpful manner. Stravinsky was reputed to have been a philanderer and was rumoured to have had affairs with high-profile partners, such as Coco Chanel. He never referred to it himself, but Chanel spoke about the alleged affair at length to her biographer Paul Morand in 1946; the conversation was published thirty years later. The accuracy of Chanel's claims has been disputed by both Stravinsky's widow, Vera, and by Craft. Chanel's fashion house avers there is no evidence that any affair between Chanel and Stravinsky ever occurred. A fictionalization of the supposed affair formed the basis of the novel Coco and Igor (2002) and a film, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009). Despite these alleged liaisons, Stravinsky was considered a family man and devoted to his children.
Stravinsky was a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church during most of his life, remarking at one time that, "Music praises God. Music is well or better able to praise him than the building of the church and all its decoration; it is the Church's greatest ornament".
Although Stravinsky was not outspoken about his faith, he was a deeply religious man throughout some periods of his life. As a child, he was brought up by his parents in the Russian Orthodox Church. Baptized at birth, he later rebelled against the Church and abandoned it by the time he was fourteen or fifteen years old. Throughout the rise of his career he was estranged from Christianity and it was not until he reached his early forties that he experienced a spiritual crisis. After befriending a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Nicholas, after his move to Nice in 1924, he reconnected with his faith. He rejoined the Russian Orthodox Church and afterwards remained a committed Christian.Robert Craft noted that Stravinsky prayed daily, before and after composing, and also prayed when facing difficulty. Towards the end of his life, he was no longer able to attend church services. In his late seventies, Stravinsky said:
I cannot now evaluate the events that, at the end of those thirty years, made me discover the necessity of religious belief. I was not reasoned into my disposition. Though I admire the structured thought of theology (Anselm's proof in the Fides Quaerens Intellectum, for instance) it is to religion no more than counterpoint exercises are to music. I do not believe in bridges of reason or, indeed, in any form of extrapolation in religious matters. ... I can say, however, that for some years before my actual "conversion," a mood of acceptance had been cultivated in me by a reading of the Gospels and by other religious literature. ...
Further information: List of compositions by Igor Stravinsky
This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (July 2013)
Stravinsky's output is typically divided into three general style periods: a Russian period, a Neoclassical period, and a Serial period.
Russian Period (c. 1907-1919):
Aside from a very few surviving earlier works, Stravinsky's Russian Period begins with compositions undertaken under the tutelage of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, with whom he studied from 1905 until Rimsky's death in 1908, including the orchestral works: Symphony in E-flat major (1907), Faun and Shepherdess (for mezzo-soprano and orchestra; 1907), Scherzo fantastique (1908), and Feu d'artifice (1908/9). These works clearly reveal the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov, but as Richard Taruskin has shown, they also reveal Stravinsky's knowledge of music by Glazunov, Taneyev, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Dvořák, and Debussy, among others.
Performances in St. Petersburg of Scherzo fantastique and Feu d'artifice attracted the attention of Sergei Diaghilev, who commissioned Stravinsky to orchestrate two piano works of Chopin for the ballet Les Sylphides to be presented in the 1909 debut "Saison Russe" of his new ballet company. Diaghilev subsequently commissioned Stravinsky to write scores for three ballets: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). These ballets have overtly Russian scenarios and, as Richard Taruskin has shown in his revisionist 1996 study Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through "Mavra", all three make significant use of Russian folk tunes, although Stravinsky consistently downplayed this aspect of the music.
The Firebird (L'Oiseau de feu):
The Firebird was first performed at the Paris Opéra on 25 June 1910 by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Like Stravinsky's earlier student works, The Firebird continued to look backward to Rimsky-Korsakov not only in its orchestration, but also in its overall structure, harmonic organization, and melodic content. Also backward-looking is the use of Russian folk tales as the basis of the scenario. The ballet's structure (established before Stravinsky's participation) also looks backward to earlier Russian ballet traditions in calling for significant passages of mimed action to advance the plot alternating with more highly structured dances for soloists and corps de ballet.
The imaginative and sumptuous Romantic score instantly captured the fancy of the Paris public, critics, and fellow composers alike, making Igor Stravinsky famous overnight. Recognizing the music's potential for a wider audience, Stravinsky quickly arranged an orchestral suite for concert performance. He later arranged two additional Firebird suites, the second in 1919, and the third in 1945.
According to Taruskin, Stravinsky second ballet for the Ballet Russe, Petrushka, is where "Stravinsky at last became Stravinsky." Its first performance was given on 13 June 1911 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. The enthusiastic reception by the public, critics, and other composers alike, confirmed Stravinsky's reputation established by The Firebird. The work's success was due not only to the brilliance of the music, but also to the sets and costumes designed by Alexandre Benois, the choreography of Michael Fokine, and the dancing of Vaslav Nijinsky who created the title role.
This time, Stravinsky was directly involved (with Benois) in the development of the scenario. As a result, Petrushka broke new ground by integrating narrative and dance elements in a way that eliminated much of the need for mimed action. The music itself makes significant use not only of a number of Russian folk tunes in addition to two waltzes by Viennese composer Joseph Lanner and a French music hall tune (La Jambe en bois or The Wooden Leg).
The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps):
The riotous premiere of The Rite of Spring by the Ballets Russes on 29 May 1913 is legendary. Every aspect of the production flouted the conventions of ballet. Sub-titled "Pictures of Pagan Russia", the scenario looks back to pre-historic tribal rituals associated with the arrival of spring and culminating in human sacrifice. The décor was designed by Nicholas Roerich, who also designed the costumes. Modeled on his knowledge of historic Russian dress, they concealed the dancers' bodies from head to toe.Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography purposefully contradicted the basic techniques of classical ballet: by requiring dancers to "toe-in", their movements became awkward.
Although The Rite (like its predecessors) makes significant use of Russian folk elements, Stravinsky presents them in radically new ways. Melodies are fragmented into musical cells and presented as ostinati, frequently relating to two (or more) harmonic centers simultaneously.
Ultimately, it was the music's rhythmic structure that was most shocking. Expanding on procedures first explored in Petrushka, Stravinsky artfully contrives to keep the listener rhythmically off-balance by frequent meter changes and unpredictable accents. Nijinsky's choreography closely reflected these rhythms with frequent jumps and spastic contortions. For all these reasons, The Rite of Spring has long been perceived as the icon of 20th-century music.
Following the premiere of The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky returned to work on his first opera, Le Rossignol (The Nightingale; 1914), which he had begun in 1908 but set aside while he composed the three ballets for Diaghilev. He was distressed to discover that his compositional style had changed so significantly that the new music (for Acts II and III) did not match the original music for Act I. Consequently, in 1917, he recast the music as a concert work called Le chant du rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale), eliminating the singers as well as most of the music from Act I.
Stravinsky's next work for Diaghilev was to have been Les noces (The Wedding; 1923), but the outbreak of World War I disrupted these plans. Stravinsky continued working on the music for nearly a decade; Les Noces was not completed in its final form until its first production in Paris by the Ballets Russes.. World War I made it impossible for Stravinsky to return to his homeland and also disrupted the activities of the Ballets Russes, leaving Stravinsky largely without commissioned projects.
In April 1915, Stravinsky received a commission from Winnaretta Singer for a small-scale theatrical work to be performed in her Paris salon. The result was Renard (1916), which he called "A burlesque in song and dance".Renard was Stravinsky's first venture into experimental theatre: the composer's preface to the score specifies a trestle stage on which all the performers (including the instrumentalists) were to appear simultaneously and continuously.
A second experimental theatre piece occupied Stravinsky's attention during 1918: Histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale). Subtitled "to be read, played, and danced" ("lue, jouée et dansée"), it was originally conceived by Ramuz and Stravinsky as a small-scale theatrical work that could be easily toured throughout Switzerland. In keeping with its nature as a touring work, L'Histoire is scored for only seven instruments: violin, clarinet, bassoon, cornet (trumpet), trombone, contrabass, and percussion.
Neoclassical period (c. 1920-1954):
Around 1920, Stravinsky's music began to reflect interest in new compositional strategies. He turned more frequently to concert works with no theatrical connections (though a number were later choreographed by George Balanchine, among others). The absence of a narrative scenario required Stravinsky to develop purely musical means to create coherent structures. Contemporary critics applied the label "neoclassical" to these works, although Stravinsky himself despised the term, calling it "a much-abused expression meaning absolutely nothing."
On 15 May 1920, at the Paris Opéra, the Ballets Russes gave the premiere of Pulcinella, Stravinsky's first new score commissioned by Diaghilev since The Rite of Spring in 1913. Sets and costumes were by Pablo Picasso with the scenario and choreography by Léonid Massine. The music was based on 18th-century compositions thought at the time to have been composed by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Pulcinella is scored for three solo singers (soprano, tenor, and bass) and a relatively small chamber orchestra (divided into concertino and ripieno in keeping with the music's Baroque origins, though there is no keyboard instrument to represent the continuo function).
Also dating to 1920 is the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, which is scored for 24 players (essentially the wind and brass sections of the orchestra without strings).
Oedipus Rex (1927), Apollon musagète (1928), and the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto (1937-38) continued his re-thinking of 18th-century musical styles. Other works from this period include his Symphony of Psalms, 1930), Symphony in C (1940) and Symphony in Three Movements (1945).
Apollon (1928), Persephone (1933) and Orpheus (1947) exemplify not only Stravinsky's return to the music of the Classical period, but also his exploration of themes from the ancient Classical world, such as Greek mythology. In 1951, he completed his last neo-classical work, the opera The Rake's Progress, to a libretto by W. H. Auden that was based on the etchings of William Hogarth. It premiered in Venice that year and was produced around Europe the following year, before being staged in the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1953. It was staged by the Santa Fe Opera in a 1962 Stravinsky Festival, in honor of the composer's 80th birthday and was revived by the Metropolitan Opera in 1997.
Serial period (1954-1968):
In the 1950s, Stravinsky began using serial compositional techniques such as dodecaphony, the twelve-tone technique originally devised by Arnold Schoenberg. He first experimented with non-twelve-tone serial techniques in small-scale vocal and chamber works such as the Cantata (1952), the Septet (1953) and Three Songs from Shakespeare (1953). The first of his compositions to be fully based on such techniques was In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954). Agon (1954-57) was the first of his works to include a twelve-tone series and Canticum Sacrum (1955) was the first piece to contain a movement entirely based on a tone row. Stravinsky expanded his use of dodecaphony in works such as Threni (1958) and A Sermon, a Narrative, and a Prayer (1961), which are based on biblical texts, and The Flood (1962), which mixes brief biblical texts from the Book of Genesis with passages from the York and Chester Mystery Plays.
Innovation and influence:
Stravinsky has been called "one of music's truly epochal innovators". The most important aspect of Stravinsky's work, aside from his technical innovations (including in rhythm and harmony), is the 'changing face' of his compositional style while always 'retaining a distinctive, essential identity'.
Stravinsky's use of motivic development (the use of musical figures that are repeated in different guises throughout a composition or section of a composition) included additive motivic development. This is where notes are subtracted or added to a motif without regard to the consequent changes in metre. A similar technique can be found as early as the sixteenth century, for example in the music of Cipriano de Rore, Orlandus Lassus, Carlo Gesualdo and Giovanni de Macque, music with which Stravinsky exhibited considerable familiarity.
The Rite of Spring is notable for its relentless use of ostinati, for example in the eighth note ostinato on strings accented by eight horns in the section Augurs of Spring (Dances of the Young Girls). The work also contains passages where several ostinati clash against one another. Stravinsky was noted for his distinctive use of rhythm, especially in The Rite of Spring. According to the composer Philip Glass, "the idea of pushing the rhythms across the bar lines ... led the way .... The rhythmic structure of music became much more fluid and in a certain way spontaneous". Glass mentions Stravinsky's "primitive, offbeat rhythmic drive". According to Andrew J. Browne, "Stravinsky is perhaps the only composer who has raised rhythm in itself to the dignity of art". Stravinsky's rhythm and vitality greatly influenced the composer Aaron Copland.
Stravinsky's first neo-classical works were the ballet Pulcinella of 1920 and the stripped-down and delicately scored Octet for Wind Instruments (1923). He may have been preceded in his use of neoclassical devices by composers such as Prokofiev and Erik Satie. By the late 1920s and 1930s, the use by composers of neoclassicism had become widespread. He composed pieces that elaborated on individual works by earlier composers, a tradition that goes back at least to the fifteenth century quodlibet and parody mass. An early example is his Pulcinella (1920), in which he used music attributed to Giovanni Pergolesi and other composers. His source material was at times quoted directly and at other times reinvented. He developed this technique further in the ballet The Fairy's Kiss (1928), which was based on music by Tchaikovsky. Later examples of comparable musical transformations include Stravinsky's use of Schubert's Marche Militaire No. 1 in his Circus Polka (1942) and "Happy Birthday to You" in Greeting Prelude (1955).
Over the course of his career, Stravinsky called for a wide variety of orchestral, instrumental, and vocal forces, ranging from single instruments in such works as Three Pieces for Clarinet (1918) or Elegy for Solo Viola (1944) to the enormous orchestra of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps; 1913) which Aaron Copland characterized as "the foremost orchestral achievement of the 20th century."
Stravinsky's creation of unique and idiosyncratic ensembles arising from the specific musical nature of individual works is a basic element of his style.
Following the model of his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky's student works such as the Symphony in E-flat, Opus 1 (1907), Scherzo fantastique, Opus 3 (1908), and Fireworks (Feu d'artifice), Opus 4 (1908), call for large orchestral forces. This is not surprising, as the works were as much exercises in orchestration as in composition.
The Symphony, for example, calls for 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo); 2 oboes; 3 clarinets in B-flat; 2 bassoons; 4 horns in F; 3 trumpets in B-flat; 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, and strings. The Scherzo fantastique, calls for a slightly larger orchestra but completely omits trombones: it's amusing to discover this was Stravinsky's response to Rimsky's criticism of their over-use in the Symphony.
The three ballets composed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes call for particularly large orchestras. The Firebird (1910) requires winds in fours, 4 horns, 3 trumpets (in A), 3 trombones, tuba, celesta, 3 harps, piano, and strings. The percussion section calls for timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tamtam, tubular bells, glockenspiel, and xylophone. In addition, the original version calls for 3 onstage trumpets and 4 onstage Wagner tubas (2 tenor and 2 bass).
The original version of Petrushka (1911) calls for a similar orchestra (without onstage brass, but with the addition of onstage snare drum). The particularly prominent role of the piano is the result of the music's origin as a Konzertstück for piano and orchestra.
The Rite of Spring (1913) calls for the largest orchestra Stravinsky ever employed: piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd doubles 2nd piccolo), alto flute, 4 oboes (4th doubles 2nd cor anglais), cor anglais, piccolo clarinet in D/E♭, 3 clarinets (3rd doubles 2nd bass clarinet), bass clarinet, piccolo clarinet, 4 bassoons (4th doubles 2nd contrabassoon), contrabassoon, 8 horns (7th and 8th double tenor Wagner tubas), piccolo trumpet in D, 4 trumpets in C (4th doubles bass trumpet in E-flat), 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), 2 tubas. Percussion includes 5 timpani (2 players), bass drum, tamtam, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, antique cymbals, guiro, and strings. (Piano, celesta, and harp are not included.)
If Stravinsky's stated intention was "to send them all to hell", then he may have rated the 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring as a success: it is a famous classical music riot and Stravinsky referred to it on several occasions in his autobiography as a scandale. There were reports of fistfights in the audience and the need for a police presence during the second act. The real extent of the tumult is open to debate and the reports may be apocryphal. Stravinsky was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the century. In addition to the recognition he received for his compositions, he achieved fame as a pianist and a conductor, often at the premieres of his works. In 1923, Erik Satie wrote an article about Igor Stravinsky in Vanity Fair.
Satie had met Stravinsky for the first time in 1910. His attitude towards the Russian composer is marked by deference, as can also be seen from the letters he wrote to him in 1922, in preparation for the Vanity Fair article. With a touch of irony, he concluded in one of these letters, "I admire you: are you not the Great Stravinsky? I am but little Erik Satie". In the published article, Satie argued that measuring the 'greatness' of an artist by comparing him to other artists, as if speaking about some 'truth', is illusory and that every piece of music should be judged on its own merits and not by comparing it to the standards of other composers. That was exactly what Jean Cocteau did when he commented deprecatingly on Stravinsky in his 1918 book, Le Coq et l'Arlequin.
According to The Musical Times in 1923:
All the signs indicate a strong reaction against the nightmare of noise and eccentricity that was one of the legacies of the war.... What has become of the works that made up the program of the Stravinsky concert which created such a stir a few years ago? Practically the whole lot are already on the shelf, and they will remain there until a few jaded neurotics once more feel a desire to eat ashes and fill their belly with the east wind.
In 1935, the American composer Marc Blitzstein compared Stravinsky to Jacopo Peri and C.P.E. Bach, conceding that, "there is no denying the greatness of Stravinsky. It is just that he is not great enough". Blitzstein's Marxist position was that Stravinsky's wish to "divorce music from other streams of life", which is "symptomatic of an escape from reality", resulted in a "loss of stamina", naming specifically Apollo, the Capriccio, and Le Baiser de la fée.
The composer Constant Lambert described pieces such as Histoire du soldat as containing "essentially cold-blooded abstraction". Lambert continued, "melodic fragments in Histoire du Soldat are completely meaningless themselves. They are merely successions of notes that can conveniently be divided into groups of three, five, and seven and set against other mathematical groups" and he described the cadenza for solo drums as "musical purity...achieved by a species of musical castration". He compared Stravinsky's choice of "the drabbest and least significant phrases" to Gertrude Stein's: "Everyday they were gay there, they were regularly gay there everyday" ("Helen Furr and Georgine Skeene", 1922), "whose effect would be equally appreciated by someone with no knowledge of English whatsoever".
In his 1949 book Philosophy of Modern Music, Theodor W. Adorno described Stravinsky as an acrobat and spoke of hebephrenic and psychotic traits in several of Stravinsky's works. Contrary to a common misconception, Adorno didn't believe the hebephrenic and psychotic imitations that the music was supposed to contain were its main fault, as he pointed out in a postscriptum that he added later to his book. Adorno's criticism of Stravinsky is more concerned with the "transition to positivity" Adorno found in his neoclassical works. Part of the composer's error, in Adorno's view, was his neo-classicism, but of greater importance was his music's "pseudomorphism of painting", playing off le temps espace (time-space) rather than le temps durée (time-duration) of Henri Bergson. According to Adorno, "one trick characterizes all of Stravinsky's formal endeavors: the effort of his music to portray time as in a circus tableau and to present time complexes as though they were spatial. This trick, however, soon exhausts itself". Adorno maintained that the "rhythmic procedures closely resemble the schema of catatonic conditions. In certain schizophrenics, the process by which the motor apparatus becomes independent leads to infinite repetition of gestures or words, following the decay of the ego".
Stravinsky's reputation in Russia and the USSR rose and fell. Performances of his music were banned from around 1933 until 1962, the year Nikita Khrushchev invited him to the USSR for an official state visit. In 1972, an official proclamation by the Soviet Minister of Culture, Ekaterina Furtseva, ordered Soviet musicians to "study and admire" Stravinsky's music and she made hostility toward it a potential offence.
While Stravinsky's music has been criticized for its range of styles, scholars had "gradually begun to perceive unifying elements in Stravinsky's music" by the 1980s. Earlier writers, such as Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Boris de Schloezer, and Virgil Thomson, writing in Modern Music (a quarterly review published between 1925 and 1946), could find only a common "'seriousness' of 'tone' or of 'purpose', 'the exact correlation between the goal and the means', or a dry 'ant-like neatness'".
Stravinsky was honored in 1982 by the United States Postal Service with a 2¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.
1959: Léonie Sonning Music Prize,
1962: Best Classical Composition by Contemporary Composer (The Flood),
1962: Best Classical Performance - Orchestra (The Firebird, Igor Stravinsky conducting Columbia Symphony Orchestra),
1962: Best Classical Performance - Instrumental Soloist (with orchestra) (Violin Concerto in D, Isaac Stern; Igor Stravinsky conducting Columbia Symphony Orchestra),
1987: Lifetime Achievement (posthumous),
Recordings and publications:
Further information: Igor Stravinsky discography
3 Pieces for Clarinet Alone
You can download the clip or download a player to play the clip in your browser.
Problems playing this file? See media help.
Igor Stravinsky found recordings a practical and useful tool in preserving his thoughts on the interpretation of his music. As a conductor of his own music, he recorded primarily for Columbia Records, beginning in 1928 with a performance of the original suite from The Firebird and concluding in 1967 with the 1945 suite from the same ballet. In the late 1940s he made several recordings for RCA Victor at the Republic Studios in Los Angeles. Although most of his recordings were made with studio musicians, he also worked with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the CBC Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bavarian Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra.
During his lifetime, Stravinsky appeared on several telecasts, including the 1962 world premiere of The Flood on CBS television. Although he made an appearance, the actual performance was conducted by Robert Craft. Numerous films and videos of the composer have been preserved.
Stravinsky published a number of books throughout his career, almost always with the aid of a (sometimes uncredited) collaborator. In his 1936 autobiography, Chronicle of My Life, which was written with the help of Walter Nouvel, Stravinsky included his well-known statement that "music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all". With Alexis Roland-Manuel and Pierre Souvtchinsky, he wrote his 1939-40 Harvard University Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, which were delivered in French and first collected under the title Poétique musicale in 1942 and then translated in 1947 as Poetics of Music. In 1959, several interviews between the composer and Robert Craft were published as Conversations with Igor Stravinsky, which was followed by a further five volumes over the following decade.
The Ekstrom Collection of the Diaghilev and Stravinsky Foundation is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum London, Department of Theatre and Performance. A full catalogue and details of access arrangements are available here.