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).
It has been used by George Balanchine as music for two ballets.
Blair Fairchild (1877-1933), Dushkin's patron, commissioned the work.
A similar chord is played by the soloist in the beginning of each movement, which the composer himself described as "the password to the concerto." It is believed that the chord, which stretches from D to E to A with an additional octave in between each, was conceived while Stravinsky was eating lunch in a cafe in Paris. Dushkin claimed at first that the chord was unplayable but he later figured out how to, much to Stravinsky's delight.
A typical performance of the concerto will last approximately 20 minutes.
The concerto was choreographed by George Balanchine as "Balustrade" in 1941. It premiered on January 22, 1941 with Colonel de Basil's company Original Ballet Russe. In 1972 Balanchine created a new Ballet to the music, entitled "Stravinsky Violin Concerto." It was premiered by New York City Ballet as part of the Stravinsky Festival.