Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (Игорь Фёдорович Стравинский, ) (17 June, 1882 – 6 April 1971) was a Russian-born composer, considered by many to be the most influential composer of 20th century music. He was a quintessentially cosmopolitan Russian who 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 also achieved fame as a pianist and a conductor, often at the premieres of his works.
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 performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (Russian Ballets): L'Oiseau de feu ("The Firebird") (1910), Petrushka (1911/1947), and Le Sacre du printemps ("The Rite of Spring") (1913). The Rite, whose premiere provoked a riot, transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure, and was largely responsible for Stravinky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary, pushing the boundaries of musical design.
After this first Russian phase Stravinsky turned to neoclassicism in the 1920s. The works from this period tended to make use of traditional musical forms (concerto grosso, fugue, symphony), frequently concealed a vein of intense emotion beneath a surface appearance of detachment or austerity, and often paid tribute to the music of earlier masters, for example J. S. Bach and Tchaikovsky.
In the 1950s he adopted serial procedures, using the new techniques over his last twenty years. Stravinsky's compositions of this period share traits with all 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.
He also published a number of books throughout his career, almost always with the aid of a collaborator, sometimes uncredited. In his 1936 autobiography, Chronicles of My Life, written with the help of Alexis Roland-Manuel, Stravinsky included his infamous statement that "music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all. With Roland-Manuel and Pierre Souvtchinsky he wrote his 1939–40 Harvard University Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, which were delivered in French and later collected under the title Poétique musicale in 1942 (translated in 1947 as Poetics of Music). Several interviews in which the composer spoke to Robert Craft were published as Conversations with Igor Stravinsky They collaborated on five further volumes over the following decade.
Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum (renamed Lomonosov in 1948), Russia and brought up in Saint Petersburg, to a Catholic Polish father and a Russian mother. His childhood, he recalled in his autobiography, was troubled: "I never came across anyone who had any real affection for me. His father, Fyodor Stravinsky, was a bass singer at the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg, and the young Stravinsky began piano lessons and later studied music theory and attempted some composition. In 1890, Stravinsky saw a performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Sleeping Beauty at the Mariinsky Theater; the performance, his first exposure to an orchestra, mesmerized him. At fourteen, he had mastered Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G minor, and the next year, he finished a piano reduction of one of Alexander Glazunov's string quartets.
Despite his enthusiasm for music, his parents expected him to become a lawyer. Stravinsky enrolled to study law at the University of Saint Petersburg in 1901, but was ill-suited for it, attending fewer than fifty class sessions in four years. After the death of his father in 1902, he had already begun spending more time on his musical studies. Because of the closure of the university in the spring of 1905, in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, Stravinsky was prevented from taking his law finals, and received only a half-course diploma, in April 1906. Thereafter, he concentrated on music. On the advice of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, probably the leading Russian composer of the time, he decided not to enter the Saint Petersburg Conservatoire; instead, in 1905, he began to take twice-weekly private tutelage from Rimsky-Korsakov, who became like a second father to him.
In 1905 he was betrothed to his cousin Katerina Nossenko, whom he had known since early childhood. They were married on 23 January 1906, and their first two children, Fyodor and Ludmilla, were born in 1907 and 1908 respectively.
In 1909, his Feu d'artifice (Fireworks), was performed in Saint Petersburg, where it was heard by Sergei Diaghilev, the director of the Ballets Russes in Paris. Diaghilev was sufficiently impressed to commission Stravinsky to carry out some orchestrations, and then to compose a full-length ballet score, L'Oiseau de feu ("The Firebird").
Stravinsky travelled to Paris in 1910 to attend the premiere of The Firebird. His family soon joined him, and decided to remain in the West for a time. He moved to Switzerland, where he lived until 1920 in Clarens and Lausanne. During this time he composed three further works for the Ballets Russes—Petrushka (1911), written in Lausanne, and Le Sacre du printemps ("The Rite of Spring") (1913) and Pulcinella, both written in Clarens.
While the Stravinskys were in Switzerland, their second son, Soulima (who later became a minor composer), was born in 1910; and their second daughter, Maria Milena, was born in 1913. During this last pregnancy, Katerina was found to have tuberculosis, and she was placed in a Swiss sanatorium for her confinement. After a brief return to Russia in July 1914 to collect research materials for Les Noces, Stravinsky left his homeland and returned to Switzerland just before the outbreak of World War I brought about the closure of the borders. He was not to return to Russia for nearly fifty years. Stravinsky was one of the few Eastern Orthodox or Russian Orthodox community representatives living in Switzerland at that time and is still remembered as such in Switzerland to date.
Stravinsky also arranged (and to some extent re-composed) many of his early works for the Pleyela, Pleyel's brand of player piano. Stravinsky did so in a way that made full use of the piano's 88 notes, without regard for the number or span of human fingers and hands. These were not recorded rolls, but were instead marked up from a combination of manuscript fragments and handwritten notes by the French musician, Jacques Larmanjat (musical director of Pleyel's roll department). Stravinsky later claimed that his intention had been to give listeners a definitive version of the performances of his music, but since the rolls were not recordings, it is difficult to see how effective this intention could have been in practice. While many of these works are now part of the standard repertoire, at the time many orchestras found his music beyond their capabilities and unfathomable. Major compositions issued on Pleyela piano rolls include The Rite of Spring, Petrushka, Firebird, Les Noces and Song of the Nightingale. During the 1920s he also recorded Duo-Art rolls for the Aeolian Company in both London and New York, not all of which survive.
After a short stay near Paris, Stravinsky moved with his family to the south of France. He returned to Paris in 1934, to live at the rue Faubourg-St.Honoré. Stravinsky later remembered this as his last and unhappiest European address; his wife's tuberculosis infected his eldest daughter Ludmila, and Stravinsky himself. Ludmila died in 1938, Katerina in the following year. Stravinsky spent five months in hospital, during which time his mother also died.
Although his marriage to Katerina endured for 33 years, the true love of his life, and later his partner until his death, was the woman who became his second wife Vera de Bosset (1888-1982). When Stravinsky met Vera in Paris in February 1921, she was married to the painter and stage designer Serge Sudeikin, however they soon began an affair which led to her leaving her husband. From then until Katerina's death from cancer in 1939, Stravinsky led a double life, spending some of his time with his first family and the rest with Vera. Katerina soon learned of the relationship and accepted it as inevitable and permanent.
During his latter years in Paris, Stravinsky had developed professional relationships with key people in the United States; he was already working on the Symphony in C for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and had agreed to lecture at Harvard during the academic year of 1939-40. When World War II broke out in September 1939, Stravinsky moved to the United States. Vera followed him early in the next year and they were married in Bedford, MA, USA, on 9 March 1940.
In 1959, Stravinsky was awarded the Sonning Award, Denmark's highest musical honour. In 1962, he accepted an invitation to return to Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) for a series of concerts. He spent more than two hours speaking with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who urged him to return to the Soviet Union. Despite the invitation, Stravinsky remained settled in the West.
In 1969, he moved to New York where he lived his last years at Essex House. Two years later, he died at the age of 88 in New York City and was buried in Venice on the cemetery island of San Michele. His grave is close to the tomb of his long-time collaborator Sergei Diaghilev. Stravinsky's professional life had encompassed most of the 20th century, including many of its modern classical music styles, and he influenced composers both during and after his lifetime. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6340 Hollywood Boulevard and posthumously received the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1987.
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 proved adept at playing the part of "man of the world", acquiring a keen instinct for business matters and appearing relaxed and comfortable in many of the world's major cities. Paris, Venice, Berlin, London and New York City all hosted successful appearances as pianist and conductor. Most people who knew him through dealings connected with performances spoke of him as polite, courteous and helpful. For example, Otto Klemperer, who knew Arnold Schoenberg well, said that he always found Stravinsky much more co-operative and easy to deal with. At the same time, he had a marked disregard for those he perceived to be his social inferiors: Robert Craft was embarrassed by his habit of tapping a glass with a fork and loudly demanding attention in restaurants.
Although a notorious philanderer (who was rumoured to have affairs with high-profile partners such as Coco Chanel), Stravinsky was also a family man who devoted considerable amounts of his time and expenditure to his sons and daughters.
The first of the ballets, L'Oiseau de feu, is noted for its imaginative orchestration, evident at the outset from the introduction in 12/8 meter, which exploits the low register of the double bass. Petrushka, the first of Stravinsky's ballets to draw on folk mythology, is also distinctively scored. In the third ballet, The Rite of Spring, the composer attempted to depict musically the brutality of pagan Russia, which inspired the violent motifs that recur throughout the work. To this day its vision of pagan rituals, enacted in an imaginary ancient Russia continues to dazzle and overwhelm audiences. Once again, Stravinsky's originality is evident: the opening theme, played on a bassoon at the very top of its register, has become one of the most famous passages in Western art music, as has the pulsing syncopated eighth-note motif in the strings, its accents marked by horn.
If Stravinsky's stated intention was "to send them all to hell", then he may have rated the 1913 premiere of Le sacre du printemps as a success: it is among the most famous classical music riots, and Stravinsky referred to it frequently as a "scandale" in his autobiography. There were reports of fistfights among the audience, and the need for a police presence during the second act. The real extent of the tumult, however, is open to debate, and these reports may be apocryphal.
Stravinsky later commented about the première of The Rite: "As for the actual performance, I am not in a position to judge, as I left the auditorium at the first bars of the prelude, which had at once evoked derisive laughter. I was disgusted. These demonstrations, at first isolated, soon became general, provoking counter-demonstrations and very quickly developing into a terrific uproar. During the whole performance I was at Nijinsky's side in the wings. He was standing on a chair, screaming 'Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen'--they had their own method of counting to keep time. Naturally the poor dancers could hear nothing by reason of the row in the auditorium and the sound of their own dance-steps. I had to hold Nijinsky by his clothes, for he was furious, and ready to dash on to the stage at any moment and create a scandal. Diaghilev kept ordering the electricians to turn the lights on or off, hoping in that way to put a stop to the noise. That is all I can remember about that first performance.
Works from this period include the three symphonies: the Symphonie des Psaumes (Symphony of Psalms) (1930), Symphony in C (1940) and Symphony in Three Movements (1945). Apollon, Persephone (1933) and Orpheus (1947) exemplify not only Stravinsky's return to music of the Classical period, but also his exploration of themes from the ancient Classical world such as Greek mythology.
Stravinsky completed his last neo-classical work, the opera The Rake's Progress, in 1951, to a libretto by W. H. Auden based on the etchings of Hogarth. It was almost ignored after it was staged by the Metropolitan Opera in 1953. It was presented by the Santa Fe Opera in its first season in 1957 with Stravinsky in attendance, and this marked the beginning of his long association with the company. The music is direct but quirky; it borrows from classic tonal harmony but also interjects surprising dissonances; it features Stravinsky's trademark off-rhythms; and it harks back to the operas and themes of Monteverdi, Gluck and Mozart. The opera was revived by the Metropolitan Opera in 1997.
He first experimented with non-twelve-tone serial technique in small-scale vocal and chamber works such as the Cantata (1952), Septet (1953), and Three Songs from Shakespeare (1953), and his first composition to be fully based on these non-twelve-tone serial techniques is In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954). Agon (1954–57) is his first work to include a twelve-tone series, and Canticum Sacrum (1955) is his first piece to contain a movement entirely based on a tone row ("Surge, aquilo"). Stravinsky later expanded his use of dodecaphony in works including Threni (1958), A Sermon, a Narrative, and a Prayer (1961), and The Flood (1962), which are based on biblical texts.
Agon, written from 1954 to 1957, is a ballet choreographed for twelve dancers. It is an important transitional composition between Stravinsky's neo-classical period and his serial style. Some numbers of Agon are reminiscent of the "white-note" tonality of the his neo-classic period, while others (for example Bransle Gay) display his re-interpretation of serial methods.
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 meter. A similar technique may 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 also notable for its relentless use of ostinati; for example, in the eighth note ostinato on strings accented by eight horns in the section Auguries of Spring (Dances of the Young Girls). The work also contains passages where several ostinati clash against one another.
According to 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 also praises 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 composer Aaron Copland.
By the late 1920s and 1930s, the use by composers of neoclassicism had become widespread.
Stravinsky also wrote for unique combinations of instruments in smaller ensembles, chosen for their precise tone colours. For example, Histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale) is scored for clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, violin, double bass and percussion, a strikingly unusual combination for 1918.
Stravinsky occasionally exploited the extreme ranges of instruments, most famously at the opening of the Rite of Spring where Stravinsky uses the extreme upper reaches of the bassoon to simulate the symbolic "awakening" of a spring morning.
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, 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 is that Stravinsky's wish was to "divorce music from other streams of life," which is "symptomatic of an escape from reality", resulting in a "loss of stamina his new works show", naming specifically Apollo, the Capriccio, and Le Baiser de la fée.
Composer Constant Lambert described pieces such as Histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale) 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 book Philosophy of Modern Music (1949), Theodor Adorno called Stravinsky an acrobat, a civil servant, a tailor's dummy, hebephrenic, psychotic, infantile, fascist, and devoted to making money. Part of the composer's error, in Adorno's view, was his neo-classicism, but more important was his music's "pseudomorphism of painting," playing off le temps espace (time-space) rather than le temps durée (time-duration) of Henri Bergson. "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. His "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 reception in Russia and the USSR went back and forth. Performances of his music stopped from around 1933 until the early 1960s, at which point the official position became that one must appreciate Stravinsky.
According to Paul Griffith's The Rake's Progress "gives justification in terms of human psychology, and of the realities of the world, for that obsessional need to repeat and return.
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 including a, "'seriousness' of 'tone' or of 'purpose'.