Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky
(Born; Lomonosov, 17 June 1882; Died; New York,
6 April 1971). Russian composer, later of French (1934) and American (1945) nationality.
The son of a leading bass at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, he studied with
Rimsky-Korsakov (1902-8), who was an influence on his early music, though so were
Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Glazunov and (from 1907-8) Debussy and Dukas. This colourful mixture
of sources lies behind The Firebird (1910), commissioned by Dyagilev for his
Ballets Russes. Stravinsky went with the company to Paris in 1910 and spent much of his
time in France from then onwards, continuing his association with Dyagilev in Petrushka
(1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).
These scores show an extraordinary
development. Both use folktunes, but not in any symphonic manner: Stravinsky's forms are
additive rather than symphonic, created from placing blocks of material together without
disguising the joins. The binding energy is much more rhythmic than harmonic, and the
driving pulsations of The Rite marked a crucial change in the nature of Western
music. Stravinsky, however, left it to others to use that change in the most obvious
manner. He himself, after completing his Chinese opera The Nightingale, turned
aside from large resources to concentrate on chamber forces and the piano.
Partly this was a result of World War I, which
disrupted the activities of the Ballets Russes and caused Stravinsky to seek refuge in
Switzerland. He was not to return to Russia until 1962, though his works of 1914-18 are
almost exclusively concerned with Russian folk tales and songs: they include the choral
ballet Les noces ('The Wedding'), the smaller sung and danced fable Renard,
a short play doubly formalized with spoken narration and instrumental music (The
Soldier's Tale) and several groups of songs. In The Wedding, where block form
is geared to highly mechanical rhythm to give an objective ceremonial effect, it took him
some while to find an appropriately objective instrumentation; he eventually set it with
pianos and percussion. Meanwhile, for the revived Ballets Russes, he produced a startling
transformation of 18th-century Italian music (ascribed to Pergolesi) in Pulcinella
(1920), which opened the way to a long period of 'neo-classicism', or re-exploring past
forms, styles and gestures with the irony of non-developmental material being placed in
developmental moulds. The Symphonies of Wind Instruments, an apotheosis of the wartime
'Russian' style, was thus followed by the short number-opera Mavra, the Octet for
wind, and three works he wrote to help him earn his living as a pianist: the Piano
Concerto, the Sonata and the Serenade in A.
During this period of the early 1920s he
avoided string instruments because of their expressive nuances, preferring the clear
articulation of wind, percussion, piano and even pianola. But he returned to the full
orchestra to achieve the starkly presented Handel-Verdi imagery of the opera-oratorio Oedipus
rex, and then wrote for strings alone in Apollon musagète (1928), the last of
his works to be presented by Dyagilev. All this while he was living in France, and Apollon,
with its Lullian echoes, suggests an identification with French classicism which also
marks the Duo concertant for violin and piano and the stage work on which he
collaborated with Gide: Perséphone, a classical rite of spring. However, his
Russianness remained deep. He orchestrated pieces by Tchaikovsky, now established as his
chosen ancestor, to make the ballet Le baiser de la fée, and in 1926 he rejoined
the Orthodox Church. The Symphony of Psalms was the first major work in which his ritual
music engaged with the Christian tradition.
The other important works of the 1930s, apart
from Perséphone, are all instrumental, and include the Violin Concerto, the
Concerto for two pianos, the post-Brandenburg 'Dumbarton Oaks' Concerto and the Symphony
in C, which disrupts diatonic normality on its home ground. It was during the composition
of this work, in 1939, that Stravinsky moved to the USA, followed by Vera Sudeikina, whom
he had loved since 1921 and who was to be his second wife (his first wife and his mother
had both died earlier the same year). In 1940 they settled in Hollywood, which was
henceforth their home. Various film projects ensued, though all foundered, perhaps
inevitably: the Hollywood cinema of the period demanded grand continuity; Stravinsky's
patterned discontinuities were much better suited to dancing. He had a more suitable
collaborator in Balanchine, with whom he had worked since Apollon, and for whom in
America he composed Orpheus and Agon. Meanwhile music intended for films
went into orchestral pieces, including the Symphony in Three Movements (1945).
The later 1940s were devoted to The Rake's
Progress, a parable using the conventions of Mozart's mature comedies and composed to
a libretto by Auden and Kallman. Early in its composition, in 1948, Stravinsky met Robert
Craft, who soon became a member of his household and whose enthusiasm for Schoenberg and
Webern (as well as Stravinsky) probably helped make possible the gradual achievement of a
highly personal serial style after The Rake. The process was completed in 1953
during the composition of the brilliant, tightly patterned Agon, though most of the
serial works are religious or commemorative, being sacred cantatas (Canticum sacrum,
Threni, Requiem Canticles) or elegies (In memoriam Dylan Thomas, Elegy
for J. F. K.). All these were written after Stravinsky's 70th birthday, and he
continued to compose into his mid-80s, also conducting concerts and making many gramophone
records of his music. During this period, too, he and Craft published several volumes of
Operas: The Nightingale
(1914); Mavra (1922); Oedipus rex, opera-oratorio (1927); The Rake's Progress (1951).
Miscellaneous dramatic music:
The Soldier's Tale (1918); Renard (1922); The Flood (1962).
Ballets: The Firebird (1910);
Petrushka (1911); The Rite of Spring (1913); Song of the Nightingale (1919); Pulcinella
(1920); The Wedding (1923); Apollon musagète (1928); Le baiser de la fée (1928);
Perséphone (1934); Jeu de cartes (1937); Circus Polka (1942); Scènes de ballet (1944);
Orpheus (1948); Agon (1957).
Orchestral music: Sym., EFlat;
(1907); Fireworks (1908); Syms. of Wind Insts (1920); Pf Conc., pf, wind, timp, dbn
(1924); Capriccio, pf, orch (1929); Vn Conc., D (1931); Conc. 'Dumbarton Oaks' (1938);
Sym., C (1940); Danses concertantes (1942); Circus Polka (1942); 4 Norwegian Moods (1942);
Ode (1943); Sym. in 3 movts (1945); Ebony Conc. (1945); Conc., D, str (1946); Movements,
pf, orch (1959); Variations (1964).
Choral music The King of the Stars (1912); Sym. of Psalms (1930); Babel (1944); Mass (1948); Cantata (1952); Canticum
sacrum (1955); Threni (1958); A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer (1961); The Dove
Descending (1962); Introitus (1965); Requiem Canticles (1966).
Solo vocal music: Two Bal'mont Poems (1911); Three Japanese Lyrics (1913); Pribaoutki (1914); Berceuses du chat (1916); 3
Shakespeare Songs (1953); In memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954); Abraham and Isaac (1963); Elegy
for J. F. K. (1964); The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (1966).
Chamber music: 3 Pieces, str qt (1914); 3 Pieces, cl (1919); Concertino, str qt (1920); Octet (1923); Duo concertant
(1932); Septet (1953); Epitaphium, fl, cl, harp (1959).
Piano music: 4 Studies (1908); Piano-Rag-Music (1919); Sonata (1924); Serenade, A (1925); Conc., 2 pf (1935); Sonata, 2
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