Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was a pianist, composer and conductor, greatly revered for his contributions to music. He is regarded as one of the most popular and influential composers of the 20th century. His works enjoyed wide popularity due to his use of innovative stylistic variations, which had changed many conventional concepts of composing and pushed the boundaries of music. Stravinsky’s works were marked by distinctive rhythmic structure. According to him, "music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all." Stravinsky was so passionate to learn more, no matter what it is. Music, art, literature, life—he liked to learn about everything. He researched Russian folklore and classical literature and made use of this knowledge in his works. His researches were not confined to Russian literature. He researched extensively in English literature including medieval literature to satisfy his eager desire to learn more. He wrote an autobiography namely “Chronicles of My Life”. Read on to learn more about this legend.
Igor Stravinsky’s Childhood and Early Life
Igor Stravinsky was born on 17 June 1882 to the couple Anna Kholodovsky and Fyodor Stravinsky, in Oranienbaum, a municipal town, in Russia and brought up in Saint Petersburg. His childhood days were never a sweet memory as he felt neglected and hated. Music was the only thing that he was happy about and he started taking piano lessons at a young age. He was so passionate about music that he never missed any chance to listen to music.
In 1890, he happened to listen to Tchaikovsky’s famous ballot, “The Sleeping Beauty”. This was the first time ever that he came across an orchestral performance. Awestruck would be too small a word to describe the complete elation that he felt, which further fuelled his interest in music. He mastered Mendelssohn’s piano Concerto (G minor) and the following year, he successfully attempted a piano reduction of Galzunov’s string quartets. Though his parents saw his passion for music they did not want him to pursue it. Instead, they wanted him to become a lawyer and he was enrolled to study law at the University of Saint Petersburg, in 1901. But he was not interested in that at all and attended only a few classes, attending no more than 50 classes in four years, concentrating more on music. Since he couldn’t take his law finals, he received only a half-course diploma in law in 1906. After the death of his father, he started studying music seriously. Stravinsky met Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakove, then the leading composer of Russia, and on his advice, Stravinsky refrained from entering the Saint Petersburg Conservatoire. Instead, he started learning from Rimsky-Korsakove and this continued until 1908.
He performed his work Feu d'artifice (Fireworks) in Saint Petersburg, in 1909 and Sergei Diaghilev, director of the Paris based Ballets Russes, happened to be in the audience and was quite impressed with it. Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to perform in more concerts and later to compose a full-length ballet score. This work was called “The Firebird”, which was a great success. The ballet premiered in Paris in 1910 and he went there to attend it. Later, his family joined him and they decided to stay there for some time.
Stravinsky In Switzerland
He settled in Switzerland and stayed there till 1920. He worked on three major compositions during this period. These works are “Petrushka” (1911), “The Rite of Spring” (1913) and “Pulcinella”, all of which turned out to be big hits. Stravinsky travelled back to Russia to collect some research materials, which were required for “Les noces”, a ballet composed by him. He returned to Switzerland just before the World War I because the borders were about to close due to the war. Being one among the few Russian orthodox or Eastern orthodox community members settled in Switzerland, he is still remembered there.
As Russia refrained from joining the Berne convention, Stravinsky faced some problems in collecting royalties for his performances and works. This led him to serious financial difficulties and to get out of this contingency, Stravinsky approached the Swiss philanthropist, Warner Reinhart for financial assistance. At that time he was writing “Histoire du soldat” (The soldier’s tale) and he conducted the first performance with Earnest Ansermet, in 1918, at the Municipal de Lausanne. This entire event was sponsored by Reinhart and in return Stravinsky dedicated this work to him. The next year, Reinhart again funded a series of concerts by Stravinsky. In gratitude of all the help, Stravinsky again dedicated another work “Three Pieces for Clarinat” to Reinhart. Reinhart, on the other hand, founded a music library at his home dedicated to Stravinsky.
Stravinsky In France
Stravinsky went to France in 1920 and formed a music based business relationship with Joseph Pleyel, who was, by profession, a piano manufacturer and a composer. Pleyel helped Stravinsky in collecting royalties, thus providing him with a fixed monthly income and some studio space, which he used for composing and other activities. Stravinsky arranged and also re-composed some of his early works for the Pleyela, (a player piano made by Pleyel). Some of the major works which Stravinsky did for the Pleyela include “The Rite of Spring”, “Petrushka”, “Firebird”, “Les noces” and “Song of the Nightingale”.
From Paris, Stravinsky moved to the southern part of France for a brief period and then returned to Paris again in 1934 and lived at the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore. He accepted French citizenship the same year. Soon after this, Stravinsky faced the most grief-stricken period in his life. Stravinsky and his eldest daughter Ludmilla was diagnosed with tuberculosis probably contacted from his wife. Stravinsky was admitted to a hospital for five months for treatment. Ludmilla died in 1938 and his wife, Katerina, in 1939. To add to his grief, his mother also died during this period.
Stravinsky met a lady named Vera de Bosset in 1921, who was a dancer and an artist, much before Katerina’s death and they came closer, forming a strong relationship. Vera was married to another man at that time and later, she left her husband and became Stravinsky’s mistress. However, Stravinsky managed to spend time with his first family and also with Vera. During that period, Stravinsky got an opportunity to work on the “Symphony in C” for an American orchestra called the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and this helped him to develop professional relationship with some key people in the United States. In 1939, Stravinsky got an offer to lecture at Harvard University for a year. He then moved to the United States during World War II and took his love Vera also.
Stravinsky In America
Stravinsky chose to settle in Los Angeles and he remained there for the rest of his life. In 1945, he became a US citizen. At first Stravinsky found adapting to the American life quite difficult and so he surrounded himself with Russian friends and acquaintances. But, gradually, in order to preserve his intellectual life, he was drawn to the company of many musicians, writers, poets and composers settled in Los Angeles. Some of them were Otto Klemperer, Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, George Balanchine and Arthur Rubinstein. Settled in Los Angeles, Stravinsky worked for famous orchestras like the Los Angeles Philharmonic and also performed in other concerts.
At Los Angeles, he also met the famous British poet, W.H Auden and planned to write an opera with him. It was during this time that he met Robert Craft, a conductor and musicologist. They became close to each other and became lifelong friends. Craft played different roles as interpreter, chronicler and assistant conductor for most of Stravinsky’s musical and social activities. Stravinsky was part of the musical score for the “The Court Jester” in 1956. In 1962, Stravinsky went to Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) to perform a series of concerts. He then went to Moscow and met many renowned musicians like Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian. In 1969, he shifted to New York where he lived for the rest of his life.
Personal Life And Death
Stravinsky was betrothed to Katerina Nossenko, his cousin, in 1905 and married her in 1906. This was against the Orthodox Church’s wish as marriage between first cousins was not considered licit in orthodox customs. The couple welcomed their first baby, Fyodor, in1907 and their second child, Ludmillain, in 1908. While at Switzerland, his wife gave birth to their third baby, Soulima, in 1910, who later in life became a composer. In 1913, their next child, Marina Milena, was born. Sadly, Katerina was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was taken to a Swiss sanatorium in Leysin for confinement. His daughter, Ludmilla, who also contacted tuberculosis, died in 1938 and his wife, Katerina passed away the next year. Stravinsky married his mistress of many years after moving to America in Bedford on 9March, 1940. He died in 1971 at the age of 88 and was buried in San Michele Cemetery Island in Venice.
Though he was never outspoken about his faith, he maintained a deep respect for his religion. He was a bit alienated from the religious frame of life for some time but he returned back to his faith in God after he met a Russian priest Rev. Father Nicholas. In a major part of his life he maintained proper Russian Orthodox Christian way of living.
Stravinsky And His Music
On analyzing Stravinsky’s compositions, one can clearly distinguish three different phases. During the initial stages, he expressed a tendency to use large orchestra and his scoring pattern was markedly influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov. His works has exhibited development in the stylistic aspect. He had used a style influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov in “The Firebird” and also pandiatonicism where he used diatonic scale without being limited by tonality. Later on, in “The Rite of Spring” he adopted polytonality. If “The Fire Bird” was made on imaginative orchestration, in “The Rite of Spring” he attempted to depict the brutality of a Pagan musically.
In the next period, Stravinsky adopted a neoclassic style. His work “Mavra” is believed to be the first work based on this style. His last neoclassical work was an opera “The Rake’s Progress”, composed in 1951. He then moved to serialism. He used serial techniques like dodecaphony during this phase. This style is well demonstrated in his works like “Cantata” and “Septet”. He had experimented with many styles in composing, using different techniques, rhythm and harmony, which is why he is considered to be “one of music’s truly epochal innovators”. Stravinsky’s compositions exhibit motivic development in which the musical figures are repeated in different guises throughout the entire composition or a section of composition. Famous musician Andrew J. Browne had commented on Stravinsky’s experiments with rhythms. He said “Stravinsky is perhaps the only composer who has raised rhythm in itself to the dignity of art.”
- Fireworks , 1908
- Firebird ballet, 1910
- Petrushka, 1911
- The Rite of Spring, 1913
- Octet, 1923
- Oedipus rex, 1927
- Symphony of Psalms, 1930
- The Rake's Progress, 1951
- Agon, 1957
- Requiem Canticles, 1966
Awards And Accolades
- Stravinsky was awarded the Sonning Award, Denmark's highest musical honor, in 1959.
- He was posthumously honored with the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, in 1987.
- Stravinsky was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame, in 2004.
- He was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 2¢ Great Americans series postage stamp, in 1982.