Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
Russian composer Igor Stravinsky was one of the most influential musical figures of the 20th century and his music is still among the most frequently performed today. His works encompass ballet and opera, orchestral pieces, songs, choral works, and chamber and solo instrumental works, among others. As a whole, Stravinsky’s compositional catalogue is stylistically diverse and reflects his interest in and absorption of certain major musical developments of the period: from the colourful Russian nationalism of his early ballets, to an aggressive, avant-garde style in the First World War Years, to the pared-down neoclassicism of the 1920s to 1950s, to finally, 12-tone serialism.
Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov), near St. Petersburg, on June 17, 1882. The third son of Fyodor, one of Russia’s most notable bass-baritones, the young Igor grew up surrounded by musicians and composers who frequented his parents’ flat, where he also had access to his father’s large library of music scores. He entered St. Petersburg University as a law student though he wanted to study music; he ultimately did so in his own time, taking lessons first with students of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and later with the Russian master himself. In 1910, Stravinsky was catapulted to fame with the Paris Opéra premiere of the ballet, The Firebird, his first of many collaborations with the impresario Serge Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes. Petrushka followed in 1911 and in 1913, The Rite of Spring—a shockingly violent and dissonant score that became a landmark work of early 20th century musical modernism.
After experimenting with avant-garde techniques, Stravinsky embarked on an extended period composing in the “neo-classical” style. In these works, he invigorated 18th-century forms and processes with his own harmonic and rhythmic methods. This aesthetic shift coincided with a move from his native Russia to France in 1920, and continued when he emigrated to the United States in 1941. In the late 1950s, Stravinsky turned to the technique of serialism, which became the basis of his late compositions. Throughout these decades, he maintained a commitment to concert work, appearing as a piano soloist and conductor in performances of his own music. Stravinsky died in New York, April 6, 1971, and is buried on Venice’s cemetery island of San Michele, near the grave of Serge Diaghilev.
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