Igor Stravinsky

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Stravinsky, Igor Fedorovich

 

Born June 5 (17), 1882, in Oranienbaum (now the city of Lomonosov); died Apr. 6, 1971, in New York; buried in Venice. Russian composer and conductor. Son of the singer F. I. Stravinsky.

At an early age Stravinsky became acquainted with Russian literature, painting, theater, and music. He began playing the piano at the age of nine, and at 18 he began his own study of the theory of composition while studying law at St. Petersburg University (1900–05). In 1902 he began musical studies with N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, whom he called his spiritual father. The Scherzo Fantastique and the fantasy Fireworks for orchestra (both 1908) were Stravinsky’s first works to attract attention. Stravinsky was greatly helped by S. P. Diaghilev, organizer of the Russian Seasons Abroad in Paris. It was for Diaghilev’s ballet that he composed The Firebird (1910), Petrouchka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre duprintemps; 1913), which gained the composer world fame. Beginning in 1910, Stravinsky lived alternately in Paris and Switzerland and at his wife’s estate in Russia. He settled in Switzerland in 1914 and in France in 1920. In 1939 he moved to the USA and became a US citizen in 1945. He conducted concert tours abroad, performing his own works and, occasionally, compositions by M. I. Glinka and P. I. Tchaikovsky. These tours became more frequent after World War II. In 1962, Stravinsky performed in composer’s concerts in the USSR.

At the beginning of his career, Stravinsky was influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov, M. P. Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky; he accorded Tchaikovsky’s music high regard even in his later years. C. Debussy exercised a short-lived but strong influence on Stravinsky. Stravinsky was especially interested in Russian folklore, which left its mark on the composer’s Russian period of composition. Next to The Rite of Spring, the central work of these early years was the choreographic cantata The Wedding (Les Noces; 1914–23), which the composer described as “choreographic Russian scenes with singing and music to folk texts from the collection of P. Kireevskii.” Stravinsky turned to folk texts, folk subjects, and the melodiousness of the folk tradition and from these developed an original creative idiom that was bright, explosive, and dynamic. This idiom contributed to a renewal of the Russian national intonational style. At the same time, the everyday music of the modern city also found expression in Stravinsky’s works. Elements of archaic and everyday music were interwoven in The Soldier’s Tale (Histoire du soldat, “a tale of a deserting soldier and the devil”; 1918), a ballet pantomime with narrator. Here, as in another ballet pantomime with singing, The Fox (Reynard; 1916), Stravinsky drew his subject from a Russian folktale. Stravinsky established a new kind of musical stage work, characteristic of present-day conventional theater, by combining various theatrical devices. For example, he incorporated singing into ballet and used oral recitation to elucidate musical performances.

Stravinsky’s shift toward neoclassicism was first evident in Pulcinella, a ballet with singing (based on music by G. B. Pergo-lesi; 1920). The transition was consolidated in his Octet for Wind Instruments and his Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (both 1923). Stravinsky continued in this style until the early 1950’s. Russian themes gave way to those of classical mythology and biblical texts, and the composer concentrated less on vocal music and more on instrumental works. (For his vocal compositions Stravinsky had mainly used Latin and, sometimes, French texts.) This trend diminished the influence of the composer’s Russian origins, although Stravinsky contended: “I have spoken Russian all my life. I think in Russian and have a Russian style. Perhaps it is not immediately evident in my music, but it is ingrained in it, in its hidden nature” (Komsomol’skaia pravda, Sept. 27, 1962, p. 4).

The works Stravinsky composed in this period demonstrated his assimilation of devices and techniques of the European baroque, ancient contrapuntal techniques, and the melodies of Italian bel canto. The composer’s brilliant artistic individuality was able to combine a heterogeneity of styles. Nonetheless, in the late 1930’s, signs of crisis can be seen in Stravinsky’s works, and there was an uncertainty and vacillation in his intellectual striving. Stravinsky’s finest works composed between the 1920’s and the early 1950’s include the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927), the allegorical ballet The Fairy’s Kiss (Le Baiser de lafée, based on music by Tchaikovsky; 1928), Symphony of Psalms (1930), the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1931), the Concerto for Two Pianos (1935), two symphonies (1940, 1945), the ballet Orpheus (1947), and the opera The Rake’s Progress (1951).

In the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, Stravinsky’s creative technique underwent another change—a turn to the twelve-tone technique of A. Schönberg. However, Stravinsky used this compositional technique modulated by his own tonal thinking. His choice of themes became much narrower, and religious images and subject matter predominated. His Mass for Horns and Orchestra (1948) marked a turning point. His music became more severe and acerbic, often self-consciously complex. Vocal-instrumental works to Latin and English texts were predominant. Stravinsky’s most significant compositions included the cantata Canticum sacrum ad honorem Sancti Marci nominis (1956), the ballet Agon (1957), and Requiem Canticles (1966). Stravinsky’s last composition was an adaptation of two songs by H. Wolf for chamber orchestra (1967).

Stravinsky is also the author of literary works, mainly autobiographical. In them he treats certain questions of musical aesthetics in a highly controversial manner, offering subjective evaluations and interpretations. Chronicle of My Life was translated into Russian in 1963 and Dialogues and a Diary in 1971.

REFERENCES

Glebov, Igor’ [Asaf’ev, B. V.]. Kniga o Stravinskom. Leningrad, 1929.
Iarustovskii, B. M. I. Stravinskii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1969.
Druskin, M. S. I. Stravinskii: Lichnost’. Tvorchestvo. Vzgliady. Leningrad-Moscow, 1974.

M. S. DRUSKIN