Igor Stravinsky

Biography

Born: Jun 17, 1882; Russia   Died: Apr 6, 1971; USA   Period: 20th Century
Igor Stravinsky was one of music's truly epochal innovators; no other composer of the twentieth century exerted such a pervasive influence or dominated his art in the way that Stravinsky did during his seven-decade musical career. Aside from purely technical considerations such as rhythm and harmony, the most important hallmark of Stravinsky's style is, indeed, its changing face. Emerging from the spirit of late Russian nationalism and ending his Read more career with a thorny, individual language steeped in twelve-tone principles, Stravinsky assumed a number of aesthetic guises throughout the course of his development while always retaining a distinctive, essential identity.

Although he was the son of one of the Mariinsky Theater's principal basses and a talented amateur pianist, Stravinsky had no more musical training than that of any other Russian upper-class child. He entered law school, but also began private composition and orchestration studies with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. By 1909, the orchestral works Scherzo fantastique and Fireworks had impressed Sergei Diaghilev enough for him to ask Stravinsky to orchestrate, and subsequently compose, ballets for his company. Stravinsky's triad of early ballets -- The Firebird (1909-1910), Petrushka (1910-1911), and most importantly, The Rite of Spring (1911-1913) -- did more to establish his reputation than any of his other works; indeed, the riot which followed the premiere of The Rite is one of the most notorious events in music history.

Stravinsky and his family spent the war years in Switzerland, returning to France in 1920. His jazz-inflected essays of the 1910s and 1920s -- notably, Ragtime (1918) and The Soldier's Tale (1918) -- gave way to one of the composer's most influential aesthetic turns. The neo-Classical tautness of works as diverse as the ballet Pulcinella (1919-1920), the Symphony of Psalms (1930) and, decades later, the opera The Rake's Progress (1948-1951) made a widespread impact and had an especial influence upon the fledgling school of American composers that looked to Stravinsky as its primary model. He had begun touring as a conductor and pianist, generally performing his own works. In the 1930s, he toured the Americas and wrote several pieces fulfilling American commissions, including the Concerto in E flat, "Dumbarton Oaks."

After the deaths of his daughter, his wife, and his mother within a period of less than a year, Stravinsky emmigrated to America, settling in California with his second wife in 1940. His works between 1940 and 1950 show a mixture of styles, but still seem centered on Russian or French traditions. Stravinsky's cultural perspective was changed after Robert Craft became his musical assistant, handling rehearsals for Stravinsky, traveling with him, and later, co-authoring his memoirs. Craft is credited with helping Stravinsky accept 12-tone composition as one of the tools of his trade. Characteristically, though, he made novel use of such principles in his own music, producing works in a highly original vein: Movements (1958-1959) for piano and orchestra, Variations: Aldous Huxley in Memoriam (1963), and the Requiem Canticles (1965-1966) are among the most striking. Craft prepared the musicians for the exemplary series of Columbia Records LPs Stravinsky conducted through the stereo era, covering virtually all his significant works. Despite declining health in his last years, Stravinsky continued to compose until just before his death in April 1971. Read less

Stravinsky: The Firebird / Litton, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Release Date: 01/31/2012   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 1874   Number of Discs: 1
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Karajan 1949-1960: Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Balakirev, Stravinsky
Release Date: 05/13/2014   Label: Warner Classics  
Catalog: 633620   Number of Discs: 7
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Stravinsky: Danses concertantes, etc / Saraste, Avanti CO
Release Date: 09/22/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 292   Number of Discs: 1
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Stravinsky: Rite Of Spring, Etc / Ehrling, Swedish Radio So
Release Date: 03/25/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 400   Number of Discs: 1
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Stravinsky: Piano Transcriptions / Achatz, Pöntinen
Release Date: 09/22/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 188   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Fireworks, Op. 4

 

About This Work
One of a handful of Stravinsky's early compositions with an opus number, Fireworks (1908) is perhaps most significant for its role in propelling the composer toward fame. Indeed, it was this work that caught the attention of the members of the Read more Ballets Russes and led to the composition of the first of Stravinsky's epochal ballets, The Firebird (1910).

Fireworks is a short, brilliant showpiece for orchestra composed in just six weeks in late spring 1908. The work is notable for its juxtaposition of chromatic color and diatonic themes, a feature that suggests Stravinsky's debt to turn-of-the-century Russian symphonic style. In fact, Stravinsky composed Fireworks with the intention of showing to it Rimsky-Korsakov, his teacher and mentor, who died before Stravinsky could present the work to him.

While Stravinsky's early works are somewhat rigid and derivative, Fireworks is a harbinger of his compositional maturity. Among the more notable features are the masterful instrumental effects, which presage the virtuoso orchestration of The Firebird. The metric asymmetry and unpredictability that became a hallmarks of Stravinsky's music are present in the irregular barring, providing contrast to the regularity of the composer's earlier works. Foreshadowing another characteristic of his later style, Stravinsky develops the opening theme through the use of fugue and canon.

-- Alexander Carpenter
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