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

Jenny Lin - Stravinsky
Release Date: 02/25/2014   Label: Steinway & Sons  
Catalog: 30028   Number of Discs: 1
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1930s Violin Concertos Vol 1 - Barber, Hartmann, Berg, Stravinsky, Britten / Gil Shaham
Release Date: 02/25/2014   Label: Canary Classics  
Catalog: 12   Number of Discs: 2
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Stravinsky: The Firebird; Scherzo Fantastique / Saraste, WDR Symphony Orchestra
Release Date: 10/25/2011   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 11041   Number of Discs: 1
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Günter Wand Edition - Stravinsky, Prokofiev
Release Date: 08/16/2005   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 4056   Number of Discs: 1
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Stravinsky: The Soldier's Tale / Haugland, Järvi, Rsno
Release Date: 07/26/1994   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9189   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Chant du rossignol (Song of the Nightingale)

 

About This Work
Le chant du rossignol is the symphonic poem Stravinsky extracted from his opera based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen, Le rossignol (The Nightingale) (1914). Stravinsky began composing Le rossignol in early 1908 while he was still a composition Read more pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, and the first act of the opera was substantially completed by 1909. But the commission that led to the composition of L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird) (1910), Petrushka (1911), and then Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) (1913) delayed the composition of the second and third acts until 1914. By that time Stravinsky's style had changed nearly beyond recognition, and although Stravinsky tried to recover the thread of the composition, the music of the latter two acts of Le rossignol is different and far more harmonically advanced than the music from the first act.

In 1919, Stravinsky reconsidered the opera and decided to transform the musically homogenous second and third acts into a three-part symphonic poem. In order to facilitate this structural transformation, he dropped some portions of the opera's score and repeated others to achieve a symphonically balanced form. Stravinsky divided the music of the two acts into three unequal parts: the shorter "The Feast in the Emperor of China's Palace" and "The Two Nightingales," and the much longer "Illness and Recovery of the Emperor of China," with its substantial epilogue in the form of a funeral march. And in order to adjust the work to an ensemble without voices, he transferred the lines of the live Nightingale and the mechanical Nightingale to the solo flute and the solo violin. The greater ranges of these instruments in turn allowed him to expand and extend the accompaniment's textures so that they become more open and spacious.

The result is is neither a true symphonic poem -- it's still far too loosely constructed for that -- nor a suite from the opera -- it's far too exclusive for that. Le chant du rossignol is a gorgeously colored, melodically extravagant, and harmonically adventurous work that sounds unlike anything else Stravinsky had ever written and anything else he was ever to compose.

-- James Leonard
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