Igor Stravinsky


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, Petrushka / Craft
Release Date: 03/22/2005   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8557500   Number of Discs: 1
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Stravinsky: The Rite Of Spring, The Nightingale / Craft
Release Date: 09/20/2005   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8557501   Number of Discs: 1
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Stravinsky: Piano Music / Victor Sangiorgio
Release Date: 01/29/2008   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8570377   Number of Discs: 1
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Stravinsky: Works for Piano & Orchestra / Bavouzet
Release Date: 01/27/2015   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 5147   Number of Discs: 1
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Stravinsky: Firebird, Petrushka, Etc / Rahbari, Brt Po
Release Date: 06/30/1992   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550263   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Concerto for Violin in D major


Stravinsky: Violin Concerto in D - 1. Toccata
Stravinsky: Violin Concerto in D - 2. Aria I
Stravinsky: Violin Concerto in D - 3. Aria II
Stravinsky: Violin Concerto in D - 4. Capriccio
About This Work
Stravinsky composed the Violin Concerto (1931) at the instigation of his friend Willy Strecker, head of the music publishing house of Schotts Söhne in Mainz. Strecker and the young Russian-American violinist Samuel Dushkin approached the Read more composer about the possibility of writing a concerto for Dushkin. Stravinsky, himself a pianist, hesitated, realizing that although he had featured the violin prominently in works like L'histoire du soldat (1918), it was an altogether different matter to write an extended solo work for the instrument.

Stravinsky consulted Paul Hindemith, whom he knew to be a superb string player, and asked him if he thought his lack of knowledge of violin technique would be obvious in the work. Stravinsky later noted: &quot;Not only did he allay my doubts, but he went further and told me that it would be a very good thing, as it would make me avoid a routine technique, and would give rise to ideas which would not be suggested by the familiar movement of the fingers.&quot; Additionally, &quot;Willy Strecker allayed my doubts by assuring me that Dushkin would place himself entirely at my disposal in order to furnish any technical details which I might require. Under such conditions the plan was very alluring.&quot; <br />

Stravinsky then began a close collaboration with Dushkin on the solo part. Dushkin's memoirs reveal that he was quite an active partner in this endeavor. When asked about working with the young virtuoso, Stravinsky said: &quot;When I show Sam a new passage, he is deeply moved, very excited -- then a few days later he asks me to make changes.&quot; Of course, the ultimate creative decisions rested with the composer. For example, when Dushkin argued for the retention of a particularly virtuosic passage, Stravinsky said: &quot;You remind me of a salesman at the Galeries Lafayette. You say, 'Isn't this brilliant, isn't this exquisite, look at the beautiful colours, everybody's wearing it.' I say, 'Yes, it is brilliant, it is beautiful, everyone is wearing it -- I don't want it.'&quot;

Dushkin recalled the genesis of the sonority -- a wide-spanning D - E - A chord -- which begins each movement of the concerto: &quot;During the winter [1930-1931], I saw Stravinsky in Paris quite often. One day when we were lunching in a restaurant, Stravinsky took out a piece of paper and wrote down this chord and asked me if it could be played. I had never seen a chord with such an enormous stretch, from the E to the top A, and I said 'No'. Stravinsky said sadly 'What a pity.' After I got home, I tried it, and, to my astonishment, I found that in that register, the stretch of the 11th was relatively easy to play, and the sound fascinated me. I telephoned Stravinsky at once to tell him that it could be done. When the concerto was finished, more than six months later, I understood his disappointment when I first said 'No'. This chord, in a different dress, begins each of the four movements. Stravinsky himself calls it his 'passport' to that concerto.&quot;

Although Stravinsky insisted that his Violin Concerto was not modeled after those of Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms, he did acknowledge that &quot;the subtitles of my concerto -- Toccata, Aria, Capriccio -- may suggest Bach, and so, in a superficial way, might the musical substance. I am very fond of the Bach Concerto for Two Violins, as the duet of the soloist with a violin from the orchestra in the last movement of my own concerto may show.&quot; The premiere of the concerto took place on October 23, 1931, in Berlin, with Dushkin as soloist and Stravinsky conducting the Berlin Rundfunk Orchestra.

-- Robert Adelson
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