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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Stravinsky: Rite of Spring; Sibelius: Symphony No 5 / Bernstein
Release Date: 09/25/2012   Label: Ica Classics  
Catalog: 5082   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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Jenny Lin - Stravinsky
Release Date: 02/25/2014   Label: Steinway & Sons  
Catalog: 30028   Number of Discs: 1
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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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Work: L'Histoire du soldat

 

About This Work
Prior to embarking on his so-called neo-Classical period in the 1920s, Stravinsky had already pared down his style considerably from the extravagant ballet scores of the early 1910s to the economy and restraint that characterizes L'histoire du soldat Read more (The Soldier's Tale). The forced economy of wartime influenced not only the work's modest resources, but its subject matter. Written in collaboration with the Swiss author C.F. Ramuz and based on a Russian fable about a fiddle-playing soldier (although the text is in French), L'histoire was to be narrated, played and danced, but could also be performed independent of the text as a concert suite. The first performance of L'histoire du soldat took place in Lausanne Switzerland on September 28, 1918.

Stravinsky and Ramuz based their subject on a collection of Russian tales dealing with the adventures of a soldier who deserts the army and the devil who eventually possesses his soul. The soldier's desertion is somewhat glossed over, but the fiddle he carries in his knapsack and which the Devil wins from him, assumes a symbolic importance that makes the story a kind of miniature version of the Faust legend.

Despite the scenario's Russian basis, Stravinsky made the music as non-Russian as possible by using North and South American, Spanish, and German material. The score tends to mimic -- and parody -- standard dance styles (ragtime, waltz, and tango) as well as marches and two chorales. The unique chamber instrumentation emphasizes the high and low registers of each family (violin, double-bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, and percussion) that leaves room in the middle registers. The music often abstractly evokes the sound of a New Orleans jazz band, which Stravinsky had recently become acquainted with through scores imported from America by his colleague Ernest Ansermet. <br />

The score also calls for four dramatis personae: the Soldier and the Devil (both speaking parts), the Princess (who is silent), and a Reader. Moreover, the Princess and the Devil are required to dance. The music is organized as a series of brief tableaux with the action presented mainly through mime and dancing, and continuity supplied by the narrator. The atmosphere of the entire production suggests a cabaret or an informal street entertainment, and it's portability has also been referred to as &quot;pocket theater.&quot;

Stravinsky's harmonic language is modern, pungent and at times bitonal, yet the weight of the interest is on the high level of rhythmic complexity and intricacy. From the opening &quot;Marche du Soldat&quot; to the &quot;Marche Royale,&quot; lively, unpredictable rhythms with prickly irregularities are employed in a firmly tongue-and-cheek manner. Asymmetrical phrases are juxtaposed against independent accompanimental ostinati, suggesting the uneven tread of the soldier as he ventures across the countryside.

-- Brian Wise
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