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 hisRead 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 (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Introduction
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Kashchei's enchanted garden
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Appearance of the Firebird pursued by Ivan Tsarevich
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Dance of the Firebird
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Ivan Tsarevich captures the Firebird
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Supplication of the Firebird
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Game of the Princesses with the golden apples
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Sudden appearance of Ivan Tsarevich
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Round dance of the Princesses
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Daybreak
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Magic carillon, appearance of Kashchei's guardian monsters and capture of Ivan Tsarevich
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Dance of Kashchei's retinue under the spell of the Firebird
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Infernal dance of all Kashchei's subject's
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Lullaby of the Firebird
Stravinsky: The Firebird (L'oiseau de feu) - Ballet (1910) - Collapse of Kashchei's palace and dissolution of all enchantments - Reanimation of the petrified prisoners - General rejoicing
About This Work
The Firebird was Stravinsky's first major success, the first of his ballets to be premiered by Sergei Diaghilev's famous Ballets Russes. Its fantasy-like story tells of Prince Ivan, who befriends the Firebird and later summons the magical creature toRead more
aid him in defeating the evil magician Kastchei and his fiendish monsters.
Cast in two scenes and having 22 dance numbers, the ballet opens with the "Introduction," which is dominated by an ominous, searching ostinato, initially heard in the bass strings. The mood remains dark and mysterious in the ensuing "Kastchei's Enchanted Garden," but things brighten in the glittering instrumentation that depicts the appearance of the Firebird and in the "Dance of the Firebird," where you can almost see the creature flit and flutter. This music corresponds to the second movement in the 1919 Suite No. 2, the most popular of the three the composer extracted from the ballet.
After the Firebird's capture, the music turns dark and fills with yearning as the creature desperately pleads to Prince Ivan for its release, which he grants, thus gaining its favor. The music in the next four numbers deals with the enchanted princesses and is light and playful in the first two, reflective and sentimental in the latter pair.
"Daybreak" is vigorous and colorful, but conveys an ominous sense, a sense that continues when the Prince enters Kastchei's palace. The next several numbers deal with Kastchei and his retinue of monsters, and with the capture of the Prince. In these the music becomes threatening and dark, but without ever losing its fantasy-like character.
The music depicting the Firebird's reappearance to save the Prince again features a colorful, busy character. The dance of Kastchei's court and the famous Infernal dance follow, the latter a grotesque, rhythmic piece that many listeners will recognize as comprising the seventh movement of the Suite No. 2.
"The Lullaby" follows, featuring an exotic, lonely theme on bassoon. This section serves as the source music for the eighth movement. The brief "Kastchei Awakens" precedes the most famous music in the ballet -- "Kastchei's Death" -- which also comprises the Suite No. 2's finale. It features a soaring, stately melody -- probably the most familiar theme in any Stravinsky work -- that grows grander and louder as it proceeds, crowning the ballet with an absolute sense of triumph.
-- Robert Cummings
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