"Stravinsky wrote music with the craft of a fine jeweler. Almost everything he wrote is of very high quality, and much of it has entered the standard [repertoire]."
Igor Stravinsky towers among his fellow composers in a way that
only J.S. Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven
and Wolfgang A. Mozart could. His flavor
and technique changed the way the world would listen to music for
the rest of their lives. His masterful pieces varied from the old
style of classicism to
neo-classicism and even
atonalism. His harmonic and
rhythmic innovations have become a part of contemporary musical
language, and even though his music prompted imitators, he still
was a giant among dwarfs. His inner strength and consistency in
quality allowed him to remain supernatural in composition and
revolutionary in music. Although there were many changes in style
during this time, he remained stalwart and his pieces reflected the
inner beauty to true classical music.
Igor Stravinsky was born on June 17th, 1882 in Oranienbaum just outside of St. Petersburg, Russia. He was the son of a bass singer at the St. Petersburg Opera. Therefore, ballet and opera were the recurring theme of his childhood. This constant exposure influenced him from his youth and would shine in his prime. His father wished for him to become a lawyer and he even attended St. Petersburg University for four years, but during those years he began to compose pieces, and eventually focused fully on his music under the private tuition of Rimsky-Korsakov. He composed two pieces during this time. There were Scherzo fantastique and Fireworks. These pieces impressed a impresario named Diaghilev, and he commissioned a large scale ballet. Diaghilev would go on to sponsor Stravinsky throughout his life, and they would be close friends, buried next to each other at their deaths.
The premiere of The Firebird on June 25th, 1910 catapulted the little-known composer to international renown. Next he composed the extremely famous Petrouchka, a folk-inspired ballet, and to complete the trio of his most famous ballets is his most famous piece The Rite of Spring. This very inspirational and emotional piece became one of the most highly-acclaimed pieces of the century and the trio of ballets shot Stravinsky into the history books.
The premiere in Paris caused riots and heavy celebration. There would be mass duels between lovers and haters of Stravinsky. Women would faint from the ecstasy of his music and carted out of the performance hall. Of course these could be exaggerations of the press, but after hearing any of these three pieces one would not be surprised if these accounts were true. Even the musicians and composers of the day were divided in honor and disgust. Camille Saint-Saëns said Stravinsky was completely untrue, Maurice Ravel exclaimed he was a genius. Claude Debussy remained neutral and tried to allow Stravinsky's music to be heard without disturbance. The premiere, although a failure in itself, cemented Stravinsky's reputations in everyone as a overly emotional, and extremely influential composer in everyone's eyes.
The music, however, shattered everyone's imaginations. It was so dissonant that people were revolted by the sound yet drawn in by the genius. It broke away from the established structure of canons, harmony and melody. It was truly a original and genuine explosion in all to stagnant water of style.
Later he moved to Switzerland with the onset of World War I. Here, his music took a new turn by returning to art of classicism. He composed pieces for horns, orchestra and even a Ragtime for Eleven Instruments. Many thought he was done with composing large-scale ballet pieces after the performance in Paris. In 1920, he returned to Paris, where he venerated earlier French composers with a myriad of pieces.
After spending 29 years in France, the onset of World War II forced him to move to America. Here in composed many pieces for certain groups. His pieces went to various people such as the jazz legend Artie Shaw, the Ringling Bother's Circus, Broadway and even CBS. He composed three ballets based on Greek legend for the new York Ballet. They were Orpheus, Agon, and Apollo. Among his other works from this time were Noah and the Flood and an Elegy for J.F.K. During these final years his style changed again and he was heavily influenced by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton von Webern. The twelve-tone technique is evident in pieces such Agon, Canticum Sacrum, and Threni.
As his age grew, and unlike other composers, he reaped the
benefits of his success, his pieces became shorter and more austere
culminating in Requiem Canticles in 1966. His health finally did
out and in died in New York on April 6th, 1971 and was buried near
the cause of his success, his first believer, Diaghilev.
Stravinsky's place among the greatest composers of all time is very
secure. However, nowadays, during an evening of ballet that
includes The Rite of Spring, no longer are there any riots, but
just attentive listening and loud applause.
Stravinsky's music in unforgettable. His impact was so devastating and original that many were suspicious to his true originality. Yet his pieces still astounded audiences and awed his fellow composers. His trio of ballets are most definitely among the standard repertoire of any group today. There harsh dissonance and colorful harmony make them tolerable yet beautiful. Without a bout, his most prominent piece is the Rite of Spring. This ballet has become a selling ticket ever since it was published, and shall continue to mark a spectacular evening of ballet.
In 1919, Stravinsky was approached by Alfred Pochon of the
Flonzaley Quartet with the suggestion that he write a short piece
that they might take with them on tour. Stravinsky quickly provided
a one-movement quartet, Concertino for String
Quartet, with a prominent, almost concertante first violin
part. The work was arranged for chamber ensemble in 1952 and was
presented as a ballet, together with the Three Pieces for String
Quartet, in 1955. His other chamber pieces include a Double Canon for String
Quartet and previously mentioned Three Pieces for String
Quartet, written in 1914. These miniatures, which seem frankly
trivial and conventional, were something of a shock at the time of
their composition. A critic said of a particularly unorthodox
moment in the second piece: "if this type of passage has any proper
place in the art of the string quartet, then the end is near."
Stravinsky, though in later life he seemed to think particularly
highly of Beethoven's last quartets (his famous remark to Marcel
Proust notwithstanding), never wrote anything substantial for the
His Famous Compositions
Stravinsky's notable pieces have already been mentioned, but in
summary they included The Firebird, Pulcinella, The Soldier's Tale,
Apollon Musagete, his Symphony of Psalms, Symphony in Three
Movements, The Rite of Spring, Orpheus and L'Histoire du Soldat, a
chamber trio. All these three pieces show the high quality of
Stravinsky's work as well as the variations in style that he took
on throughout his career. He once said, "I live neither in the past
or the future, I live only in the present." As a result one could
never no what Stravinsky would compose next. They could only hope
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