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Igor Stravinsky

biography

Igor Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov) near St. Petersburg on 17 June 1882. He came from a very religious, but at the same time Western-European liberal thinking family of the lower Russian nobility. His interest in music was awakened at an early age, by both his mother’s skilful piano-playing and his father’s example. Fyodor Stravinsky who was a friend of Tchaikovsky was one of the most outstanding opera singers in Tsarist Russia.

Apart from his classical school education, Stravinsky received piano, harmony and composition lessons, soon showing a remarkable talent for improvisation. He then studied law until 1905 but he continued to take music lessons. From 1905 until 1908 Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov was his only composition teacher. With Feu d’artifice op. 4 (1908) Stravinsky made a deep impression on Sergey Dyagilev, the director of the Ballets Russes in Paris, who first hired him for orchestration works and in 1909 commissioned him to write the music of The Firebird. The first performance of 'L’Oiseau du feu’ in Paris on 25 June 1910 was a sensational success for the 28-year-old composer. Stravinsky became a ballet composer par excellence, and his worldwide reputation was established that day.

From 1910 until 1914 he lived and composed alternately at his country estate at Ustilug (in Volin) and in Clarens (Switzerland). In quick succession he wrote the works Petrushka (1911) and Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) for Dyagilev and the Ballets Russes, the first performance of the latter work in Paris giving rise to a great theatrical scandal. It was in particular the ’barbaric’ rhythm that had a shocking and revolutionary effect.

At the start of the war in 1914 Switzerland became Stravinsky’s permanent place of residence where he stayed until 1920. The works created during this time show a marked change in style. For example, in his stage work L’Histoire du soldat (1918), created together with the poet Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, Stravinsky reduced means and forms, partly using early jazz elements which were brought to his knowledge by the conductor Ernest Ansermet.

In 1920 he moved to France and entertained regular contact with leading artists in Paris (Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Eric Satie, Pablo Picasso, André Gide, and Jean Cocteau, among others). In 1934 he became a French citizen. In 1936 he published an autobiographical work (’Chroniques de ma vie’) and became very busy as a conductor and pianist. At the beginning of the Second World War, Stravinsky held his much quoted series of lectures ’Poétique musicale’ (published in 1942) at the American University of Harvard, thus escaping the occupation of France. In 1939 he settled in the USA and became an American citizen in 1945. Among the works created in America are Symphonie en Ut (1940), Danses concertantes (1941-42), Scherzo à la Russe (1944) and Symphony in Three Movements (1945), among others. In 1951 Stravinsky conducted the first performance of his opera The Rake’s Progress in Venice. From that time, he went to Europe more and more often. In 1957 he took part in the Donaueschingen Music Festival for the first time, conducting a concert performance of his ballet Agon. Thus, he obviously showed his interest in European serial music and its young representatives Boulez and Stockhausen.

After his ’rehabilitation’ in post-Stalin USSR, he could also return to Russia in 1962. Stravinsky died in New York on 6 April 1971.

His compositions are characterized by their short melody, often consisting of only four-note motifs, their typical asymmetric rhythm, and their close relationship with the dance. Stravinsky’s aesthetic impulse is decidedly an anti-Romanticism directed at the ’infinite melody’ of Wagner and an awareness of form which is bound to the classical style. In his poems he wrote: ’Composing, for me, is putting into an order a certain number of these sounds according to certain interval-relationships… Construction once completed, this order has been attained, and there is nothing more to be said.’

Reprinted by kind permission of Schott / Mainz

TRO-SACD 01433 - VIOLIN SOLO Vol.4 - Renate Eggebrecht - Élégie (1944) - 18,00 €

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Igor Stravinsky, Paris 1912

 

Seldom have the compositions of any composer provoked such hot debate, such violent hatreds and intense enthusiasms as has the work of Igor Stravinsky. The excitement and tumult which reigned at the first performance, in 1913, of the "Sacred Rites of Spring", an event which is usually referred to as "the battle of the Sacre", were such as to make one think one was atten-ding some crucial session of the Chamber of Deputies, some sort of political manifestation rather than a performance of Diaghi-lev's Russian Ballet.

People shouted, whistled, screamed, stamped and even came to blows over their no uncertain opinions, for it was impossible, in the presence of such music, to remain neutral. The suspended or the lukewarm judgment would have been ridiculous in such an atmos-phere. One either loved or hated the music and that was the end of the matter. Now, of course, the work is universally recognized as a masterpiece and its composer is everywhere acknowledged to be the fore-most figure in contemporary music and - what is more amusing, in the light of his supposed anarchistic tendencies - the chief representative of a return to classic traditions... 

Nadia Boulanger, Lectures on Modern Music , Rice Institute in Feb. 1925



Boulanger and Stravinsky 1941
Photo courtesy of the Gilmore Collection