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Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

(1882 - 1971)

Russian/international composer who began two of the major strains of contemporary music. He studied with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and his early works, like the Symphony No. 1 in E Flat, show the influence of that master. Almost immediately, however, he began to incline toward the music of the French impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, while retaining his nationalist outlook. This resulted in such pieces as Fireworks, The Faun and the Shepherdess, and the major ballet Firebird. It was not a simple matter of combining, however. A new musical element entered the mix – clean orchestral textures, "bright" instrumentation, and an emphasis on stamping, irregular rhythms – heard especially in the Firebird's "Infernal Dance of the King Katschei."

Firebird's success led to two more ballets for Diaghilev's Ballets russes: Pétrouchka and Le Sacre du Printemps, both landmarks of twentieth-century music. The Russian element becomes less Romantic and more "objectified." By Le Sacre, the "infernal" element of Firebird had erupted into a previously-unheard, epic "barbarism," so much so that some of the audience rioted at the Paris premiere. The score became an icon of musical modernism and influenced many other modern giants, including Serge Prokofieff (Symphony Nos. 2 and 3, Scythian Suite, and They Are Seven), Béla Bartók (Allegro barbaro, The Miraculous Mandarin, the piano sonata, and Cantata profana), Darius Milhaud (Les Choephores), Arthur Honegger (Mouvements symphoniques), and the young Aaron Copland (Grohg). Stravinsky felt uncomfortable with the direction and almost immediately turned again, searching for a sparer music. Works in this transitional period include Symphonies for Wind Instruments and part of the opera Le Rossignol.

The end of World War I moved Stravinsky's music even further in this direction with L'Histoire du Soldat, Tango, and Ragtime. In all these scores, he introduces a pared-down aesthetic and what at first seems like an element of parody but which turns out to be an element of "objectification," like a Cubist collage with everyday objects. At the same time, he becomes interested in classical procedures and updates them for an expanded harmonic language. Masterpieces include the octet, the "ballet with song" Pulcinella, and Oedipus Rex, which takes off from the Handelian oratorio. The new style, termed neoclassicism, again captures the allegiance of most composers. Stravinsky, as Leonard Bernstein remarked, had called the tune again. Between the two wars, he was probably the most influential modern composer, especially in the United States and France. His masterpieces include the Concerto for two solo pianofortes, the piano and the violin concerti, the ballets Apollo and Jeu de Cartes, Concerto in D for strings, Danses Concertantes, Dumbarton Oaks Concerto, Symphony of Psalms, Symphony in Three Movements, Symphony in C, Ebony Concerto, Mass, climaxing in the full-length opera The Rake's Progress (libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman), a twentieth-century classic.

After The Rake's Progress, Stravinsky felt he had reached a creative impasse with the neoclassic style. He turned to serialism and became strongly influenced by the manner of Anton Webern, although he never lost his personal musical imprint. Major works include Movements for piano and orchestra, The Dove Descending Breaks the Air for chorus, Cantata, In Memoriam Dylan Thomas, Three Shakespeare Songs, Threni, Introit, and Requiem Canticles.

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 repertory. ~ Steve Schwartz

Stravinsky's signature

Recommended Recordings

Apollo (ballet)

Ballet "Apollon Musagete"/EMI CDC7496362
Simon Rattle/City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Ballet "Apollon Musagete"/RCA 60156-2-RC
Guildhall String Ensemble

Concerto "Dumbarton Oaks"

Concerto "Dumbarton Oaks" (Original 2-Piano Version)/CBC Enterprises SMCD5120
James Anagnoson, Leslie Kinton (pianos)
Concerto "Dumbarton Oaks"/Deutsche Grammophon 419628-2
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Firebird: Suite

Ballet Suite "Firebird"/Telarc CD-80039
Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Ballet "Firebird"/London 414409-2
Charles Dutoit/Montréal Symphony Orchestra
Ballet "Firebird"Mercury Living Presence 432012-2
Antál Doráti/London Symphony Orchestra

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Pétrouchka (ballet)

Ballet "Pétrouchka"/Philips 416498-2
Colin Davis/Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam
Ballet "Pétrouchka"/Telarc CD-80270
David Zinman/Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Ballet "Pétrouchka"EMI CDC7490532
Simon Rattle/City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Le Sacre du Printemps (ballet)

Ballet "Le Sacre du Printemps"/Philips 416498-2
Colin Davis/Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Ballet "Le Sacre du Printemps"/CBS MYK37764
Pierre Boulez/Cleveland Orchestra
Ballet "Le Sacre du Printemps"/EMI CDM7645162
Riccardo Muti/Philadelphia Orchestra

Symphony in C

Symphony in C Major/London 436416-2
Vladimir Ashkenazy/Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Symphony in C Major/CBS MK42434
Igor Stravinsky/CBC Symphony Orchestra

Symphony of Psalms

Symphony of Psalms/CBS MK44710
Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus
Symphony of Psalms/Telarc CD-80105
Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus