Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky


Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (Oranienbaum, Russia, 17 June 1882 – New York, 6 April 1971) was one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century. He studied composition in Russia with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who had a considerable influence on his early works. Stravinsky gained international fame for three ballets he wrote on commission from Sergei Diaghilev for his legendary Ballets Russes: L’Oiseau de feu, Petrushka and Le sacre du printemps. The latter caused a riot at its premiere in 1913. Critics talked of ‘Le massacre du tympan’ (‘the slaughter of the eardrum’). Nowadays, the composition is regarded as one of the most important works in classical music history.

The outbreak of World War I forced Stravinsky to flee Russia and settle in Switzerland. Overcome with homesickness, he continued to use Russian folklore as a source of inspiration. Two of his best-known works from his Swiss period are Renard and Les Noces, both ballet cantatas: ballets with singing. He was also influenced by ragtime. In 1918, he incorporated this rhythmic style in L’Histoire du soldat and Ragtime for Eleven Instruments.

From 1920, Stravinsky lived in France, where he continued his oeuvre with works like Apollon musagète, the first ballet on which he collaborated with the choreographer George Balanchine, who was then 24. He was to remain friends with Balanchine throughout his life. Apollon musagète is an example of Stravinsky’s neoclassical works, in which he paid tribute to masters of the past, in this case Jean-Baptiste Lully.

Stravinsky’s work was received with increasing criticism in France, whereas there was growing interest in his music in the United States. After moving to the US in 1939, he continued to work intensively with George Balanchine, who created a total of 31 ballets to music by Stravinsky. They included Circus Polka, a ballet with elephants for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. In this ballet, one of the elephants lifted Balanchine’s second wife, ballerina Vera Zorina, onto its back.

In the 1950’s, Stravinsky took another direction, experimenting with serial music, where the structure is based on a fixed series of tones. This is seen, for instance, in Agon (1957), one of the most important works from the Stravinsky-Balanchine repertoire.

Stravinsky died in New York City on 6 April 1971, having composed more than a hundred works.