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Igor Fydorovitch Stravinsky (1882-1971)
A. Beginnings and First Period
1. Born in Oranienbaum, Russia near St. Petersburg
2. Father was a bass singer at the Mariinsky Theater, but Stravinsky was
raised to be a lawyer
3. At the age of 20 (1902) Stravinsky became the student of Nikolai
4. In 1906, he married his cousin Katerina Nossenko, with whom he had
four children (Feodor, Ludmilla, and later a son Soulima and a 2nd
daughter, Maria Milena). Katerina contracted tuberculosis and
infected Ludmilla. Ludmilla died in 1938 and Katerina the following
5. His wedding gift to Rimsky’s daughter Nadezhda and the Russian
composer Maximillian Steinberg in 1908 (an orchestral work titled
“Fireworks”) came to the attention of Diaghelev. Initial assignments
were simple orchestrations. Rimsky-Korsakov died just before the
6. Diaghelev assigned Stravinsky to compose L’oiseau de feu, taking the
assignment away from Liadov, who had procrastinated for almost a
7. The three early ballets are:
a. The Firebird (1910)
i. Most indebted to Rimsky-Korsakov
ii. Large orchestra
iii. Stravinsky later extracted several suites, the most popular
of which is the 1919 Suite. He lost control of this work
with the advent of the Russian Revolution and loss of
copyright. He compiled another suite in 1945 which is
less successful.
b. Petrushka (1911)
i. ballet in four tableaux
ii. some of the music was originally intended as a piano
iii. Like Firebird, Stravinsky lost control of the copyright
and issued a new version in 1947
iv. Petrushka is a doll with human feelings. Petrushka loves
The Ballerina. He affections are unrequited, as the
Ballerina loves The Moor.
Sets by Benois
Choreography by Mikhail Fokine
The title role was created by Vaslav Njinsky (1890-1950)
Famous for the bitonal “Petrushka chord” which is C
major overlayed on F# Major. The two chords are
contained within the octatonic scale which was first
“discovered” by Rimsky-Korsakov (for example, the
scale: c c# d# e f# g a a#)
c. Le Sacre du printemps (1913)
i. The most revolutionary of the three early ballets
ii. Original idea conceived in 1910 while Stravinsky was
working on The Firebird
iii. Collaborated with folklorist Nikiolai Roerich to develop
the scenario. Basic scenario is of an ancient pagan
Russian tribe which propitiates Spring through the
selection of a Chosen One (a virgin) who dances herself
to death before the tribe.
iv. Structured in two large parts. Part I has eight sections,
Part II has six. Composed for the largest orchestra
Stravinsky ever employed.
v. Premiere conducted by Pierre Monteux provoked a riot
vi. The choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, departed from
classical ballet. Nijinsky used circle dances, stamping
dances and turned-in feet (as opposed to turn-out in
ballet) to create the choreography. The orginal
choreography is seldom performed, today.
vii. Stravinsky received only $1,200 in royalties from Disney
for the use of The Rite in the animated film Fantasia!
Stravinsky detested the way the music was used,
especially because of the large cuts.
B. Style Periods—Stravinsky’s output can be divided into three distinct
1. Primitive, or Russian Period. These works are marked by Russian
folk music or folk lore origins.
a. Examples include the three ballets (see above)
b. Renard
c. A Soldier’s Tale
d. Les Noce
2. Neo-Classical Period—this period overlaps somewhat with the
Primitive or Russian Period, and in fact, so authors classify some of
the works listed above as “Neoclassic”. Important works include:
a. Pulcinella—based on the music of Pergolesi
b. Octet
c. Oedipus Rex— (1927) libretto by Jean Cocteau
d. Concerto in E-Flat (Dumbarton Oaks)—this concerto was
inspired by the Bach Brandenburg concerti. It was
commissioned by Robert Woods Bliss and is named for his
estate. The premiere was conducted by Nadia Boulanger.
e. several ballets and symphonies
f. The Rake’s Progress—opera, based on the series of etchings by
3. Serial Period—After the death of Arnold Schoenberg in 1951,
Stravinsky began to experiment with serial composition. Works from
this last period include “
a. The Flood
b. Threni
c. Agon (ballet)
C. Personal Life and Collaborations
1. In 1906, when he was young, he married his cousin, Katerina
Nossenko. The marriage lasted 33 years, but his true love, and
partner, was Vera de Bosset. She was married to the stage designer
Serge Sudeikin, but she left her husband for Stravinsky. Katerina was
aware of the Stravinsky’s double life (she never left Russia), and
Stravinsky divided his time between his first family in Russia and
Vera until Katerina died. Then he married Vera in New York City,
where they had gone to escape WWII.
2. Stravinsky collaborated with some of the greatest artistic names of the
20th century, including:
a. Sergei Diaghilev (impresario of the Ballet Russe)
b. Pablo Picasso (perhaps the greatest painter of the 20th c., who
did the sets for Pulcinella)
c. Jean Cocteau (the great author and film director who wrote the
libretto for Oedipus Rex)
d. George Balanchine (one of the greatest choreographers, who
did the choreography for Apollon Musagete)
e. W.H. Auden (the great English poet and the librettist for The
Rake’s Progress)
f. Wealthy philanthropist/conductors such as Leopold Stokowski
and Serge Koussevitsky.
3. Stravinsky was Russian born, but he held French citizenship and later
American citizenship
4. Stravinsky was an active conductor, mostly of his own music, as well
as a composer. He was also a writer. His most famous theoretical
work is Poetics in Music, which he wrote with the help of Alexis
Roland-Manuel. In Poetics, he claimed that music was incapable of
expressing anything but itself. Robert Craft, who introduced
Stravinsky to serialism and was his assistant conductor, transcribed
several interviews with Stravinsky into books. With Craft, he
collaborated on Conversations with Stravinsky.
5. He lived most of his American years in Hollywood. He died in New
York and was buried in Venice.
D. Influence
1. Stravinsky’s life spanned much of the 20th century. He embraced
many compositional styles, and his eclecticism made him influential
in a number of style trends of the 20th c. He was a Nationalist. He
revolutionized ballet, which he inherited as a romantic 19th century
idiom and which he transformed in several ways. He pioneered new
techniques in orchestration, extending the ideas he inherited from his
teacher Rimsky-Korsakov.
2. He developed important compositional techniques such as:
a. Bitonality (music in two keys simultaneously)
b. Ostinati (even multiple ostinati)
c. Stravinsky often reduced source material to its most basic
melodic elements. By adding notes or using inversion and/or
diminution, would disguise the material almost beyond
d. pastiche (layering and/or quotation of musical ideas) which he
pioneered as early Pulcinella (1920). In this work, he used
quotation and parody of music by Pergolesi.