Igor Stravinsky Biography

Igor Stravinsky Biography

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky (June 17, 1882 - April 6, 1971) was a composer of modern classical music, best known for his work The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov), near Saint Petersburg, Russia. He died in New York City on April 6, 1971 and was buried in Venice, Italy on the cemetery island of San Michele.

Stravinsky is regarded as one of the towering figures in 20th century art music. He is named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people of that century.

Stylistic periods

The Rite of Spring was composed during what is known as Stravinsky's "Primitive Period," in which he was composing primarily for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris. The next phase of Stravinsky's compositional style was the "neo-classical" period. This was by far his most productive period, in which he wrote the Symphony of Psalms and his Piano Concerto with Winds. Only after the death of Arnold Schoenberg in 1951 did Stravinsky make use of the 12-tone system,and eventually serialism in works like The Flood, Threni, and Requiem Canticles.

Stravinsky the man Igor Fyodorovitch Stravinsky was very much a product of place. Brought up in an apartment in St. Petersburg, dominated by his father and elder brother, married to his cousin whom he had known since early childhood, and acquainted from an early age with leading Russian conductors and composers, his early life seems to have produced a 'pressure-cooker' effect when he left it effectively for the first time in 1910 to visit Paris for the first staging of 'Firebird', and his subsequent works, 'Petrushka' and 'The Rite of Spring', have more than a little of 'cocking a snook' at his background, or as he himself said, 'sending them all to hell.'

That he was able to survive such a tethered upbringing with his identity intact testifies to his unquenchable thirst for discovery, which was to last all his life. He displayed an inexhaustible desire to learn and explore art, literature, and life. Not surprisingly his Russian background, with the inward-looking content of its cultural life, soon appeared very limited and provincial to him, and his desire for the world outside was increased.

Relatively short of stature and not conventionally handsome, he was nevertheless remarkably photogenic, as many pictures show. After the physical side of his marriage to Ekaterina came to an end with her contracting tuberculosis, he seems to have had little difficulty in attracting high-class partners such as Coco Chanel, who also supported him financially for a while. Patronage too was never far away. In the early twenties Stokowski was able to give him regular support, through a pseudonymous 'benefactor'; another remarkable aspect of his life was his ability to attract commissions, most of his work from Firebird onwards being written for specific occasions and paid for. Igor Fyodorovitch was therefore able to escape that handicap of so many composers, a daily job.

For someone with such a confining background, he proved remarkably adept at becoming a 'man of the world' , acquiring a keen instinct for business matters which puts him in a minority of composers (although it should be mentioned that his copyright difficulties were legendary), and appearing relaxed and comfortable in many of the world's cities: Paris, Venice, Berlin, London, New York all saw his successful appearances as pianist and conductor. This provides a key to his personality. Most people who knew him through dealings connected with performances spoke of him as polite, courteous and helpful. For example, Otto Klemperer, who knew Schoenberg well, said he always found Stravinsky much more co-operative and easy to deal with. At the same time he had an aristocratic disregard of his social inferiors: Robert Craft was embarrassed by his habit of tapping a glass with a fork and loudly demanding attention in restaurants.

Igor Fyodorovitch was a family man and a considerable amount of his time, efforts and expenditure was occupied by his concern for his sons and daughters and their lives. He was repaid for this by a ferocious squabble over his property and performing rights after his death, which saddened the remaining years of his widow Vera.

This remarkable lady deserves a biography of her own to rank with other famous composers' partners such as Alice Elgar, Ursula Vaughan Williams and Peter Pears. When Stravinsky met her she was married to the painter and stage designer Serge Sudeikin, but he soon began an affair with her which led to her leaving her husband. From then until the death of his wife in 1939, Stravinsky led a deft double-life, spending some of his time with his first family and the rest with Vera. Katherine Stravinsky soon learned of the relationship and accepted it as inevitable and permanent. After her death Stravinsky and Vera were married in New York, where they had gone from France to escape the war, in 1940 (Stravinsky was not welcome in the Third Reich).

For the remainder of his life Vera Stravinsky provided an increasingly supportive role in what was at first an alien environment, and the stories of her tireless solicitude for his welfare and the peace he needed to compose, are legion. Stravinsky had adapted to life in France but moving to America at 58 was a very different prospect. For a time he preserved a ring of emigré Russian friends and contacts, but eventually realised that this would not sustain his intellectual and professional life in the USA. When he planned to write an opera with W. H. Auden the need to acquire more familiarity with the English-speaking world coincided with the arrival in his life of the conductor and musicologist Robert Craft, who lived with him until his death, acting as interpreter, chronicler, assistant conductor and factotum for countless musical and social tasks.

Stravinsky's taste in literature was wide and reflects his constant desire for new discoveries, The texts and literary sources for his work began with a period of interest in Russian folklore, progressed to classical authors and the latin liturgy, and moved on to contemporary France (André Gide, in 'Persephone') and eventually English literature, Auden, Eliot, the 1611 Bible, mediaeval English verse, and even at the end of his life he was setting Hebrew scripture in 'Abraham and Isaac'. In his later years he was an avid fan of the word game Scrabble.

Stravinsky moved away to Switzerland and lived in a hotel. He didn't compose unless he was sure no one could hear him, which was rare. Later, a dealer set him up with a piano. It was kept in a combination lumber storage-chicken coop. But, this is where he wrote some of his most famous works!

Igor Stravinsky has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6340 Hollywood Boulevard.

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Igor Stravinsky was born in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) on June 17, 1882. While his memory is being honored all over the world in this centennial year, many Honolulans will have their own reflections on the visit of this great avant-garde composer to Hawaii in November 1966. Although 84 and in failing health he had come to conduct our symphony orchestra in an all Stravinsky program in our concert hall. In previous seasons, rumors that Stravinsky would appear had not materialized. But this time the date held firm as he made good his long-standing promise to George Barati, Music Director and Conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra at that time. The maestro arrived a week early to enjoy a holiday in the sun with his wife, Vera, and Robert Craft, the surrogate son with whom he was to share the conducting of this pair of Hawaii concerts.
Tuesday evening arrived. With reserved tickets in pocket we could linger over a pre-concert dinner in Trader Vic's romantic grass-shacky place across from the concert hall. A sunshiny shower had swept across our valley as we left home but now, leaving the restaurant in the luminous dusk, tradewinds rustled rainlessly through the curving palms. Outside the hall a long line streamed back from the box office window - hopefuls for turned back tickets or SRO in the back of the hall. A gala atmosphere vibrated through the red-carpeted foyer as the crowd gathered and the rear wall of the balcony was already lined with standees as we took our seats. On stage the orchestra chairs were arranged in their customary order, but a stout railing had been secured to the back of the podium as a safeguard for the aged conductor. The very air seemed to pulse expectantly as the lights dimmed and Stravinsky's frail, birdlike figure appeared from left wing and, supported by his cane, tottered slowly on stage. The audience rose and sent forth a deluge of applause. He inched to center stage, his head inclined forward from stooped shoulders, seeming even less than the five foot three attributed to him in his prime. But the dark-rimmed spectacles perched on the beakish nose, the massive balding head and the neat sparse moustache all added up to the familiar image. As he neared the podium Concertmaster Marianne Fleece came forward and assisted him in mounting the railed dais. Batonless as always, the world's greatest living conductor turned to the orchestra, raised his arms and signaled the beginning of Fireworks. Watching the vividly silhouetted swaying figure I reflected on what an eternal wedding gift this gem had been for the daughter of his friend, Rimsky-Korsakov. The musical explosions ended and Stravinsky retired backstage leaving the conducting of Symphony in Three Movements to his longtime associate, Robert Craft.
The second half opened with the Violin Concerto in D which, like the pre-intermission symphony, was being presented by our symphony orchestra for the first time. The soloist for the concerto was the handsome 21-year-old Israeli virtuoso, Itzhak Perlman, who so impressed Stravinsky at this concert that the maestro asked him to perform the following month at Stravinsky's concert in Chicago's orchestra hall. Despite the incapacitation of his legs due to polio, Perlman forged on stage, settled into his chair, put aside his crutches and accepted his violin from an orchestra member. He then proceeded to give a moving performance of this work not often included in the repertoire of concert violinists.
The audience outdid itself in cheers. As Perlman rose to take his bow a memorable scene developed. Stravinsky on his cane and Perlman on his crutches joined hands - the initiative having been the maestro's. Together thus they bowed beaming their appreciation. Here was a fascinating juxtaposition of similarity and contrast. Each performed under a handicap: for Perlman, physical disability; for Stravinsky , the infirmities of old age. The younger looked forward to a brilliant musical career while the elder, as it turned out, was within six months of his last conducting performance.
Stravinsky returned to finish the program with The Firebird Suite - his familiar, oft-told musical fairytale. His large, expressive hands coaxed and drew the beauty of the music from the orchestra. A few times he swayed till his body brushed the podium's safety rail, but he was master of himself and the music, down to the glorious finale triumph of good over evil. Bravos and applause exploded as the audience rose spontaneously in homage to the living legend.
As he acknowledged the tumultuous accolade a girl of Hawaii encircled his neck with a red carnation lei and brushed his cheek with a kiss. He accepted the gesture graciously, a pleased expression bordering on a smile playing over his features. There he stood acclaimed, a small gigantic figure transfixed in a moment of our time.
Stravinsky once said, "I do not wish to be buried in the rain, unattended, as Mozart was." He would have been pleased. The sun shone brightly on hundreds of mourners who gathered in Italy from all parts of the world that April day in 1971. No, I was not there at that baroque funeral in the extraordinary Church of St. Giovanni e Paolo with the dirge of Stravinsky's own Requiem Canticles reverberating among the strange Gothic sculptures of saints. I did not see the flower-laden ebony casket as it was borne on a black-shrouded gondola trailing incense through the canals of Venice. Nor did I watch as they laid him in the earth of San Michele's island cemetery amid the magnolias not far from the grave of his old friend, Diaghilev.
For me the last scene is that tropical night with echoes of his Firebird still hovering in the rafters. Supported by his cane and garlanded with the exotic blossoms of Hawaii, the immortal genius nods in pleased acceptance as the golden waves of love and applause wash over him.
Aloha, Igor Stravinsky, Aloha Nui.

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Igor Stravinsky Piano Sheet Music
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    Igor Stravinsky: Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo (unaccompanied)  Composed by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). For solo clarinet (clarinets in A and Bb). Format: clarinet solo book. 20th Century. 3 pages. 9x12 inches. Published by Warner Brothers.
    Igor Stravinsky: Three Early Ballets - The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite Of Spring  Composed by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). For piano. Schirmer Library Vol.1978. Format: piano solo book. With introductory text and piano reduction. 20th Century. 188 pages. 9x12 inches. Published by G. Schirmer, Inc.
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    The Rite of Spring in Full Score  By Igor Stravinsky. Choral/Vocal. Size 9 3/8 x 12 1/4. 176 pages. Published by Dover Publications.
    Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird In Full Score - Original 1910 Version  Composed by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). For orchestra. Format: full score. With full score notation. 20th Century. 172 pages. 938x12 inches. Published by Dover Publications.
      Octet for Wind Instruments (Revised 1952)  By Igor Stravinsky. (Study Score). Boosey and Hawkes Scores and Books. Size 5.5x7.5 inches. 40 pages. Published by Boosey & Hawkes.
      L'Histoire du Soldat (A Soldier's Tale)  By Igor Stravinsky. Miniature scores. Published by International Music Co.
    Petrushka in Full Score, Original Version  By Igor Stravinsky. Band/Orchestra. Size 9 3/8 x 12 1/4. 160 pages. Published by Dover Publications.
      Twentieth-Century Piano Classics: Eight Works by Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Hindemith  By Igor Stravinsky. Keyboard. Size 9 x 12. 176 pages. Published by Dover Publications.
      Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps)  Piano Solo. By Igor Stravinsky. Arranged by Vladimir Leyetchkiss. Piano Large Works (Arranged for piano). Size 9x12 inches. 60 pages. Published by G. Schirmer, Inc.
      Suite (from 'L'Histoire du Soldat') for Clarinet in A, Violin & Piano (arranged by composer)  By Igor Stravinsky. Woodwind and string ensemble: WITH PIANO Trios. Published by International Music Co.

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