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Classical Composers A-Z: Igor Stravinsky

Peter Wintersgill introduces us to Igor Stravinksy, composer of the revolutionary ballets, Firebird, Petrushka and Rite Of Spring.

Anna, singer and pianist.


Slow developer. Music lessons from the age of nine. School in St. Petersburg, lonely boy, poor pupil. Spent summer holidays with cousins in the country; one cousin, Katerina, became a special friend.

Attended St. Petersburg University at 19 to study law, qualified at 23, the year of the First symphony (1905). Spent more time on music than on law. A friend and fellow student was Rimsky-Korsakov's son; he had lessons from the father, through him he was able to go to concerts.

Early Adult Life
He wrote Fireworks (1908) for Rimsky-Korsakov’s daughter's wedding; it was heard by the impresario Diaghilev, who asked him to write the ballet Firebird (1910), which was a great success. Other ballets included Petrushka (1911) and Rite of Spring (1913).

On the first night of Firebird he met Debussy, who became a life long friend.

In 1906 he married his cousin Katerina, who bore him a son (1907) and a daughter (1908). Rimsky-Korsakov died in 1908, which upset him very much.

As a musician Stravinsky was keen on four things: opera, Tchaikovsky, Russian folk music and Orthodox church music.

He was a great traveller, making concert tours of Europe and later the USA, where he settled in 1939.

He went to live in Switzerland in 1914 and wrote stage works, eg: The Soldier's Tale (1918), Les Noses (1923) and Pulchinella (1920), based on the music of Pergolesi. This was the start of his neo-classical phase, where the works were in 18th century style, but with 20th Century rhythms.

Later Adult Life
He moved to Paris in 1920 and became a French citizen in 1934. He played the solo part in his piano concerto (1924).

Other works about this time were Capriccio (1929), the Fairy's Kiss and Apollo Musagetes (both 1928), the opera Oedipus Rex (1927) and the Symphony of Psalms (1930).

In 1939 his mother, wife and daughter all died of TB, on top of which he caught it himself.

Later that year he moved to The USA and settled in Los Angeles.

In 1945 he wrote his Symphony in Three Movements there. In 1940 he married the actress Vera Sudeikin.

His last opera was The Rake's Progress (1951).

In 1962 he returned to a hero's welcome in Russia, at the invitation of Kruschev, after which he was in great demand there.

His health failed in 1967, when he made his last recording and conducted his last concert. In 1966 he set Lear's The Owl and the Pussy Cat to music. He died in New York on 6th April, 1971, and was buried in Venice near Diaghilev, as he wished.

His music went through periods of different styles, but remained essentially his own in rhythm. He was considered the greatest 20th Century Russian composer, as a result of whom music was never the same again.


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