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Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

Born: June 17, 1882, Oranienbaum, Russia
Died: April 6, 1971, New York

- Biography
- Musical Examples
- Works
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- Composer Index

In his own words....

"Consonance, says the dictionary, is the combination of several tones into a harmonic unit. Dissonance results from the deranging of this harmony by the addition of tones foreign to it. One must admit that all this is not clear. Ever since it appeared in our vocabulary, the word "dissonance" has carried with it a certain odor of sinfulness. Let us light our lantern: in textbook language, dissonance is an element of transition, a complex or interval of tones that is not complete in itself and that must be resolved to the ear's satisfaction into a perfect consonance."

Composer and conductor. Russian by birth, later a citizen of France and the United States.

Igor Stravinsky is often considered something of a revolutionary, in part based on the riotous reception of his ballet The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky's career, however, suggests more evolution than revolution. Perhaps no other composer in this century—or any—has written in such a variety of styles. And it is the unique genius of Stravinsky that his musical personality is detectable in each of these styles.

Stravinsky came from a musical family, although his training was limited, reflecting his family's desire that he pursue studies in law. As a student at the university in St. Petersburg, he made the acquaintance of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and studied with the older composer. His music quickly caught the attention of Serge Diaghilev, the director of the Ballets Russes in Paris. Stravinsky was commissioned to write a ballet for the theater, his Firebird (1910). This was quickly followed by Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).

Stravinsky continued his association with Paris, but with the advent of World War I and the turmoil in Russia that would lead to the October Revolution, Stravinsky took refuge in Switzerland. After the war he returned to Paris, writing more ballets for Diaghilev, as well as a wide variety of other works, many (such as his Piano Concerto) serving as performance vehicles for the composer. In 1939, he emigrated to the United States, where he attempted unsuccessfully to write music for films. He continued composing late into his life, and when he was well into his eighties he embarked on a full schedule of performances as conductor, both in concert and on record. These recordings serve as valuable documentation of Stravinsky's ideas concerning his own music.

Along with his changing nationalities, Stravinsky's music underwent remarkable change over the course of his life. His early music (for example, the Symphony in E flat) show the influences of his Russian models. His ballets show a wider range of influences, including that of Claude Debussy. By The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky had broken new ground entirely, writing in a complex rhythmic style and a harmonic style that included the use of polytonality. This increasing complexity came to an abrupt end with his move to Switzerland, and he produced a seminal group of pieces in a pared-down instrumental style (often without strings), the most notable being the small dramatic work, Histoire du soldat for four speakers and a small instrumental ensemble. When he returned to Paris, he continued this more austere style, and added to it an interest in older forms and methods, beginning his well-known neoclassical period. The culmination of this can be seen in his opera The Rake's Progress, a modern adaptation of the classical style of Mozart's late comedies. Late in his life, Stravinsky once more changed styles, embracing the methods of twelve-tone and serial composition. What resulted is a remarkable series of works including his ballet Agon (1957) and a great deal of religious music.

In all these works, certain qualities remain constant. First and foremost is a clarity of sound, an almost transparent texture heightened by his masterful use of orchestration. Along with this is an approach to rhythm that articulates his melodies with a certain dryness, adding to the clarity of sound. Finally, there is a concise and economical approach to form. This has its roots in the simplified style of his music from the 1920s, but was a hallmark of his style throughout his career.

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Musical Examples:

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Licensed streaming of these selections require the Windows Media Player.

Rite of Spring, Part I: Introduction (ending)
Download MP3 [4.27 MB]
Stream iLG
Listening Guide [pdf file - 496 KB]
Rite of Spring, Part I: The Augurs of Spring / Dances of Young Girls
Download MP3 [5.05 MB]
Stream iLG
Take Listening Quiz
Listening Guide [pdf file - 496 KB]
Rite of Spring, Part I: Ritual of Abduction
Download MP3 [2.23 MB]
Stream iLG
Listening Guide [pdf file - 496 KB]
Excerpt from Rite of Spring, Part II 00:31
Marche royale from L'histoire du soldat
Listening Guide [pdf file - 406 KB]

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  • Orchestral music, including Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920), Concerto for Piano and Winds (1924), Dumbarton Oaks Concerto (1938), Symphony in C (1940), Symphony in Three Movements (1945) and Ebony Concerto (1945)
  • Ballets, including L'oiseau de feu (The Firebird, 1910), Petrushka (1911), Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring, 1913), Les noces (The Wedding), 1923, and Agon (1957)
  • Operas, including The Rake's Progress (1951); opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927); other dramatic works, including Histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale, 1918)
  • Choral music, including Symphony of Psalms (1930), Canticum sacrum (1955), Threni (1958), and Requiem Canticles (1966)
  • Chamber music; piano music (solo and for two pianos); song
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  • A Basic Biography
    This site, from the Classical Music Pages, provides a biographical essay taken from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. It also includes a works list, a picture gallery, a bibliography and an extensive essay on Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka.
  • A More Extensive Biography
    Along with a lengthy biography, this site includes separate essays on The Firebird and The Rite of Spring.
  • A Large Stravinsky Site
    A class project by a student at Cal Tech. Contains a great deal of well-presented information. There is also a discussion of Stravinsky's religious music, an area seldom explored.
  • Stravinsky's Ballets
    The English Classical CD On Line site includes a brief overview of three of Stravinsky's ballets, with sound clips.
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