Igor Stravinsky

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Biography

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.

Early Life in the Russian Empire

Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882, in Oranienbaum, a suburb of St. Petersburg, the Russian imperial capital, and was brought up in St. Petersburg. His parents were Fyodor Stravinsky (1843–1902), a well-known bass at the Kiev opera house and the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, and Anna (née Kholodovsky; 1854-1939), a native of Kiev, one of four daughters of a high-ranking official in the Kiev Ministry of Estates. 

Stravinsky recalled his schooldays as being lonely, later saying that "I never came across anyone who had any real attraction for me." Stravinsky began piano lessons as a young boy, studying music theory and attempting composition. In 1890, he saw a performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Sleeping Beauty at the Mariinsky Theatre. By age fifteen, he had mastered Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G minor and finished a piano reduction of a string quartet by Glazunov, who reportedly considered Stravinsky unmusical and thought little of his skills.

Despite his enthusiasm for music, his parents expected him to study law. Stravinsky enrolled at the University of St. Petersburg in 1901, but he attended fewer than fifty class sessions during his four years of study. In the summer of 1902, Stravinsky stayed with composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and his family in the German city of Heidelberg, where Rimsky-Korsakov, arguably the leading Russian composer at that time, suggested to Stravinsky that he should not enter the St. Petersburg Conservatoire but instead study composing by taking private lessons, in large part because of his age. Stravinsky's father died of cancer that year, by which time his son had already begun spending more time on his musical studies than on law. The university was closed for two months in 1905 in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday: Stravinsky was prevented from taking his final law examinations and later received a half-course diploma in April 1906. Thereafter, he concentrated on studying music. In 1905, he began to take twice-weekly private lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov, whom he came to regard as a second father. These lessons continued until Rimsky-Korsakov's death in 1908.

In 1905, Stravinsky was engaged to his cousin Katherine Gavrylivna Nosenko (called "Katya"), whom he had known since early childhood. In spite of the Orthodox Church's opposition to marriage between first cousins, the couple married on January 23, 1906: their first two children, Fyodor (Theodore) and Ludmila, were born in 1907 and 1908, respectively.

In February 1909, two of Stravinsky's orchestral works, the Scherzo fantastique and Feu d'artifice (Fireworks) were performed at a concert in St, Petersburg, where they were heard by Serge Diaghilev, who was at that time involved in planning to present Russian opera and ballet in Paris. Diaghilev was sufficiently impressed by Fireworks to commission Stravinsky to carry out some orchestrations and then to compose a full-length ballet score, The Firebird.

Stravinsky and Ukraine

In 1907, Stravinsky designed and built his own house in Ustilug, which he called "my heavenly place." In this house, Stravinsky worked on seventeen of his early compositions, among them Feu d'artifice, The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring. Recently renovated, this is the only Stravinsky house-museum that is open to the public. Many documents, letters, and photographs are on display there, and a Stravinsky Festival is held annually in the nearby town of Lutsk.

Life in Switzerland

Stravinsky became an overnight sensation following the success of the Firebird's premiere in Paris on June 25, 1910. The composer had traveled from his estate in Ustilug to Paris in early June to attend the final rehearsals and the premiere of The Firebird. His family joined him before the end of the ballet season and they decided to remain in the West for a time, as his wife was expecting their third child. After spending the summer in La Baule, Brittany, they moved to Switzerland in early September. On September 23, their second son, Sviatoslav Soulima, was born at a maternity clinic in Lausanne; at the end of the month, they took up residence in Clarens.

Over the next four years, Stravinsky and his family lived in Russia during the summer months and spent each winter in Switzerland. During this period, Stravinsky composed two further works for the Ballets Russes: Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). Shortly following the premiere of The Rite of Spring on May 29, 1913, Stravinsky contracted typhoid from eating bad oysters, and was confined to a Paris nursing home, unable to depart for Ustilug until July 11.

During the remainder of the summer, Stravinsky turned his attention to completing his first opera, the Nightingale (usually known by its French title Le Rossignol), which he had begun in 1908 (before his association with the Ballets Russes). The work had been commissioned by the Moscow Free Theatre for the handsome fee of 10,000 rubles.

The Stravinsky family returned to Switzerland (as usual) in the fall of 1913. On January 15, 1914, a fourth child, Marie Milène, was born in Lausanne. After her delivery, Katya was discovered to have tuberculosis and was confined to the sanatorium at Leysin, high in the Alps. Igor and the family took up residence nearby, and he completed Le Rossignol there on March 28.

In April, they were finally able to return to Clarens. By then, the Moscow Free Theatre had gone bankrupt. As a result, Le Rossignol was first performed under Diaghilev's auspices at the Paris Opéra on May 26, 1914, with sets and costumes designed by Alexandre Benois. Le Rossignol enjoyed only lukewarm success with the public and the critics, apparently because its delicacy did not meet their expectations of the composer of The Rite of Spring. However, composers including Maurice Ravel, Béla Bartók, and Reynaldo Hahn found much to admire in the score's craftsmanship, even alleging to detect the influence of Arnold Schoenberg.

In July, with war looming, Stravinsky made a quick trip to Ustilug to retrieve personal effects, including his reference works on Russian folk music. He returned to Switzerland just before national borders closed following the outbreak of World War I. The war and subsequent Russian Revolution made it impossible for Stravinsky to return to his homeland, and he did not set foot upon Russian soil again until October 1962.

In June 1915, Stravinsky and his family moved from Clarens to Morges, a town six miles southwest of Lausanne on the shore of Lake Geneva. The family lived there (at three different addresses) until 1920.

Stravinsky struggled financially during this period. Russia (and its successor, the USSR) did not adhere to the Berne Convention and this created problems for Stravinsky when collecting royalties for the performances of all his Ballets Russes compositions. Stravinsky blamed Diaghilev for his financial troubles, accusing him of failing to live up to the terms of a contract they had signed. He approached the Swiss philanthropist Werner Reinhart for financial assistance while he was writing L'Histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale). Reinhart sponsored and largely underwrote its first performance, conducted by Ernest Ansermet on September 28, 1918 at the Théâtre Municipal de Lausanne. In gratitude, Stravinsky dedicated the work to Reinhart and gave him the original manuscript. Reinhart supported Stravinsky further when he funded a series of concerts of his chamber music in 1919: included was a suite from L'Histoire du soldat arranged for violin, piano and clarinet, which was first performed on November 8, 1919, in Lausanne. In gratitude to his benefactor, Stravinsky also dedicated his Three Pieces for Clarinet (October–November 1918) to Reinhart, who was an excellent amateur clarinetist.

Life in France

Following the premiere of Pulcinella by the Ballets Russes in Paris on May 15, 1920, Stravinsky returned to Switzerland. On June 8, the entire family left Morges for the last time, and moved to the fishing village of Carantec in Brittany for the summer while also seeking a new home in Paris. On hearing of their dilemma, couturière Coco Chanel invited Stravinsky and his family to reside at her new mansion, "Bel Respiro" in the Paris suburb of Garches until they could find a more suitable residence; they arrived during the second week of September. At the same time, Chanel also guaranteed the new (December 1920) Ballets Russes production of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring with an anonymous gift to Diaghilev, said to have been 300,000 francs.

Stravinsky formed a business and musical relationship with the French piano manufacturing company Pleyel. Pleyel essentially acted as his agent in collecting mechanical royalties for his works and provided him with a monthly income and a studio space at its headquarters in which he could work and entertain friends and business acquaintances. Under the terms of his contract with the company, Stravinsky agreed to arrange (and to some extent recompose) many of his early works for the Pleyela, Pleyel's brand of player piano. He did so in a way that made full use of all of the piano's eighty-eight keys, without regard for human fingers or hands. The rolls were not recorded, but were instead marked up from a combination of manuscript fragments and handwritten notes by Jacques Larmanjat, musical director of Pleyel's roll department. Among the compositions that were issued on the Pleyela piano rolls are The Rite of Spring, Petrushka, The Firebird, and Song of the Nightingale. During the 1920s, Stravinsky recorded Duo-Art rolls for the Aeolian Company in both London and New York, not all of which have survived. Patronage was never far away. In the early 1920s, Leopold Stokowski gave Stravinsky regular support through a pseudonymous 'benefactor.'

Stravinsky met Vera de Bosset in Paris in February 1921, while she was married to the painter and stage designer Serge Sudeikin, and they began an affair that led to Vera leaving her husband.

In May 1921, Stravinsky and his family moved to Anglet, near Biarritz, southwestern France. From then until his wife's death in 1939, Stravinsky led a double life, dividing his time between his family in Anglet, and Vera in Paris and on tour. Katya reportedly bore her husband's infidelity "with a mixture of magnanimity, bitterness, and compassion."

In September 1924, Stravinsky bought "an expensive house" in Nice: the Villa des Roses. From 1931 to 1933, the Stravinskys lived in Voreppe, near Grenoble, southeastern France.  The Stravinskys became French citizens in 1934 and moved to the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. Stravinsky later remembered this last European address as his unhappiest, as his wife's tuberculosis infected both himself and his eldest daughter Ludmila, who died in 1938. Katya, to whom he had been married for 33 years, died of tuberculosis three months later, in March 1939. Stravinsky himself spent five months in the hospital, during which time his mother died. During his later years in Paris, Stravinsky had developed professional relationships with key people in the United States: he was already working on his Symphony in C for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and he had agreed to deliver the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University during the 1939–40 academic year.

Life in the United States

Despite the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, the widowed Stravinsky sailed (alone) for the United States at the end of the month, arriving in New York City and then Cambridge, Massachusetts, to fulfill his engagement at Harvard. Vera followed him in January, and they were married in Bedford, Massachusetts, on March 9, 1940.  Stravinsky settled in West Hollywood. He spent more time living in Los Angeles than any other city. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1945.

Stravinsky had adapted to life in France, but moving to America at the age of 57 was a very different prospect. For a while, he maintained a circle of contacts and émigré friends from Russia, but he eventually found that this did not sustain his intellectual and professional life. He was drawn to the growing cultural life of Los Angeles, especially during World War II, when so many writers, musicians, composers and conductors settled in the area: these included Otto Klemperer, Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, George Balanchine and Arthur Rubinstein. Bernard Holland claimed Stravinsky was especially fond of British writers, who visited him in Beverly Hills, "like W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Dylan Thomas. They shared the composer's taste for hard spirits – especially Aldous Huxley, with whom Stravinsky spoke in French." Stravinsky and Huxley had a tradition of Saturday lunches for west coast avant-garde and luminaries.

Stravinsky's unconventional dominant seventh chord in his arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner led to an incident with the Boston police on January 15, 1944, and he was warned that the authorities could impose a $100 fine upon any "re-arrangement of the national anthem in whole or in part." The police, as it turned out, were wrong. The law in question merely forbade using the national anthem "as dance music, as an exit march, or as a part of a medley of any kind," but the incident soon established itself as a myth, in which Stravinsky was supposedly arrested, held in custody for several nights, and photographed for police records.

Stravinsky's professional life encompassed most of the 20th century, including many of its modern classical music styles, and he influenced composers both during and after his lifetime. Included among his students in the 1940s was the American composer and music educator Robert Strassburg. In 1959, he was awarded the Sonning Award, Denmark's highest musical honor. In 1962, he accepted an invitation to return to Leningrad for a series of concerts. During his stay in the USSR, he visited Moscow and met several leading Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian.

In 1969, Stravinsky moved to the Essex House in New York, where he lived until his death in 1971 (at age 88) of heart failure. He was buried at San Michele, close to the tomb of Sergei Diaghilev.

Personality

Stravinsky displayed a taste in literature that was wide and reflected his constant desire for new discoveries. The texts and literary sources for his work began with a period of interest in Russian folklore, which progressed to classical authors and the Latin liturgy and moved on to contemporary French and eventually English literature.

Stravinsky and Pablo Picasso collaborated on Pulcinella in 1920. Picasso took the opportunity to make several sketches of the composer. He also had an inexhaustible desire to explore and learn about art, which manifested itself in several of his Paris collaborations. Not only was he the principal composer for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, but he also collaborated with Pablo Picasso (Pulcinella, 1920), Jean Cocteau (Oedipus Rex, 1927), and George Balanchine (Apollon musagète, 1928). His interest in art propelled him to develop a strong relationship with Picasso, whom he met in 1917, announcing that in "a whirlpool of artistic enthusiasm and excitement I at last met Picasso." From 1917 to 1920, the two engaged in an artistic dialogue in which they exchanged small-scale works of art to each other as a sign of intimacy, which included the famous portrait of Stravinsky by Picasso, and Stravinsky's Sketch of Music for the Clarinet. This exchange was essential to establish how the artists would approach their collaborative space in Pulcinella.

According to Robert Craft, Stravinsky remained a confirmed monarchist throughout his life and loathed the Bolsheviks from the very beginning. In 1930, he remarked, "I don't believe that anyone venerates Mussolini more than I ... I know many exalted personages, and my artist's mind does not shrink from political and social issues. Well, after having seen so many events and so many more or less representative men, I have an overpowering urge to render homage to your Duce. He is the saviour of Italy and – let us hope – Europe." Later, after a private audience with Mussolini, he added, "Unless my ears deceive me, the voice of Rome is the voice of Il Duce. I told him that I felt like a fascist myself... In spite of being extremely busy, Mussolini did me the great honor of conversing with me for three-quarters of an hour. We talked about music, art and politics". When the Nazis placed Stravinsky's works on the list of Entartete Musik, he lodged a formal appeal to establish his Russian genealogy and declared, "I loathe all communism, Marxism, the execrable Soviet monster, and also all liberalism, democratism, atheism, etc."

Towards the end of his life, at Craft's behest, Stravinsky made a return visit to his native country and composed a cantata in Hebrew, travelling to Israel for its performance.

Stravinsky proved adept at playing the part of a 'man of the world,' acquiring a keen instinct for business matters and appearing relaxed and comfortable in public. His successful career as a pianist and conductor took him to many of the world's major cities, including Paris, Venice, Berlin, London, Amsterdam and New York and he was known for his polite, courteous and helpful manner. Stravinsky was reputed to have been a philanderer and was rumored to have had affairs with high-profile partners, such as Coco Chanel. He never referred to it himself, but Chanel spoke about the alleged affair at length to her biographer Paul Morand in 1946; the conversation was published thirty years later. The accuracy of Chanel's claims has been disputed by both Stravinsky's widow, Vera, and by Craft. A fictionalization of the supposed affair formed the basis of the novel Coco and Igor (2002) and a film, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009). Despite these alleged liaisons, Stravinsky was considered a family man and was devoted to his children.

Religion

Stravinsky was a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church during most of his life, remarking at one time that, "Music praises God. Music is well or better able to praise him than the building of the church and all its decoration; it is the Church's greatest ornament."

Although Stravinsky was not outspoken about his faith, he was a deeply religious man throughout some periods of his life. As a child, he was brought up by his parents in the Russian Orthodox Church. Baptized at birth, he later rebelled against the Church and abandoned it by the time he was fourteen or fifteen years old. Throughout the rise of his career he was estranged from Christianity and it was not until he reached his early forties that he experienced a spiritual crisis. After befriending a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Nicholas, after his move to Nice in 1924, he reconnected with his faith. He rejoined the Russian Orthodox Church and afterwards remained a committed Christian. Robert Craft noted that Stravinsky prayed daily, before and after composing, and also prayed when facing difficulty. Towards the end of his life, he was no longer able to attend church services. In his late seventies, Stravinsky said: "I cannot now evaluate the events that, at the end of those thirty years, made me discover the necessity of religious belief. I was not reasoned into my disposition. Though I admire the structured thought of theology (Anselm's proof in the Fides Quaerens Intellectum, for instance) it is to religion no more than counterpoint exercises are to music. I do not believe in bridges of reason or, indeed, in any form of extrapolation in religious matters ... I can say, however, that for some years before my actual 'conversion,' a mood of acceptance had been cultivated in me by a reading of the Gospels and by other religious literature."

Recent Additions

Maarten Bon plays Piano Rag Music from Igor Stravinsky

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Stravinsky - Petrushka (1947) - Part III: The Moor's Room - Tito Muñoz/NEC Philharmonia

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Stravinsky - Rite of Spring Part 1 (MIDI/MAM)

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Note: This page includes sections of revised and reformatted content from Wikipedia.org.