Igor Stravinsky

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (17 June [O.S. 5 June] 1882 – 6 April 1971) was a Russian composer and conductor with French citizenship (from 1934) and United States citizenship (from 1945). He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century and a pivotal figure in modernist music.

Stravinsky’s father was an established bass opera singer, and Stravinsky grew up taking piano and music theory lessons. While studying law at the University of Saint Petersburg, he met Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and studied under him until Rimsky-Korsakov’s death in 1908. Stravinsky met the impresario Sergei Diaghilev soon after, who commissioned Stravinsky to write three ballets: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913), the last of which brought him international fame after the near-riot at the premiere, and changed the way composers understood rhythmic structure.

Stravinsky’s compositional career is divided into three periods: his Russian period (1913–1920), his neoclassical period (1920–1951), and his serial period (1954–1968). Stravinsky’s Russian period was characterised by influence from Russian styles and folklore. Renard (1916) and Les noces (1923) were based on Russian folk poetry, and works like L’Histoire du soldat blended these folktales with popular musical structures, like the tango, waltz, rag, and chorale. His neoclassical period exhibited themes and techniques from the classical period, like the use of the sonata form in his Octet (1923) and use of Greek mythological themes in works like Apollon musagète (1927), Oedipus rex (1927), and Persephone (1935). In his serial period, Stravinsky turned towards compositional techniques from the Second Viennese School like Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique. In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954) was the first of his compositions to be fully based on the technique, and Canticum Sacrum (1956) was his first to be based on a tone row. Stravinsky’s last major work was the Requiem Canticles (1966), which was performed at his funeral.

While some composers and academics of the time disliked the avant-garde nature of Stravinsky’s music, particularly The Rite of Spring, later writers recognized his importance to the development of modernist music. Stravinsky’s revolutions of rhythm and modernism influenced composers like Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Béla Bartók, and Pierre Boulez, all of whom “felt impelled to face the challenges set by [The Rite of Spring],” as George Benjamin wrote in The Guardian. In 1998, Time magazine named Stravinsky one of the 100 most influential people of the century. Stravinsky died of pulmonary edema on 6 April 1971 in New York City.

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