Composer, Conductor. He is often called "The Father of Modernism" in music. Stravinsky's radical innovations in rhythm and color, and his original approach to all the fundamentals of his art, opened up vast new territories of sound in the West. No other major composer of his time worked in as many different styles, reinventing each as he went along, or had a more pervasive effect on his contemporaries. A 1998 Time magazine poll ranked him among the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century. Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum, Russia, the son of a noted operatic bass singer. Although he studied piano from childhood, his parents wanted him to become an attorney and he read law for eight terms at the University of St. Petersburg. At age 20 he decided he wanted to become a composer. By luck he was introduced to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who was impressed enough to accept him as a private pupil; their lessons continued until Rimsky's death in 1908. In 1906 he married a first cousin, Katerina Nossenko, despite an imperial statute prohibiting such marriages; they would have four children. His early orchestral piece "Fireworks" (1909) caught the attention of impresario Serge Diaghilev, and he was brought to Paris as a music arranger for the new Ballets Russes. The first three ballets he wrote for Diaghilev - "The Firebird" (1910), "Petrushka" (1911), and the landmark "The Rite of Spring" (1913) - made Stravinsky an international celebrity and remain his best known works. He spent most of the World War I years in Switzerland, and with revolution and civil war making a return to Russia unfeasible, he moved to Paris in 1920. The following year he began a liason with Russian-born dancer and artist Vera De Bosset; she left her husband for him, and for 18 years the composer split his time between his family and Vera. The sickly Mrs. Stravinsky was apparently resigned to the arrangement. His association with the Ballets Russes continued, but his efforts to assert his creative independence from the possessive Diaghilev strained their relationship, which ended acrimoniously in 1928. Stravinsky became a French citizen in 1934, but his last years in his adopted country were unhappy. His failure to win election to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1935, and the fact that most of his important commissions were now coming from America, made him feel underappreciated there. Tuberculosis claimed his daughter Ludmila in 1938 and his wife some months later, while the composer himself was quarantined with the disease. His mother died in June 1939. With the outbreak of World War II Stravinsky fled to New York, where Vera soon joined him. They married in 1940 and settled in Los Angeles. He became an American citizen in 1945. By this time he was acknowledged as one of the greatest living composers and after the war he kept well in the public eye, conducting concerts of his music around the world and making stereo recordings of all his major works for the Columbia label. Celebrations of Stravinsky's 80th birthday in 1962 included a White House dinner held in his honor by President John F. Kennedy, but for him the real highlight was an official invitation to visit the Soviet Union - the first time he had returned to his homeland in nearly 50 years. He conducted concerts in Moscow and Leningrad and was received by Premier Khrushchev. After three decades in Los Angeles Stravinsky moved to New York City in 1969, taking an apartment at the Essex House, overlooking Central Park. He died there at 88. For all the distance he traveled as an artist, Stravinsky never forgot his debt to Diaghilev. In later life he made annual pilgrimages to his mentor's gravesite in Venice, and after his death he was buried in the same cemetery, as close as possible to the man who had launched his epochal career. Historians roughly divide Stravinsky's output into three periods: the Russian, neoclassical, and serialist. His versatility often bewildered critics, but from beginning to end he was faithful to his overriding creative principle: "A general revision of both the basic values and the primordial elements of the art of music". Nothing is predictable in a Stravinsky score, either in the material or its development, and he determined never to repeat himself from one composition to the next. His formidable technical gifts were honed to perfection through his study with Rimsky-Korsakov, the major influence of his early years, especially in his reliance on Russian folk and fairy tale tradition and the ingenuity of his orchestration. "The Firebird" was both his brilliant debut and the last gasp of Russian Nationalism as Rimsky and the other members of the "Mighty Five" (Mussorgsky, Borodin, etc.) knew it. With "Petrushka" the mature Stravinsky stepped out from the wings; it is a piece rife with irony, with forays into polytonality and an almost postmodern collage-like use of folk tunes. "The Rite of Spring" is one of those sui generis creations - comparable to Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony or, in painting, Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" - after which art was never the same again. Stravinsky did not set out merely to portray an ancient Russian pagan ritual glorifying the earth; he wanted listeners to feel the physical and emotional sensations that would accompany such a ritual. He achieved this with a savage (yet elegantly controlled) sensory overload of disorienting asymmetrical rhythms, pounding percussion, and instruments that were made to play well beyond their normal registers (such as the opening bassoon solo). New York Times critic Paul Griffiths later noted, "By means of syncopation and rapid changes of metre Stravinsky did away with the regular pulse which had governed almost all Western music since the Renaissance". The unprecedented assault of the music, in tandem with the rawness of Nijinsky's choreography, provoked a riot at its Paris premiere (May 29, 1913), one of the most notorious scandals in performing arts history. None of Stravinsky's subsequent opuses had the revolutionary impact of "The Rite", but he continued to set himself artistic challenges in such works as the operas "The Nightingale" (1914) and "Renard" (completed 1916, premiered 1922). He worked on a "civilized" answer to "The Rite", the choral ballet "Les Noces" ("The Wedding"), for nearly a decade, beginning in 1914; its rhythmic experiments were even more advanced, but it was only after an arduous process of trial and error that he decided to reinforce this aspect with an orchestra of four pianos and percussion. By the time Diaghilev (its dedicatee) mounted the premiere in 1923, "Les Noces" had passed its historical moment and Stravinsky had moved on to other things, though it remains one of his greatest masterpieces. The narrated chamber ballet "The Soldier's Tale" (1918) was Stravinsky's first step towards a new "international" style, incorporating jazz and cafe dance music, and he entered his "neoclassical" period with the ballet "Pulcinella" (1920). The latter started out as a bit of hackwork for Diaghilev - a dance arrangement of pieces by or attributed to the late Baroque composer Pergolesi - but its repercussions were profound. Stravinsky discovered that the economy and restraint of 18th Century music were perfectly suited to his quest for a dispassionate, "objective" means of expression, and that he could create music for the future by reinterpreting the models of the past. This template would serve him for 30 productive years. His major neoclassical works include the short comic opera "Mavra" (1922); the Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1923); the Piano Concerto (1924); the opera-oratorio "Oedipus Rex" (1927); the ballets "Apollon musagete" (1928) and "Orpheus" (1948), both choreographed by George Balanchine; the Violin Concerto (1931); the "Dumbarton Oaks Concerto" (1938); the "Ebony Concerto" (1945), another jazz-inflected work, written for clarinetist and bandleader Woody Herman; the Mass (1948); and three symphonies, all written for American orchestras: the Symphony of Psalms (Boston, 1930), the Symphony in C (Chicago, 1940), and the Symphony in Three Movements (New York, 1945). The crowning achievement of his neoclassical phase is the opera "The Rake's Progress" (1951), to a libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kalman. Stravinsky was long opposed to the 12-tone or serial technique of composer Arnold Schoenberg and his followers, and in the interwar years he and Schoenberg were figureheads in polemical battles between neoclassicists and serialists. During the 1940s, when both men were living as virtual neighbors in Los Angeles, they studiously avoided each other. But after Schoenberg's death in 1951, Stravinsky's assistant and confidant Robert Craft encouraged him to delve into the New Viennese School and he found himself particularly intrigued with the music of Anton Webern. To the astonishment of the music world, the septuagenarian Stravinsky changed roads and began composing in a modified serial technique: "In Memoriam Dylan Thomas" (1954), the choral "Canticum Sacrum" (1956), and the ballet "Agon" (again with choreography by Balanchine, 1957). He then wrote the choral "Threni" (1958), "Movements" for piano and orchestra (1959), the short television opera "The Flood" (1962), and the "Variations for Orchestra" (1964) in a complete 12-tone style. There is an elegiac spirit to much of this music and his last important work, the "Requiem Canticles" (1966), was written with himself in mind.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards