Born in 1882 to a leading bass at the Mariinsky Theatre
in St. Petersburg, he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov (1902-8),
who was an influence on his early music, as were Tchaikovsky,
Borodin, Glazunov and (from 1907-8) Debussy and Dukas.
This colourful mixture of sources lies behind such pieces
as Fireworks, The Faun and the Shepherdess, and the
major ballet Firebird. It was not a simple matter of
combining, however. A new musical element entered the
mix--clean orchestral textures, "bright" instrumentation,
and an emphasis on stamping, irregular rhythms--heard
especially in the Firebird's "Infernal Dance of
the King Katschei." Firebird's success led to two
more ballets for Diaghilev's Ballets russes: Petrouchka
and Le Sacre du Printemps, both landmarks of twentieth-century
music. The Russian element becomes less Romantic and
more "objectified." By Le Sacre, the "infernal"
element of Firebird had erupted into a previously-unheard,
epic "barbarism," so much so that some of
the audience rioted at the Paris premiere. The score
became an icon of musical modernism and influenced many
other modern giants.
The end of World War I moved Stravinsky's in a new direction
with L'Histoire du Soldat, Tango, and Ragtime. In all
these scores, he introduces a pared-down aesthetic and
what at first seems like an element of parody but which
turns out to be an element of "objectification,"
like a Cubist collage with everyday objects. At the
same time, he becomes interested in classical procedures
and updates them for an expanded harmonic language.
Masterpieces include the Octet, the "ballet with
song" Pulcinella, and Oedipus Rex, which takes
off from the Handelian oratorio.
Between the two wars, he was probably the most influential
modern composer, especially in the United States and
France. His masterpieces include the Concerto for two
solo pianofortes, the piano and the violin concerti,
the ballets Apollo and Jeu de Cartes, Concerto in D
for strings, Danses Concertantes, Dumbarton Oaks Concerto,
Symphony of Psalms, Symphony in Three Movements, Symphony
in C, Ebony Concerto, Mass, climaxing in the full-length
opera The Rake's Progress (libretto by W. H. Auden and
Chester Kallman), a twentieth-century classic.
After The Rake's Progress, Stravinsky felt he had reached
a creative impasse with the neoclassic style. He turned
to serialism and became strongly influenced by the manner
of Anton Webern, although he never lost his personal
musical imprint. Major works include Movements for piano
and orchestra, The Dove Descending Breaks the Air for
chorus, Cantata, In Memoriam Dylan Thomas, Three Shakespeare
Songs, Threni, Introit, and Requiem Canticles. Stravinsky
died in 1971.