In This Article Igor Stravinsky

  • Introduction
  • Biographies
  • Stravinsky and Dance
  • Reception History

Music Igor Stravinsky
by
Mark McFarland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0035

Introduction

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) is arguably the greatest composer of the 20th century. His worldwide fame began with his three early ballets performed by Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets russes, the third of which (The Rite of Spring) is infamous for the riot it caused at its Parisian premiere in 1913. Stravinsky’s long career and stylistic development encompass many of the major trends in the history of 20th-century music: nationalism, neoclassicism, and serialism. Stravinsky was born in Russia in 1882, but became a permanent émigré because of the Russian revolution. After living in Switzerland during World War I, he moved to France and eventually became a French citizen. His career as a concert pianist and conductor began at this time. Before the beginning of World War II he moved to the United States and became a citizen. Stravinsky met the conductor Robert Craft in 1948, who became Stravinsky’s assistant. It was Craft’s interest in and experience with the music of Schoenberg that led to Stravinsky’s exploration of serialism in his final works.

Biographies

The most recent biographies are included here since they represent a reappraisal of the composer’s life and works (biographies written during the composer’s lifetime are discussed in Critical Evaluations). This change in perspective is due largely to access to documents in Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Taruskin 1996 points out the numerous contradictory remarks by Stravinsky, ones that consistently downplay or obscure his early Russian training. Taruskin concludes that Stravinsky was the most Russian of all composers because of the neo-nationalist style he embraced once he left Russia. This study ends with the composer’s transition to neoclassicism along with the discussion of a single serial work (Requiem Canticles). Walsh’s two-volume study (Walsh 1999 and Walsh 2006) of Stravinsky’s long career represents the definitive source on names, dates, and facts relating to the composer because of the meticulous work the author has done in numerous archives and even with documents owned by individuals. Although Walsh 1988 was written before the reappraisal of Stravinsky scholarship had begun, this study is devoted primarily to stylistic analysis. Because this approach is largely absent from the author’s later two monographs, his earlier survey serves as a useful complement.

  • Taruskin, Richard. Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through Mavra. 2 vols. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996.

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    This study focuses primarily on the composer’s “Russian” period. The “Russian Traditions” of the title relate to matters of harmony, folk song, and training, elements that Stravinsky attempted to discount or dismiss altogether later in life. Taruskin’s study thereby represents a fresh perspective on the composer.

  • Walsh, Stephen. The Music of Stravinsky. London: Routledge, 1988.

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    This single-volume study covers the composer’s entire career. The composer’s stylistic development is traced through an emphasis on key works. Although the text includes some theoretical terms, the tone throughout is more descriptive than analytical. Walsh’s identification of Stravinsky’s middle style as synthetic rather than neoclassic is persuasive.

  • Walsh, Stephen. Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882–1934. New York: Knopf, 1999.

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    As in Taruskin 1996, Walsh acknowledges that Stravinsky’s writings will be examined objectively rather than accepted unquestioningly. As a result, the meticulous archival research that lies behind this monograph makes it the definitive source for dates and facts relating to the composer during these years.

  • Walsh, Stephen. Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America, 1934–1971. New York: Knopf, 2006.

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    Walsh is able to tell the story of Stravinsky’s American years in detail, yet without getting bogged down or losing sight of large-scale trends. The delicate topic of Robert Craft’s role in Stravinsky’s personal and professional life is approached objectively, yet with due skepticism.

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