Many music students are familiar with at least one of the works created by Russian born composer, Igor Fedorovich Stravinsky. His unique style and definitive, lively use of rhythm and melody was distinctively appropriate for the times in which he lived, and continually surprised audiences and sparked controversy over the length of his career. He had a peculiar way of writing music for instruments and voices that was extremely influential, and which greatly impacted later musicians.
Learning more about this remarkable man can increase your musical education, but there are many amazing facts about Stravinsky that aren’t included in textbooks. This list of 20 interesting facts were gleaned from two major sources, The Encyclopedia of World Biography and Biography.com.
- Igor Stravinsky’s life spanned from 1882 to 1971, a time that was characterized by innovation in almost every social, political, and industrial infrastructure. That period of history included Victorian influences, two major world wars that reassigned global boundaries, and a musical revolution throughout Western society.
- Stravinsky’s father was a singer with the Imperial Orchestra, and his mother was a skilled pianist. However, they both preferred that Igor pursue a bureaucratic career, and he attended the University of St. Petersburg studying law, before finally deciding to become a musician.
- He met the son of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (whose reputation for orchestration and instruction at the St. Petersburg Conservatory was renowned) while attending the university, and became his pupil after the death of his own father in 1902.
- Rather than study music in a traditional setting, he became an apprentice and received intense home instruction with Rimsky-Korsakov. In fact, Stravinsky composed and dedicated Symphony in E-Flat for him, and Pastorale for his wife.
- One of Stravinsky’s most celebrated works, Fireworks, was a wedding present for Rimsky’s daughter. This 1908 fantasy orchestra piece remains widely acclaimed. Most critics consider this short four-minute work his first truly characteristic piece, minus the influence of any instructor.
- Although it was met with lukewarm reception, the originality of Fireworks was recognized by Diaghilev, and he commissioned arrangements for Russian ballets being produced in Paris.
- The group of musicians Diaghilev assembled during those years greatly influenced Stravinsky, allowing him to explore his unconventionality. The three ballets he wrote during that time, Firebird, Petrushka, and Rite of Spring, were very unique, stunned audiences, and quickly became classics.
- The results of his Paris exposure solidified Stravinsky’s fame, so that by his mid-thirties, he had achieved world-wide recognition, famed for his intense personal energy.
- The eruption of World War I and the later Russian revolution caused him to take up residence in Switzerland, where he lived with his wife, Catherine Nossenko, who he married in 1906, and their four children.
- In Switzerland, homesickness led him to introduce Russian folklore and jazz influences into his compositions. One of his best known works from this time was Renard.
- In 1920, the Stravinsky family returned to France, and during the next two decades, he worked there, creating an opera-oratorio and “white” ballet that according to experts, transcended and simultaneously defined the neo-classical period.
- In 1930, he created the Symphony of Psalms, a choral work for men and boys that excluded violins.
- Although he continued to deliver prolific works during his time in France, after the death of his wife in 1939, he moved to the United States.
- Stravinsky delivered a number of lectures at Harvard University in 1940.
- In 1940, he completed Symphony in C, one of his most important works.
- Interestingly, Stravinsky remarried in 1940 to Vera de Bosset. His affair with her having begun in 1921, and in 1945 they both became American citizens.
- Stravinsky coalesced the sentiments, and spoke to our century, because his music broke boundaries. While he was still alive, notable poets, critics, and publishers lauded him as the “most representative” and “prophetic” musician of our time.
- Stravinsky is a notable author. He wrote an autobiography in 1936, which led to a number of publications including Poetics of Music, a literary work that is distinctive for its scope.
- He also configured a volume of conversational works with Robert Craft from 1959 to 1969.
- Igor Stravinsky died in Manhattan on March 6, 1971.
“Music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things, including, and particularly, the coordination between man and time.”—Igor Stravinsky
You can find out more about this composer’s revolutionary life by exploring his autobiography, and Eric White’s collection of his life and works entitled, Stravinsky.