I cannot now evaluate the events that, at the end of those thirty years, made me discover the necessity of religious belief. I was not reasoned into my disposition. Though I admire the structured thought of theology (Anselm's proof in the Fides Quaerens Intellectum, for instance) it is to religion no more than counterpoint exercises are to music. I do not believe in bridges of reason or, indeed, in any form of extrapolation in religious matters. ... I can say, however, that for some years before my actual "conversion", a mood of acceptance had been cultivated in me by a reading of the Gospels and by other religious literature.
Stravinsky was born on 17 June 1882 in Oranienbaum, a suburb of Saint Petersburg, the Russian imperial capital, and was brought up in Saint Petersburg. His parents were Fyodor Stravinsky (1843–1902), a well-known bass at the Kiev opera house and the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, and Anna (née Kholodovsky; 1854-1939), a native of Kiev, one of four daughters of a high-ranking official in the Kiev Ministry of Estates. Fyodor was "descended from a long line of Polish grandees, senators and landowners." It is believed that Stravinsky’s ancestry is traceable back to the 17th and 18th centuries, to the bearers of the Soulima and Strawinski Coat of Arms. Stravinsky's family branch most likely came from Stravinskas, polonized Lithuanian (or Belarussian) land owners, and nobles of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. According to Stravinsky himself, his family originally had a Soulima-Stravinsky surname, and the name "Stravinsky" originated from the word "Strava", which is one of the variants of the Streva River in Lithuania (Trakai and Kaunas District).
From approximately 1890 until 1914 the Composer frequently visited Ustilug, a town in the modern Volyn Oblast, Ukraine. He spent most of his summers there, where he also met his cousin, Katherine Nosenko (daughter of his mother’s sister), whom he married in 1906. In 1907, Stravinsky designed and built his own house in Ustilug, which he called "my heavenly place". In this house, Stravinsky worked on seventeen of his early compositions, among them Feu d'artifice, The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring. Recently renovated, this is the only Stravinsky house-museum that is open to the public. Many documents, letters, and photographs are on display there, and a Stravinsky Festival is held annually in the nearby town of Lutsk.
Despite his enthusiasm for music, his parents expected him to study law. Stravinsky enrolled at the University of Saint Petersburg in 1901, but he attended fewer than fifty class sessions during his four years of study. In the summer of 1902, Stravinsky stayed with Composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and his family in the German city of Heidelberg, where Rimsky-Korsakov, arguably the leading Russian Composer at that time, suggested to Stravinsky that he should not enter the Saint Petersburg Conservatoire but instead study composing by taking private lessons, in large part because of his age. Stravinsky's Father died of cancer that year, by which time his son had already begun spending more time on his musical studies than on law. The university was closed for two months in 1905 in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday: Stravinsky was prevented from taking his final law examinations and later received a half-course diploma in April 1906. Thereafter, he concentrated on studying music. In 1905, he began to take twice-weekly private lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov, whom he came to regard as a second Father. These lessons continued until Rimsky-Korsakov's death in 1908.
Aside from a very few surviving earlier works, Stravinsky's Russian period, sometimes called primitive period, began with compositions undertaken under the tutelage of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, with whom he studied from 1905 until Rimsky's death in 1908, including the orchestral works Symphony in E♭ major (1907), Faun and Shepherdess (for mezzo-soprano and orchestra; 1907), Scherzo fantastique (1908), and Feu d'artifice (1908/9). These works clearly reveal the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov, but as Richard Taruskin has shown, they also reveal Stravinsky's knowledge of music by Glazunov, Taneyev, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Dvořák, and Debussy, among others.
In 1905, Stravinsky was engaged to his cousin Katherine Gavrylivna Nosenko (called "Katya"), whom he had known since early childhood. In spite of the Orthodox Church's opposition to marriage between first cousins, the couple married on 23 January 1906: their first two children, Fyodor (Theodore) and Ludmila, were born in 1907 and 1908, respectively.
During the remainder of the summer, Stravinsky turned his attention to completing his first opera, the Nightingale (usually known by its French title Le Rossignol), which he had begun in 1908 (that is, before his association with the Ballets Russes). The work had been commissioned by the Moscow Free Theatre for the handsome fee of 10,000 rubles.
Performances in St. Petersburg of Scherzo fantastique and Feu d'artifice attracted the attention of Serge Diaghilev, who commissioned Stravinsky to orchestrate two piano works of Chopin for the ballet Les Sylphides to be presented in the 1909 debut "Saison Russe" of his new ballet company.
The Firebird was first performed at the Paris Opéra on 25 June 1910 by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Like Stravinsky's earlier student works, The Firebird continued to look backward to Rimsky-Korsakov not only in its orchestration, but also in its overall structure, harmonic organization, and melodic content.
If Stravinsky's stated intention was "to send them all to hell", then he may have rated the 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring as a success: it is a famous classical music riot and Stravinsky referred to it on several occasions in his autobiography as a scandale. There were reports of fistfights in the audience and the need for a police presence during the second act. The real extent of the tumult is open to debate and the reports may be apocryphal.
In April, they were finally able to return to Clarens. By then, the Moscow Free Theatre had gone bankrupt. As a result, Le Rossignol was first performed under Diaghilev's auspices at the Paris Opéra on 26 May 1914, with sets and costumes designed by Alex Andre Benois. Le Rossignol enjoyed only lukewarm success with the public and the critics, apparently because its delicacy did not meet their expectations of the Composer of The Rite of Spring. However, composers including Maurice Ravel, Béla Bartók, and Reynaldo Hahn found much to admire in the score's craftsmanship, even alleging to detect the influence of Arnold Schoenberg.
In April 1915, Stravinsky received a commission from Winnaretta Singer (Princesse Edmond de Polignac) for a small-scale theatrical work to be performed in her Paris salon. The result was Renard (1916), which he called "A burlesque in song and dance". Renard was Stravinsky's first venture into experimental theatre: the composer's preface to the score specifies a trestle stage on which all the performers (including the instrumentalists) were to appear simultaneously and continuously.
Over the course of his career, Stravinsky called for a wide variety of orchestral, instrumental, and vocal forces, ranging from single instruments in such works as Three Pieces for Clarinet (1918) or Elegy for Solo Viola (1944) to the enormous orchestra of The Rite of Spring (1913), which Aaron Copland characterized as "the foremost orchestral achievement of the 20th century."
He also had an inexhaustible Desire to explore and learn about art, which manifested itself in several of his Paris collaborations. Not only was he the principal Composer for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, but he also collaborated with Pablo Picasso (Pulcinella, 1920), Jean Cocteau (Oedipus Rex, 1927), and George Balanchine (Apollon musagète, 1928). His interest in art propelled him to develop a strong relationship with Picasso, whom he met in 1917, announcing that in "a whirlpool of artistic enthusiasm and excitement I at last met Picasso." From 1917 to 1920, the two engaged in an artistic dialogue in which they exchanged small-scale works of art to each other as a sign of intimacy, which included the famous portrait of Stravinsky by Picasso, and Stravinsky's "Sketch of Music for the Clarinet". This exchange was essential to establish how the artists would approach their collaborative space in Pulcinella.
In May 1921, Stravinsky and his family moved to Anglet, near Biarritz, southwestern France. From then until his wife's death in 1939, Stravinsky led a double life, dividing his time between his family in Anglet, and Vera in Paris and on tour. Katya reportedly bore her husband's infidelity "with a mixture of magnanimity, bitterness, and compassion".
The Composer Constant Lambert described pieces such as L'Histoire du soldat as containing "essentially cold-blooded abstraction". Lambert continued, "melodic fragments in Histoire du Soldat are completely meaningless themselves. They are merely successions of notes that can conveniently be divided into groups of three, five, and seven and set against other mathematical groups" and he described the cadenza for solo drums as "musical purity ... achieved by a species of musical castration". He compared Stravinsky's choice of "the drabbest and least significant phrases" to Gertrude Stein's 'Everyday they were gay there, they were regularly gay there everyday' ("Helen Furr and Georgine Skeene", 1922), "whose effect would be equally appreciated by someone with no knowledge of English whatsoever".
Although Stravinsky was not outspoken about his faith, he was a deeply religious man throughout some periods of his life. As a child, he was brought up by his parents in the Russian Orthodox Church. Baptized at birth, he later rebelled against the Church and abandoned it by the time he was fourteen or fifteen years old. Throughout the rise of his career he was estranged from Christianity and it was not until he reached his early forties that he experienced a spiritual crisis. After befriending a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Nicholas, after his move to Nice in 1924, he reconnected with his faith. He rejoined the Russian Orthodox Church and afterwards remained a committed Christian. Robert Craft noted that Stravinsky prayed daily, before and after composing, and also prayed when facing difficulty. Towards the end of his life, he was no longer able to attend church services. In his late seventies, Stravinsky said:
Igor Stravinsky found recordings a practical and useful tool in preserving his thoughts on the interpretation of his music. As a Conductor of his own music, he recorded primarily for Columbia Records, beginning in 1928 with a performance of the original suite from The Firebird and concluding in 1967 with the 1945 suite from the same ballet. In the late 1940s he made several recordings for RCA Victor at the Republic Studios in Los Angeles. Although most of his recordings were made with studio Musicians, he also worked with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the CBC Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bavarian Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra.
According to Robert Craft, Stravinsky remained a confirmed monarchist throughout his life and loathed the Bolsheviks from the very beginning. In 1930, he remarked, "I don't believe that anyone venerates Mussolini more than I ... I know many exalted personages, and my artist's mind does not shrink from political and social issues. Well, after having seen so many events and so many more or less representative men, I have an overpowering urge to render homage to your Duce. He is the saviour of Italy and – let us hope – Europe". Later, after a private audience with Mussolini, he added, "Unless my ears deceive me, the voice of Rome is the voice of Il Duce. I told him that I felt like a fascist myself... In spite of being extremely busy, Mussolini did me the great honour of conversing with me for three-quarters of an hour. We talked about music, art and politics". When the Nazis placed Stravinsky's works on the list of "Entartete Musik", he lodged a formal appeal to establish his Russian genealogy and declared, "I loathe all communism, Marxism, the execrable Soviet Monster, and also all liberalism, democratism, atheism, etc."
From 1931 to 1933, the Stravinskys lived in Voreppe, near Grenoble, southeastern France.
Stravinsky's reputation in Russia and the USSR rose and fell. Performances of his music were banned from around 1933 until 1962, the year Nikita Khrushchev invited him to the USSR for an official state visit. In 1972, an official proclamation by the Soviet Minister of Culture, Yekaterina Furtseva, ordered Soviet Musicians to "study and admire" Stravinsky's music and she made hostility toward it a potential offence. While Stravinsky's music has been criticized for its range of styles, scholars had "gradually begun to perceive unifying elements in Stravinsky's music" by the 1980s. Earlier Writers, such as Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, and Boris de Schloezer held somewhat unfavorable views of Stravinsky's works, and Virgil Thomson, writing in Modern Music (a quarterly review published between 1925 and 1946), could find only a Common "'seriousness' of 'tone' or of 'purpose', 'the exact correlation between the goal and the means', or a dry 'ant-like neatness'".
The Stravinskys became French citizens in 1934 and moved to the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. Stravinsky later remembered this last European address as his unhappiest, as his wife's tuberculosis infected both himself and his eldest daughter Ludmila, who died in 1938. Katya, to whom he had been married for 33 years, died of tuberculosis three months later, in March 1939. Stravinsky himself spent five months in hospital, during which time his mother died. During his later years in Paris, Stravinsky had developed professional relationships with key people in the United States: he was already working on his Symphony in C for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and he had agreed to deliver the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University during the 1939–40 academic year.
In 1935, the American Composer Marc Blitzstein compared Stravinsky to Jacopo Peri and C.P.E. Bach, conceding that, "there is no denying the greatness of Stravinsky. It is just that he is not great enough". Blitzstein's Marxist position was that Stravinsky's wish to "divorce music from other streams of life", which is "symptomatic of an escape from reality", resulted in a "loss of stamina", naming specifically Apollo, the Capriccio, and Le Baiser de la fée.
Stravinsky published a number of books throughout his career, almost always with the aid of a (sometimes uncredited) collaborator. In his 1936 autobiography, Chronicle of My Life, which was written with the help of Walter Nouvel, Stravinsky included his well-known statement that "music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all". With Alexis Roland-Manuel and Pierre Souvtchinsky, he wrote his 1939–40 Harvard University Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, which were delivered in French and first collected under the title Poétique musicale in 1942 and then translated in 1947 as Poetics of Music. In 1959, several interviews between the Composer and Robert Craft were published as Conversations with Igor Stravinsky, which was followed by a further five volumes over the following decade. A collection of Stravinsky's writings and interviews appears under the title Confidences sur la musique (Actes Sud, 2013).
Despite the outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939, the widowed Stravinsky sailed (alone) for the United States at the end of the month, arriving in New York City and thence to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to fulfill his engagement at Harvard. Vera followed him in January, and they were married in Bedford, Massachusetts, on 9 March 1940.
Stravinsky's professional life encompassed most of the 20th century, including many of its modern classical music styles, and he influenced composers both during and after his lifetime. Included among his students in the 1940s was the American Composer and music educator Robert Strassburg. In 1959, he was awarded the Sonning Award, Denmark's highest musical honour. In 1962, he accepted an invitation to return to Leningrad for a series of concerts. During his stay in the USSR, he visited Moscow and met several leading Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian.
Stravinsky's unconventional dominant seventh chord in his arrangement of the "Star-Spangled Banner" led to an incident with the Boston police on 15 January 1944, and he was warned that the authorities could impose a $100 fine upon any "re-arrangement of the national anthem in whole or in part". The police, as it turned out, were wrong. The law in question merely forbade using the national anthem "as dance music, as an exit march, or as a part of a medley of any kind", but the incident soon established itself as a myth, in which Stravinsky was supposedly arrested, held in custody for several nights, and photographed for police records.
Stravinsky settled in West Hollywood. He spent more time living in Los Angeles than any other city. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1945.
Stravinsky proved adept at playing the part of a 'man of the world', acquiring a keen instinct for Business matters and appearing relaxed and comfortable in public. His successful career as a Pianist and Conductor took him to many of the world's major cities, including Paris, Venice, Berlin, London, Amsterdam and New York and he was known for his polite, courteous and helpful manner. Stravinsky was reputed to have been a philanderer and was rumoured to have had affairs with high-profile partners, such as Coco Chanel. He never referred to it himself, but Chanel spoke about the alleged affair at length to her biographer Paul Morand in 1946; the conversation was published thirty years later. The accuracy of Chanel's claims has been disputed by both Stravinsky's widow, Vera, and by Craft. Chanel's fashion house avers there is no evidence that any affair between Chanel and Stravinsky ever occurred. A fictionalization of the supposed affair formed the basis of the novel Coco and Igor (2002) and a film, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009). Despite these alleged liaisons, Stravinsky was considered a family man and devoted to his children.
In his 1949 book Philosophy of Modern Music, Theodor W. Adorno described Stravinsky as an acrobat and spoke of hebephrenic and psychotic traits in several of Stravinsky's works. Contrary to a Common misconception, Adorno didn't believe the hebephrenic and psychotic imitations that the music was supposed to contain were its main fault, as he pointed out in a postscript that he added later to his book. Adorno's criticism of Stravinsky is more concerned with the "transition to positivity" Adorno found in his neoclassical works. Part of the composer's error, in Adorno's view, was his neoclassicism, but of greater importance was his music's "pseudomorphism of painting", playing off le temps espace (time-space) rather than le temps durée (time-duration) of Henri Bergson. According to Adorno, "one trick characterizes all of Stravinsky's formal endeavors: the effort of his music to portray time as in a circus tableau and to present time complexes as though they were spatial. This trick, however, soon exhausts itself". Adorno maintained that the "rhythmic procedures closely resemble the schema of catatonic conditions. In certain schizophrenics, the process by which the motor apparatus becomes independent leads to infinite repetition of gestures or words, following the decay of the ego".
In the 1950s, Stravinsky began using serial compositional techniques such as dodecaphony, the twelve-tone technique originally devised by Arnold Schoenberg. He first experimented with non-twelve-tone serial techniques in small-scale vocal and chamber works such as the Cantata (1952), the Septet (1953) and Three Songs from Shakespeare (1953). The first of his compositions fully based on such techniques was In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954). Agon (1954–57) was the first of his works to include a twelve-tone series and Canticum Sacrum (1955) was the first piece to contain a movement entirely based on a tone row. Stravinsky expanded his use of dodecaphony in works such as Threni (1958) and A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer (1961), which are based on biblical texts, and The Flood (1962), which mixes brief biblical texts from the Book of Genesis with passages from the York and Chester Mystery Plays.
During his lifetime, Stravinsky appeared on several telecasts, including the 1962 world premiere of The Flood on CBS Television. Although he made an appearance, the actual performance was conducted by Robert Craft. Numerous films and videos of the Composer have been preserved.
In 1969, Stravinsky moved to the Essex House in New York, where he lived until his death in 1971 at age 88 of heart failure. He was buried at San Michele, close to the tomb of Sergei Diaghilev.
Stravinsky was honored in 1982 by the United States Postal Service with a 2¢ postage stamp in the Great Americans series.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1987 he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2004.
In 1998, Time magazine named Stavinsky as one of the 100 most influential people of the century. In addition to the recognition he received for his compositions, he achieved fame as a Pianist and a Conductor, often at the premieres of his works. In 1923, Erik Satie wrote an article about Igor Stravinsky in Vanity Fair. Satie had met Stravinsky for the first time in 1910. In the published article, Satie argued that measuring the "greatness" of an Artist by comparing him to other artists, as if speaking about some "truth", is illusory and that every piece of music should be judged on its own merits and not by comparing it to the standards of other composers. That was exactly what Jean Cocteau did when he commented deprecatingly on Stravinsky in his 1918 book, Le Coq et l'Arlequin.
Stravinsky had adapted to life in France, but moving to America at the age of 57 was a very different prospect. For a while, he maintained a circle of contacts and émigré friends from Russia, but he eventually found that this did not sustain his intellectual and professional life. He was drawn to the growing cultural life of Los Angeles, especially during World War II, when so many Writers, Musicians, composers and conductors settled in the area: these included Otto Klemperer, Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, George Balanchine and Arthur Rubinstein. Bernard Holland claimed Stravinsky was especially fond of British Writers, who visited him in Beverly Hills, "like W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Dylan Thomas. They shared the composer's taste for hard spirits – especially Aldous Huxley, with whom Stravinsky spoke in French". Stravinsky and Huxley had a tradition of Saturday lunches for west coast avant-garde and luminaries.
Stravinsky's use of motivic development (the use of musical figures that are repeated in different guises throughout a composition or section of a composition) included additive motivic development. This is where notes are subtracted or added to a motif without regard to the consequent changes in metre. A similar technique can be found as early as the 16th century, for Example in the music of Cipriano de Rore, Orlandus Lassus, Carlo Gesualdo and Giovanni de Macque, music with which Stravinsky exhibited considerable familiarity.
Following the model of his Teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky’s student works such as the Symphony in E♭, Op. 1 (1907), Scherzo fantastique, Op. 3 (1908), and Fireworks (Feu d'artifice), Op. 4 (1908), call for large orchestral forces. This is not surprising, as the works were as much exercises in orchestration as in composition. The Symphony, for Example, calls for 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo); 2 oboes; 3 clarinets in B♭; 2 bassoons; 4 horns in F; 3 trumpets in B♭; 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, and strings. The Scherzo fantastique calls for a slightly larger orchestra but completely omits trombones: this was Stravinsky’s response to Rimsky’s criticism of their overuse in the Symphony.