Timeline: Igor Stravinsky

Nov 21, 2016

No other composer in recent history was able to adapt to the changing styles of his time like Igor Stravinsky. He was a composer of international acclaim with ties to Russia, Switzerland, Germany, France and even Hollywood. During his long life he saw war, revolution and dynamic shifts in artistic expression. Nevertheless, he was always in touch with his own compositional voice. His music of any style or genre sounds like Stravinsky.

Stravinsky started taking piano lessons when he was nine and by his teenage years he developed an interest in improvisation and composition. After his father’s death, the composer Rimsky Korsakov became like a father to Igor. They would meet regularly even after Stravinsky finished university, got married and started a family.

This is a photograph of Stravinsky with his mentor Rimsky-Korsakov.
Credit US-PD

After Rimsky-Korsakov’s death, Stravinsky’s music began to make an impression on the art scene in St. Petersburg and caught the attention of Sergei Diaghilev. Diaghilev invested in the young composer by commissioning him to write a ballet for the 1910 season of the Ballet Russes entitled The Firebird. The success of this work changed Stravinsky’s life forever. He became an international sensation and continued to compose new ballets for Diaghilev, including Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.

Then war was declared in 1914. The Ballet Russes were on hold. Stravinsky’s publishers were in Germany and his ties to Russia were severed. He found himself in Switzerland for the remainder of the decade; the Bolshevik Revolution made it impossible for him to return home. In 1920, he moved his family to Paris where he wrote his last ballet for Diaghilev, Pulcinella.

By the 1930s, Stravinsky’s music was in demand in the United States and his ties to Europe were waning. In the span of months he lost his eldest daughter, his wife and his mother. Right after war was declared in 1939 he left for North America. He made many appearances in locations around the United States and eventually settled in Hollywood, California. The 1940s though were a difficult time for Stravinsky since his European copyrights didn’t apply to the U.S. making it difficult to earn a living.

This changed in the 50s and 60s when he was introduced to Robert Craft. This younger composer, conductor and author encouraged an aging Stravinsky to continue to write new works. Craft published many volumes of interviews with Stravinsky and accompanied him on extensive tours of Europe and his eventual return to Russia after 50 years in 1962.

Stravinsky’s health began to fail. In 1969, he left Hollywood and moved to New York where he passed away at the age of 88. He’s buried just outside of Venice, close to Diaghilev’s grave.

Credit US-PD

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Follow the Timeline on our new web app where you can hear all of the episodes in order.