This year marks the centennial of the premiere of a signature composition that began a revolution in classical music in the 20th century West. The piece is The Firebird, written by 27 year-old Igor Stravinsky. The music would make him famous. It also led to a collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes in Paris.
Stravinsky spent his last 32 years as part of the American experience. He arrived on these shores in 1939, became a naturalized citizen in 1946, and expanded musical soundscapes for the world until his passing in 1971. His legacy of independence, experimentation, perseverance, and respect insures his place in the elite of Western composers.
I probably first heard The Firebird lying in my bed in Salisbury, Maryland, late at night and listening to WMAR-FM/WBAL-FM - now WIYY - broadcasting from Baltimore. At that time, it was a full-time classical music station and one of the few I could reasonably depend on for some reception and popular programming. Although elementary school teachers made certain my classmates and I knew about classical music, I think the real incentive for my personal, late night listening to the classics was born in the death of Jan Sibelius in late 1957. For the next year or two following his death, the music of Sibelius took center stage in my music classes in elementary and middle school. From there, my interests broadened over fifty years to admit few exceptions in music. But I do have my favorites, and Stravinsky's Firebird is among them.
We can only imagine what the music of Firebird meant to those who first heard it and saw it danced a century ago at the Ballet Russe. For those expecting moderne, it was certainly that. For others, it was the rap of its time. Regardless, Diaghilev was impressed, and his enthusiasm would lead to the remarkable - some would say scandalous - Rite of Spring (1911) and two years later to Petrushka.
Here is music written in 1910 that foretells the orchestral moment of much of the twentieth century. The video segment you are about to watch is a faithful attempt to recreate the original production in costume and dance. Imagine it is 1910. Queen Victoria has been dead for almost a decade after a near 64 year reign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The United States has 1000 miles of concrete roads. The beloved American humorist, Mark Twain, passes away. Just over half of the U.S. population of 92 million lives in cities of 2500 or more. Babe Ruth turns fourteen years old. The baby who would become Mother Teresa is born in Macedonia.
You are your own doing in a century on the move charting its own course.