Saturday, June 17, 2017

Igor Stravinsky: He Put The "New" In New Music

Igor Stravinsky, popularly recognized as a leading founder of Modern music in the 20th century, was born in Russia on this day in 1882. He lived in Switzerland and France before immigrating to the United States after World War II. Over his lifetime he composed in a variety of styles but is best remembered for his dazzling, rhythmic music in the early years - 1910 to 1914 - of the Ballets Russes produced by Sergei Diaghilev in Paris.

 Portrait of Stravinsky                                  Robert Delaunay, 1917

His work during that brief period included The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). One could say they are all signature pieces - experimental and revolutionary - that dazzled and in some cases infuriated their audiences. Regardless, the three compositions as well as other sounds from Stravinsky's imagination had a huge impact on music and the arts.  He was 27 when audiences first heard The Firebird. For a taste of that music here is the finale. While you listen, keep in mind that Henry Ford sold 10,000 cars that year, the U.S. had 1000 miles of paved road, half the American population lived on farms or towns with fewer than 2500 people, and the flying machine was a very rare and thrilling sight. 

In the century since the premiere of The Firebird, its innovative sounds have been re-patterned by the likes of Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and others including Philip Glass who has perhaps carried rhythm as art to its farthest horizon to date. In the view of Tom Service writing in The Guardian in 2011,

Stravinsky is the only common influence that composers from Steve Reich to Thomas Adès, from Judith Weir to John Adams, from Elliott Carter to Louis Andriessen, can all agree on. Without Stravinsky, there would be no minimalism, not much neo-classicism, not enough rhythmic energy, and not nearly enough compositional freedom in the 20th and 21st centuries. Four decades on, the Stravinsky that's proved most popular with audiences, orchestras and concert halls is the colouristic brilliance of the three early ballets, Firebird, Petrushka, and the Rite.

Although Stravinsky left this world almost a half century ago he indeed remains as the title of Service's article describes him, "Stravinsky Our Contemporary."


Photos and Illustrations:
portrait, public domain, Robert Delaunay, New Art Gallery Walsall, West Midlands, England

Igor Stravinsky entry,
quotation, Tom Service, "Stravinsky Our Contemporary,, April 6, 2011

No comments: