Stravinsky

Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882.  He grew up in St. Petersburg.  His father was of Polish noble descent.   Stravinsky began piano lessons as a young boy, studying music theory and attempting composition.  By age 15, he was playing the piano well and was
still composing.  He presented a string quartet to Glazunov, who believed Stravinsky to be untalented.

Despite his enthusiasm for music, his parents expected him to become a lawyer. Stravinsky enrolled to study law at the University of St. Petersburg in 1901.  In the summer of 1902 Stravinsky visited Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  In 1905 the
university was closed in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, and Stravinsky was prevented from taking his final law examinations and later received a diploma in 1906. At this time, he began concentrating on studying music. In 1905, he began to take private lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov, whom he came to regard as a second father. These lessons continued until Rimsky-Korsakov’s death in 1908.

In February 1909, two orchestral works, the Scherzo fantastique and Fireworks were performed at a concert in Saint Petersburg, where they were heard by Sergei Diaghilev, who was at that time involved in planning to present Russian opera and ballet in Paris. Diaghilev was sufficiently impressed by Fireworks to commission Stravinsky to carry out some orchestrations and then to compose a full-length ballet score, The Firebird.  Stravinsky travelled to Paris in 1910 to attend the final rehearsals and the premiere of The Firebird. His family joined him before the end of the ballet season that year and they decided to remain in the West for a time, as his wife was expecting their third child.
They moved to Switzerland.  Over the next four years, Stravinsky and his family lived in Russia during the summer months and spent each winter in Switzerland, which became a second home to them.

During this period, Stravinsky composed three further works for the Ballets Russes–Petrushka, a ballet in four scenes (1911), the two-part ballet The Rite of Spring (1913) and his ‘ballet with song’ in one act, Pulcinella (1920).  He briefly travelled to Russia in July 1914 to collect research materials for his dance cantata, Les Noces, before returning to Switzerland, just before the national borders closed following the outbreak of World War I.  It would be more than 50 years before Stravinsky would return to Russia.

The family struggled financially during this period. Russia (and its successor the USSR)did not adhere to the Berne convention and this created problems for Stravinsky when collecting royalties for the performances of all his Ballet Russe compositions. Stravinsky blamed Diaghilev, whom he accused of failing to live up to the terms of a contract they had signed.  He approached the Swiss philanthropist Werner Reinhart for financial assistance during the time he was composing The Soldier’s Tale.

Stravinsky moved with his family to France in 1920.  He formed a business and musical relationship with the French piano manufacturing company, Pleyel. Pleyel essentially acted as his agent in collecting royalties for his works and provided him with a monthly income and a studio space at its headquarters in which he could work and entertain friends and business acquaintances.   While with Pleyel, Stravinsky arranged many of his works for the Pleyela, which was Pleyel’s brand of player piano. He did so in a way that made full use of all of the piano’s eighty-eight notes, without regard for human fingers or hands. The rolls were not recorded, but were instead created from a combination of manuscript fragments and handwritten compositions.

In the early 1920s, Leopold Stokowsky gave Stravinsky regular support. The composer was also able to attract commissions: most of his work from The Firebird onwards was written for specific occasions and was paid for generously. Stravinsky met Vera de Bosset in Paris in February 1921, and they began an affair which led to Vera leaving her husband.  From then until his wife’s death in 1939, Stravinsky led a double life, spending some time with his first family and the rest with Vera.  Stravinsky’s wife reportedly bore her husband’s infidelity with a mixture of generosity, bitterness, and compassion.

After living near Paris for a short while, the Stravinsky family moved to the south of France, becoming French citizens in 1934.  These were difficult times as his wife’s tuberculosis infected both Stravinsky and his eldest daughter Ludmila, who died in 1938. His wife of 33 years died of tuberculosis a year later.  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 and especially with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  He also gave lectures at Harvard during 1939.  A few months after World War II broke out in September 1939, Stravinsky moved to the United States. Vera followed him the following year and they were married in 1940.

In the late 1930s, 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 had adapted to life in France, but moving to America at the
age of 58 was a very different prospect. For a while, he maintained a circle of contacts and 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 like W. H. Auden, ChristopherIsherwood, Dylan Thomas. They shared the composer’s taste for hard spirits.

Stravinsky conducted orchestras throughout the United States. His plans to write an opera with W. H. Auden coincided with a meeting with the musicologist Robert Craft, who became Stravinsky’s interpreter, chronicler, and assistant conductor.

Stravinsky was on the lot of ParamountPictures during the recording of the musical score to the 1956 film The Court Jester.

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.  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 DmitriShostakovich and Aram Khachaturian.

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 Diaghilev.

He has a star on the HollywoodWalk of Fame and in 1987 he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for LifetimeAchievement. He was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2004.

Please follow the following link for information about Petruchka:

http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/music/petrushka-igor-stravinsky

Please follow this link to the orchestral performance of Petruchka:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esD90diWZds

Please follow this link to the Stravinsky’s piano arrangement of Petruchka:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aTDn93Mhso