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Igor Stravinsky’s Biography and Works Essay

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Updated: Sep 21st, 2020


Igor Stravinsky was a highly influential Russian composer who was born in 1882 and who is regarded as a revolutionary figure in the development of music in the 2oth century (Tansman 42). He was also a conductor and a historical figure that played a key role in the development of music during the 20th Century. The main characteristic feature of his music career was the diversity and versatility that his compositions exhibited (Stravinsky 54).

His compositions for the Ballets Russes were the highlights of his music career because they brought him fame especially in the music world. For example, The Rite of Spring was a controversial piece that is usually mentioned among compositions that made him an influential and famous composer (Tansman 44). He lived in different countries including France, Switzerland and the United States. Before his death in 1971, Stravinsky had composed more than 100 pieces including “The Symphony in C,” “The Rite of Spring,” and “The Rakes Progress.” (Craft 53)

Early life

Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882 in a small Russian town known as Oranienbaum and brought up in Saint Petersburg (Stravinsky 24). He came from a musical family because his father was a bass singer and his mother a pianist. His mother played a monumental role in influencing his son to learn to play the piano. Stravinsky’s parents did not want him to become a musician. Therefore, they persuaded him to attend law school in order to become a lawyer.

While attending college, Stravinsky became friends with another student whose father (Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) was a famous composer (Stravinsky 26). Stravinsky studied law as a sign of respect for his parents even though he did not like it as much as he liked music. As a result, after his father’s demise in 1902, he started to pursue his passion for music. He became Nikolai’s student and studied the art of music composition under his guidance for three years (Stravinsky 29).


Stravinsky composed music during different periods that were critical in the evolution of music in the early years of the 20th Century. Therefore, his works are usually divided into three periods namely Russian, neoclassical, and serial periods. The highlight of his career was a piece referred to as “The Rite of Spring” because it contained revolutionary subject matter that caused a riot (Tansman 46). He incorporated dancing routines that depicted pagan fertility rites that disregarded the ballet forms that were acceptable at the time.

Russian period

During this period that lasted between 1907 and 1919, Stravinsky composed several pieces while learning music under the guidance of Rimsky-Korsakov. Examples of pieces that he composed during this period include “Scherzo fantastique,” “Faun and Shepherdess,” “Feu d’artifice,” and “Symphony in E-flat major.” (Tansman 52) These pieces were reflective of the great influence Rimsky-Korsakov had on Stravinsky.

His versatility was evident in these pieces because a thorough analysis of his early works has shown the presence of musical styles adopted by other composers that including Glazunov, Wagner, Debussy, Taneyev, and Tchaikovsky (Tansman 53). Stravinsky’s performances in St. Petersburg attracted the attention of Sergei Diaghilev who owned a ballet company. Diaghilev was so pleased with Stravinsky’s work that he invited him to orchestrate two piano compositions of Chopin for a show that his company was organizing (Stravinsky 58).

He gained more fame especially after composing and performing “The Firebird” while working with Diaghilev because its orchestration, organization, and content were evidence of the great influence Rimsky-Korsakov had on Stravinsky (Craft 65). The second composition that Stravinsky did for the Ballet Russe was the highlight of his career because it made him famous and respected as a composer, pianist, and conductor (Tansman 48). He ventured into theater after an invitation from Winnareta Singer who commissioned him to compose for a performance he was organizing in her Paris salon.

Neoclassical period

This period lasted between 1920 and 1954 and was monumental in Stravinsky’s career because his compositions explored various themes and styles of music from the Classical world (Craft 68). Pieces such as the “Apollon,” “Orpheus,” and “Persephone” were composed during this period. Some of his most famous pieces that he composed during this period include “Octet,” “Serenade in A” and the “Concerto for Piano and Winds.” (Tansman 62). His last neo-classical piece was composed during this period and it became one of his best works. During this period, Stravinsky experimented with several traditional musical forms including the fugue, concerto grosso, and symphony. His music was highly influenced by composers from the 18th century.

Serial period

The serial period lasted from 1954 to 1968. It was an experimental period for Stravinsky because his compositions adopted techniques that were developed by Arnold Schoenberg. For example, his works that included the “Cantata,” “The Septet,” and “Three Songs from Shakespeare” were composed using variations of the twelve-tone technique. Other pieces that he composed during this period include “In Memoriam Dylan Thomas,” “Cantium Sacrum,” “Agon,” “Threni,” “The Flood,” and “A sermon, a Narrative, and a Prayer.” (Craft 76)

Innovation and influence

Stravinsky was a versatile and innovative composer because he developed several technical innovations regarding rhythm and harmony, and utilized different compositional styles throughout his career. Despite his varying styles of composing, Stravinsky successfully maintained a distinctive identify that characterized his talent and prowess. An example of his innovative nature is the application of motivic development in his music.

This technique of composition was widely used by composers of the 16th century such as Orlandus Lassus, Cipriano de Rore, and Giovanni de Macque. His creations especially with regard to rhythm had great influence on other composers such as Aaron Copland. He embraced diversity in his compositions and performances by including various aspects of orchestral, instrumental, and vocal accompaniment his music. His embracement of diversity and versatility were evident from his performances because his compositions required different orchestra sizes based on the style of the music.


Stravinsky played an important role in the development of music in the 20th Century. He was a controversial composer, conductor, and pianist who did not follow conventional styles in making music. Hi piece, “The Rite of Spring” sparked controversy and caused riots among enthusiasts of classical music.

Many critics have argued that it is one of the most influential and important composition of the 20th Century. Stravinsky’s adoption of different styles in his composition made him an influential figure n the development of music throughout his career. His music took adopted different styles because he lived in different cultures throughout his career. For example, he lived in Switzerland, Russia, and the United States. His versatility was the major defining feature of his musical career.

Works Cited

Craft, Robert. Conversations with Igor Stravinsky. New York: Faber & Faber, 2013. Print.

Stravinsky, Igor. Igor Stravinsky: An Autobiography. New York: Lightning Source Incorporated, 2008. Print.

Tansman, Alexandre. Igor Stravinsky: The Man and His Music. New York: Literary Licensing, LLC, 2013. Print.

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