By Brendan Lai-Tong
Today we celebrate Igor Stravinsky, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882, in Oranienbaum, Russia. His early years were spent learning piano and music theory. Despite having a natural talent for music at a very young age, his parents wanted him to become a lawyer. As a result, Stravinsky began law school studies in 1901. It was difficult
for Stravinsky to take his law studies seriously and by the summer of 1902 he began studying with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, one of the leading Russian composers at the time. He eventually caught the attention of Sergei Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes. Stravinsky composed several ballets for Diaghilev: The Firebird in 1910, Petrushka in 1911 and The Rite of Spring, his most famous piece, in 1913. These ballets were instrumental in influencing Stravinsky’s international fame.
During World War I, money for ballets became limited, so Stravinsky focused his work on smaller pieces that wouldn’t require an orchestra. His two most famous compositions out of this period were Les Noces and L’histoire du Soldat. In 1920, he moved to Paris with his family. There he composed the ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, which was a tribute to the famed composer Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) in 1928, as well as his second most famous piece after The Rite of Spring, The Symphony of Psalms. Created in 1930, this music was made for an orchestra with no violins and a chorus consisting only of men and boys. Stravinsky became a French citizen in 1934, but he never gained the support in France that he had in Russia.
After World War II broke out, Igor Stravinsky fled Europe and came to the United States. He became a U.S. citizen in 1945, and settled in Hollywood, California. A relationship developed with the New York City Ballet, headed by George Balanchine. In 1948, he released Orpheus, and soon after created his only full-length opera during this time period, The Rake’s Progress. In 1950, he focused on a new style of composing, called serialism. He composed a twelve-tone ballet called Agon and a choral piece, Canticum Sacrum. He was considered one of the greatest living composers in the world and spent his final years conducting and recording his compositions.
Brendan Lai-Tong is the Assistant Marketing Manager at Sheet Music Plus and holds degrees in trombone performance from University of Miami and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.