Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)
To this day, Stravinsky remains emblematic for “modern music”, much as Picasso has done for art. Common to them both is their tumultuous breakthrough in pre-war Paris and their fluid experimentation with styles. In contrast to Picasso, however, Igor Stravinsky would never fully assume his cultural origins, at least not after his career had taken off. After all, his early ballet successes – The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring – are teeming with Russian folklore, expertly weaved into dazzling orchestration.
In some ways, what was equally shocking for the time was Stravinsky’s about-turn with the 1920s ballets Pulcinella (inspired by baroque composer Pergolesi) and The Fairy’s Kiss (an homage to Tchaikovsky). Flirting with the new fashion of jazz, however, was very much of its time.
Due to the outbreak of the Second World War, Stravinsky emigrated to USA and Hollywood, where Walt Disney snatched up The Rite of Spring for the film Fantasia. Igor Stravinsky found it easier to adapt to American cultural life than his Hollywood neighbours Sergei Rachmaninoff and Arnold Schoenberg. His collaboration with the Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine, with his clean aesthetic, inspired Stravinsky to strive for a pure, “white” style of music.
Another influential partner was the young musician Robert Craft, later almost a family member, who helped shape Stravinsky’s style and led him towards twelve-tone technique in his later years. The results of this may not have stood the test of time, although his Mozartian opera The Rake’s Progress from 1951 has become a true classic in the repertoire.