The Russian composer Igor Stravinsky was born on this day in 1882.
While studying law to please his family in St. Petersburg, Stravinsky became a pupil of the legendary Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, putting him in company with the likes of Alexander Glazunov, Ottorino Respighi, and countless other less-known pupils. He left Russia while still a young man, emigrating first to Paris, where he first found fame, and then to the United States. He became a U.S. citizen in 1945.
Stravinsky is probably best known today for two of his first three ballets, The Firebird and The Rite of Spring. With the latter, he helped set the scene for the chaotic twentieth century of music. I discuss the work’s infamous debut here. Throughout his career, as well as covering intensely modern work, Stravinsky also had a neoclassical period, during which he wrote such things as the ballet Pulcinella.
I have an indirect connection to Stravinsky myself, as it was one of his students, Robert Strassburg, who founded the youth symphony where I spent most of my Sunday afternoons as a teenager. Some of the first things I played upon reaching the symphony level were some selections from the Firebird Suite. These pieces were the ones which threw me headfirst into the world of sight-reading, and the first time I was able to pick up music “on the fly” as I did in those rehearsals. The intense joy at the “Finale” thus has a very personal tinge for me; hearing it every time reminds me of those first moments when I realized that I could understand what was on the page in front of me without help.
If you’d like to celebrate his birthday in style, I have a recording of the man himself, playing piano on a duet that he himself wrote.
If you’re a fan of Stravinsky, what work of his would you recommend?