Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was one of the most authoritative composers of the twentieth century, both in the West and in his native land. A quintessentially cosmopolitan Russian, Stravinsky was born and raised near St. Petersburg and entered law school in 1901, at the age of nineteen. That year he also gave his first piano recital and began studying piano and composition with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1910, Stravinsky came to the attention of Serge Diaghilev, who asked him to orchestra two pieces by Chopin for the ballet Les Sylphides, and then to compose an original ballet. The result, Firebird, projected both Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and the young composer to worldwide acclaim. Stravinsky went on to master musical styles ranging from Romanticism to Neoclassicism to Serialism and was regarded as one of the great musical innovators of his age. His broad oeuvre ranges from symphonies to piano miniatures.
Stravinsky’s ballets for the Ballets Russes also included Petrushka, choreographed by Michel Fokine, The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, and Apollon Musagète (later called Apollo), choreographed by George Balanchine. The composer’s long artistic relationship with Balanchine resulted in several commissioned ballet scores – Jeu de Cartes (1936), Orpheus (1947) and Agon (1953-1957) – and many ballets choreographed to existing works.
Stravinsky also achieved fame as a pianist and conductor, often conducting the premieres of his own works. With the help of his protégé Robert Craft, he wrote a theoretical work entitled Poetics of Music. In it, he famously claimed that music was incapable of “expressing anything but itself.” Craft also transcribed several interviews with the composer. Stravinsky was named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.