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Igor Stravinsky – the vagabond of music
 
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum, a suburb of Saint Petersburg, to the family of Fyodor Stravinsky, a bass singer at the Mariinsky Theatre, and Anna Kholodovsky. Igor's grandfather was of Polish noble descent, who even had his own coat of arms. 
 
The future composer began taking piano lessons as a young boy, studying music and making his first steps in composition. By the age of only fifteen, he had mastered Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G minor and created a piano reduction of a string quartet by Glazunov.
 
Since his parents expected him to become a lawyer, Stravinsky enrolled at the University of Saint Petersburg in 1901, but showed little interest in studying the subject, missed most of the classes, and finally was prevented from taking his final exam by the aftermath of the 1905 revolution. This effectively ended his yet-to-begin career in law... 
 
After staying with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Igor took the famous composer's wise advice not to continue formal education but take private lessons and lead a creative life.
 
After several years of private studies, in February 1909, two of his new orchestral works, the Scherzo fantastique and the Fireworks, were performed in Saint Petersburg and heard by Sergei Diaghilev, who was creating a program for the Russian opera and ballet performance in Paris. Diaghilev was extremely impressed by Fireworks and asked Stravinsky to compose a full-length ballet score for his The Firebird. Stravinsky became an overnight sensation after the Firebird's overwhelmingly successful premiere in Paris on 25 June 1910. 
 
Despite the objections of the Russian Orthodox Church, he married his first cousin Katya Nosenko, who gave birth to their three children. The relationship was so strong that it was not even marred by Stravinsky's affair with Vera de Bosset, an affair that lasted for many years and forced him to lead a double life, meeting his lover during tours. Katya reportedly knew about her husband's infidelity but chose to tolerate his behaviour "with a mixture of regret and compassion".
 
The unconventional Petrushka (1911) and the scandalous - due to the need to completely review and redo the contemporary dancing style - The Rite of Spring (1913) followed, giving Stravinsky world fame for many decades to come.
 
Soon afterwards, Stravinsky visited Switzerland, where he remained because of the looming World War I and the subsequent Russian Revolution of 1917. Later he moved to France, where he stayed until the death of his wife and his eldest daughter (both died of tuberculosis; Igor was also infected but recovered after several months at a hospital) , as well as the start of the World War II, when he moved to America, to West Hollywood. There he had trouble adapting at the age of 57, and socialized predominantly with Russian-speaking emigres. Gradually, though, he started composing again and conducted concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. 
 
The incident with Stravinsky allegedly rewriting a key chord in the The Star-Spangled Banner (as he often did with various works by other composers) in 1944 and being arrested and fined $100 for the "rearrangement of the National Anthem" is an urban legend.
 
In 1962 Stravinsky was invited to the USSR, to Leningrad, where he gave a series of concerts and met several leading Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian.
 
The composer died in his Essex, New York, home in 1971 at age 88 of heart failure...
 
For his work in America, Stravinsky received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, as well as a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.
 
Sources: 
The Musical Times, October 1923
"Igor Stravinsky, the Composer, Dead at 88". The New York Times.
"Stravinsky: A Creative Spring" - Stephen Walsh, www.nytimes.com, August 2013.
 

 


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