From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (June 17 1882 – April 6 1971) was a Russian composer best remembered for the archetypal example of a succès de scandale, his 1913 music for the ballet Le sacre du printemps.
He is considered by many in both the West and his native land to be the most influential composer of 20th century music. He was a quintessentially cosmopolitan Russian who was named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people of the century. In addition to the recognition he received for his compositions, he also achieved fame as a pianist and a conductor, often at the premieres of his works.
Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Serge Diaghilev and performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (Russian Ballet): L'Oiseau de feu ("The Firebird") (1910), Petrushka (1911), and Le sacre du printemps ("The Rite of Spring") (1913). The Rite, whose premiere provoked a riot, transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure; to this day its vision of pagan rituals enacted in an imaginary ancient Russia continues to dazzle and overwhelm audiences.
After this first Russian phase he turned to neoclassicism in the 1920s. The works from this period tended to make use of traditional musical forms (concerto grosso, fugue, symphony), frequently concealed a vein of intense emotion beneath a surface appearance of detachment or austerity, and often paid tribute to the music of earlier masters, for example J.S. Bach, Verdi and Tchaikovsky.
In the 1950s he adopted serial procedures, using the new techniques over the final twenty years of his life to write works that were briefer and of greater rhythmic, harmonic, and textural complexity than his earlier music. Their intricacy notwithstanding, these pieces share traits with all of Stravinsky's earlier output; rhythmic energy, the construction of extended melodic ideas out of a few cells comprising only two or three notes, and clarity of form, instrumentation, and of utterance.
He was also a writer and compiled, with the help of Alexis Roland-Manuel, a theoretical work entitled Poetics of Music, in which he famously claimed that music was incapable of "expressing anything but itself." Several interviews in which the composer spoke to Robert Craft were published as Conversations with Stravinsky. They collaborated on five further volumes over the following decade.