Neoclassical Music Composers : Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky is one of the most well-known musical icons of the Neoclassical music. Stravinsky was the first who used motivic development. Motivic development is using musical figures which are repeated in variations throughout a composition. Stravinsky was also well-known for his unique use of rhythm. An example of Stravinsky’s distinct use of rhythm is in his composition “The Rite of Spring”, “Le Sacre du Printemps” in French. The premier of “The Rite of Spring” actually provoked a riot. Igor Stravinsky’s distinct uses of motivic development and rhythm were the inspiration for many other composers. One of these composers inspired by Igor Stravinsky was Aaron Copland.

Born on June 17, 1882 in Oranienbaum Russia (which has since been renamed Lomonosov), Igor Stravinsky is considered to be one of the 100 most influential people of the century by Time magazine. His parents expected him to become a lawyer, and yet Igor Stravinsky became one of the most influential Neoclassical music composers. Stravinsky was raised in Saint Petersburg and had a troubled childhood. Stravinsky felt unloved and never seemed to attach or connect to anyone. His father was a singer at the Mariinsky Theatre. This inspired Stravinsky to begin his musical career. Shortly into his musical career, Stravinsky realized his true passion for composing music.

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

The first ballet Stravinsky saw was “Sleeping Beauty” and this mesmerized him. Shortly after seeing Tchaikovsky ballet version of “Sleeping Beauty”, Igor Stravinsky mastered on piano Mendelssohn’s Concerto in G Minor. After this, Stravinsky finished a variation of Alexander Glazunov’s string quartet on the piano.

Igor Stravinsky did eventually study law at the University of Saint Petersburg but shortly after beginning his studies he realized his true passion was composing. He did however, continue law school. Due to Bloody Sunday in 1905, Stravinsky wasn’t able to take his law exams and didn’t graduate from law school. Maybe it was the Bloody Sunday that changed his fate and made him a famous music composer. He also lost his father around this time and decided to concentrate on his true love, music.

Stravinsky married his cousin Katerina Nossenko in 1905 and had two children with her. In 1909 his composition of Feu d’artifice was performed and heard by the director of Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev. This began a long-term relationship between Stravinsky and Sergei Diaghilev as well as put Stravinsky in an entirely different league musically. First he wrote Firebird Ballet  for Ballets Russes in 1910.  The Firebird Ballet, which is about the combat between good and evil became the symbol of its time. Actually, Sergei Diaghilev asked Alexander Glazunov to compose the music of the Firebird Ballet. However, this opportunity was given to  Igor Stravinsky when Alexander Glazunov refused to compose it and this opened the gates for him to become one of the legendary music composers.

The Firebird - Igor Stravinsky

The Firebird ballet by Igor Stravinsky


After his great work, The Firebird ballet, he wrote his next masterpieces for Ballets Russes, Le Sacre du Printemps and Petrushka which is a story of Russian puppets. The composer Kapilow who is inspired by Stravinsky’s Petrushka says, “I was never in the midst of so much extraordinary sound, getting so completely lost rhythmically.”

He was a composer, conductor and pianist and one of the most influential Neoclassical music composers of 20th century music. In his music, Stravinsky oftentimes paid tribute to other musical greats such as Tchaikovsky and J.S. Bach. Stravinsky is known for his use of intense emotion in traditional musical forms. The intense emotions had an appearance or sound of detachment.

Igor Stravinsky was also an author. In his later years, Stravinsky wrote an autobiography titled “Chronicle of My Life”. Stravinsky wrote this with assistance from Walter Nouvel. A few years later, Stravinsky wrote Harvard University Charles Eliot Norton Lectures with the help of Pierre Souvtchinsky and Alexis Roland-Manual.