Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Igor Stravinsky

Dr. Bob Prescribes Stravinsky’s “Les Noces”

When discussing the long compositional life of Igor Stravinsky (he completed his first masterwork, The Firebird, in 1910; his last, Requiem Canticles, in 1966 [see Dr. Bob Prescribes for a post on the latter April 7, 2020]), his output is often conveniently divided into three large compositional “periods”: his “Russian period” (1909-1919); his neo-Classic/neo-tonal period (1920-1956, which includes a wide variety of presumably Baroque and Classical-era inspired works); and his late or “serial” (modern) music, 1957-1966.  Alas, like most such convenient divisions, these are broad generalizations and exceptions abound. (Apparently no one bothered to tell Stravinsky that his “Russian” period had concluded in 1919. Consequently, he had no qualms about composing Mavra in 1921. Mavra is a charming one-act opera buffa based on Alexander Pushkin’s rhymed story, The Little House in Kolomna. It is a rarely performed work; Tchaikovsky-like in its rich, bel canto lyricism and most Stravinskyan in its concision and rhythmic asymmetry, the latter an outgrowth of the Russian language itself. Likewise, Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements of 1945 might just as well be titled Son of The Rite of Spring – or perhaps Beneath the Rite of Spring – so closely related are these two works composed […]

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Music History Monday: The Prodigal Son Returns

On September 21, 1962 – 58 years ago today – the composer Igor Stravinsky returned to Russia for the first time in 48 years: he had been gone since 1914. Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882 in the tony summer resort town of Oranienbaum (today known as Lomonosov) on the Gulf of Finland, about 25 miles from St. Petersburg. His father Fyodor Ignatievich Stravinsky (1843-1902) was a well-known opera singer – a bass (oh, how the Russians love their bass singers!) – with the Kyiv Opera and Mariinsky Theater there in Peter. The Stravinsky family was of Russian-Polish heritage, descended, we are told by biographer Steven Walsh: “from a long line of Polish grandees, senators and landowners.” Stravinsky’s mother Anna Kirillovna Stravinskaya (born Kholodovskaya, 1854-1939) was from Kiev, and came from a family hardly less distinguished than her husband’s: landowners from the governing class of 19th century Russia. She numbered among her ancestors distinguished politicians, military officers, noblemen and noblewomen.  Igor Stravinsky grew up in St. Petersburg with his three brothers (two older, one younger), his mother and father, and the servants (as many as five or six), in a large, eight-room, second-story flat at No. 66 […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Stravinsky – Requiem Canticles

On December 28, 1945, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and his wife Vera (1889-1982) became American citizens. They were sponsored by the actor Edward G. Robinson with whom Stravinsky had been close friends since the 1930s.  The years that followed were among the best of Stravinsky’s life. Despite he and Vera’s shared dislike for the provincialism of Southern California – where they lived – the financial woes that had plagued him his entire adult life became a thing of the past. And while he missed the Russia of his childhood, he found the United States most congenial to his needs, personal and professional. And despite the illnesses that constantly dogged him (as described in yesterday’s Music History Monday post), his life was ordered and peaceful and, for perhaps the first time ever, under his control.  Comfortably ensconced in the U. S. of A., Stravinsky might very well have continued composing neo-classic/neo-tonal-styled music for the rest of his days if not for a young man named Robert Craft (1923-2015).  Craft met Stravinsky in 1948. He was a native New Yorker, a recent graduate of Juilliard, and a total Stravinsky fan-boy. Stravinsky offered him a job as his assistant, and almost overnight Craft became […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

Igor Stravinsky composed The Rite of Spring for the Ballets Russes in 1912, when he was thirty years old. Even if he had never written another piece of music, Stravinsky would still be famous, because excepting perhaps Yummy, Yummy, Yummy I Got Love in My Tummy, The Rite of Spring is the single most influential piece of music composed during the twentieth century. The Rite changed the way composers thought about rhythm, melody, counterpoint and orchestration, and it continues to exert a seminal influence on composers to this day. For all of its debt to Stravinsky’s Russian roots and the music of Claude Debussy, the Rite appeared to be devoid of any reference to the long and glorious Western musical tradition as it existed at the time. Rather, it created what appeared to be an entirely new musical language and expressive world: a world devoid of such bourgeois niceties as elegance, prettiness, and grace; a primal, sexual, violent, thrumming, pre-moral musical world in which pure rhythmic energy for its own sake became the principal musical element.  Stravinsky created this violent, “pre-moral musical world” because that was the gig, that’s what the scenario of the ballet of The Rite of Spring […]

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Music History Monday: Igor Stravinsky

We offer up our very best birthday wishes to Igor Stravinsky, who was born 137 years ago today, on June 17, 1882. A word of warning: saying Happy Birthday! to a Russian born before February 14, 1918 — as Stravinsky was — is an exercise in asterisks and parentheses. This is because it wasn’t until February 14, 1918 that Russia stopped using the Julian Calendar (which was named for Julius Caesar and went into effect on January 1, 45 B.C.E.) and joined pretty much the rest of world in using the Gregorian Calendar (which was introduced in October 1582 and named for Pope Gregory XIII). According to the old-style Julian Calendar, Stravinsky was born on June 5, 1882. For reasons entirely his own, Stravinsky made everything that much more complicated by celebrating his birthday on June 18. Whatever; June 17th is Stravinsky’s Gregorian Calendar birthday and a happy birthday we wish him. Stravinsky was the defining composer of the twentieth century. He began his compositional life as a Russian musical nationalist, writing in the style of his teacher, the great Russian nationalist composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. But even as he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, the young Stravinsky fell under the spell of Claude Debussy, and so […]

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Music History Monday: The Firebird

On June 25, 1910 – 108 years ago today – Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird received its premiere at the Paris Opera House, in a ballet performance produced by Serge Diaghilev, staged by the Ballets Russes, and conducted by Gabriel Pierné. With choreography by Michel Fokine and the Firebird herself danced by the great Tamara Karsavina, The Firebird was a smash, a sensation, a runaway hit from the first. The not-quite 28-year-old Stravinsky was hailed as the successor to the Moguchaya Kuchka, the Russian Five, the group of nineteenth-century composers who put Russian nationalist music on the international musical map: Mily Balakirev, Cesar Cui, Modest Musorgsky, Alexander Borodin, and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Writing in the Nouvelle Revue française, the critic Henri Ghéon called The Firebird: “the most exquisite marvel of equilibrium that we have ever imagined between sounds, movements, and forms: [a] danced symphony.” There’s no need to quote additional reviews, because one after the other, they echo the one just quoted. Thanks to The Firebird’s triumph, the young Stravinsky instantly became the star composer of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, in which capacity he would turn out the magnificent Petrushka in 1911 and the seminal The Rite of Spring in 1913. The Firebird is […]

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Music History Monday: A Riotous Rite

May 29 was an incredibly rich day in music history. So much to write about, so little space! Check it out. On May 29, 1801 – 216 years ago today – Joseph Haydn’s final masterwork, The Season, received its public premiere at the Redoutensaal: the still-extant great ballroom in the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) in central Vienna. (FYI: Wikipedia gives the date of this premiere as being May 19. Incorrecto!) For our further information, among the audience was Haydn’s one-time “student”, Ludwig van Beethoven. 157 years ago today – on May 29, 1860 – the composer Isaac Albéniz was born in Camprodón, Spain. Albéniz was a brilliant pianist and as evidenced by his suite for piano Iberia (written between 1905-1909), a composer of genius. May 29, 1910 saw the death of Mily Balakirev in St. Petersburg; May 29, 1922 saw the birth of the composer Iannis Xenakis in Braila, Roumania. Finally – because I cannot not mention it before going on – May 29 marks the 320 anniversary of the assassination of the 44 year-old Italian castrato Giovanni Grossi (known popularly as “Siface”). One of the most famous singers of the entire Baroque era, Siface met his end on May 29, […]

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