Who is Igor Stravinsky?

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was born in Russia in 1882. A composer, pianist, and conductor, Stravinsky is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century. Often referred to as “a musical revolutionary,” his compositions are known for their stylistic diversity, encompassing Romanticism, Neoclassicism, and Serialism.

Yuan Yuan Tan in Possokhov’s Firebird // © Erik Tomasson

Pressured by his parents to attend law school at the University of Saint Petersburg, Stravinsky rarely went to class. Instead he followed his passion for music, studying privately with Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes, attended one of Stravinsky’s early concerts, and asked him to compose the music for the company’s production of The Firebird. Stravinsky became an overnight success with the 1910 premiere of The Firebird, which was followed by Petrushka in 1911, and the controversial The Rite of Spring in 1913. After living in Switzerland and France, Stravinsky sailed to the United States in 1939 where he continued to compose highly acclaimed work until his death in 1971.  

Stravinsky’s work includes artistic collaborations with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and perhaps most famously with New York City Ballet’s artistic director and co-founder, George Balanchine. “Balanchine employed his choreography as a conduit through which the message of Stravinsky’s music could be clarified and strengthened,” wrote Charles M. Joseph in his book Stravinsky’s Ballets. Stravinsky’s music has been used in more than 30 ballets for New York City Ballet including Jerome Robbins’ The Cage, Balanchine’s Agon, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Symphony in Three Movements, Prodigal Son, Rubies, and Apollo, among many other celebrated works.

In addition to composing music for dance, Stravinsky’s work includes numerous operas, choral, orchestral, chamber, and piano compositions. He is the winner of four Grammy Awards, including a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.