A Resu­mé of the 20th Century – 2000 Back to the Future

Igor Strawinsky

Born in Oraniembaum [now Lomonosov], June 17, 1882 Died in New York, April 6, 1971

The son of a leading bass at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Igor Strawinsky studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy and Dukas. Following the commission of The Firebird (1910) by Serge Dyagilev for his Ballets Russes, Strawinsky went with the company to Paris and spent much of his time in France from then onwards, continuing his association with Dyagilev in Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). The success of Leonid Massinnes’ ballet The Good-Humored Ladies, set to the music of Scarlatti, suggested to Dyaghilev, the idea of producing something else to the music of another illustrious Italian composer, Gianbattista Pergolesi. Pergolesi, a superbly gifted composer, died in 1736 at the age of 26. In September 1917, Diaghilev suggested to Strawinsky that he write a ballet based on the music of Pergolesi.

The important works of the 1930’s, apart from Persephone, are all instrumental, and include the Violin Concerto, the Concerto for Two Pianos, the post-Brandenburg ’Dumbarton Oaks’ Concerto and the Symphony in C major, which disrupts diatonic normality at its foundation.

In 1939, Strawinsky and Vera Sudeikina, who was to be his second wife, moved to the United States. In 1940 they settled in Hollywood. Various film projects ensued, but few succeeded: cinematic music of the period demanded great continuity, while Strawinsky’s patterned discontinuities were better suited to the dance. He had a more suitable collaborator in George Balanchine, with whom he had worked since Apollon more recently in the US, Orpheus and Agon. Thereafter, music intended for films went into orchestral pieces, including the Symphony in Three Movements (1945).

Strawinsky, who at the time was immersed in his neo-classic period, was originally reluctant to undertake the delicate task of breathing new life into the scattered fragments of Pergolesi’s music collected by Dyaghilev, and to create a whole from the pages of a musician for whom he felt special liking and tenderness. However, the Russian composer soon became fascinated by these melodies and utilized some of them as thematic material for the ballet Pulcinella. That ballet, designed by Picasso and choreographed by Massine, was to become one of the most renowned works in Strawinsky’s "Neo-classical" period. It contains eighteen short pieces in which the original eighteenth-century melodies and bass lines were retained; the harmonies, however, were totally rewritten with characteristic Strawinskian pungency, and the rhythms more assertive.

Suite italienne (1932) After the success of his ballet, Strawinsky made several adaptations of the score. In 1931, while living in France, he met the violinist Samuel Dushkin. The following year, the two collaborated on an arrangement of a shortened version of Pulcinella for violin and piano, which was entitled Suite italienne. In this piece, the story of the ballet is dispensed with, and the intent of the composer is to render the melodies of the Classical period with a twentieth-century effect.

Ileen Zovluck

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