Igor Stravinsky, 1920, by Pablo Picasso (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was the greatest composer of the 20th century. He began as a student of Rimsky-Korsakov’s and the Russian Romanticists, but in a short time the modern world of sound was his to invent.
Opera and classical music expert Saul Lilienstein draws on the finest recordings and DVDs in discussions about many of Stravinsky’s major accomplishments, from his early ground-breaking music for the Ballets Russes in Paris, through the neo-classical masterworks that culminated with The Rake’s Progress, and concluding with Stravinsky’s embrace of far-reaching modernism in his later years.
Apr 14 An Émigré in Paris
Stravinsky’s extraordinary talent was recognized by the ballet impresario Diaghelev who brought him to Paris in 1909. There, the production of The Firebird brought recognition and acclaim to the young composer.
Apr 21 Master of the Dance
Within the next two years, Stravinsky became the most famous of the new generation of composers. Petrushka was an immediate success, but modern concepts of tonality and rhythm heard in The Rite of Spring shocked and scandalized the audience.
Apr 28 The Widening Vision
Never content, and abhorring repetition, Stravinsky began exploring everything from ancient Russian wedding rituals (Les Noces) to American jazz (The Soldier’s Tale.) What remained unchanged was a commitment to rhythmic vitality.
May 5 Back to the Baroque
By the 1920s Stravinsky initiated a series of neo-classical masterworks for chamber ensembles (Octet for Winds), ballet (Pulcinella), plus concertos for piano and violin. These compositions demonstrate that he was a man filled with a very contemporary sense of wit and humor.
May 12 Ancient Words, Modern Sounds
Two of his most important neo-classical compositions were the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex of 1927 and the Symphony of Psalms of 1930, two of the century’s greatest choral works. By this time, his every public appearance is being recorded in print and frequently in film. Participants view highlights with excerpts on film.
May 19 A Summation at Mid-Century
The culmination of his neo-classical period was the opera The Rake’s Progress, a mid-century tribute to both Handel and Mozart. Stravinsky ends his career with a startling shift, examining the innovations of his rivals Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, revitalizing that style with his own clarity and rhythmic excitement.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)