Igor Stravinsky – 1907 *
Early 20th century Russia was the scene of a brilliant cultural movement. Igor regularly attended the "Evenings of Contemporary Music", meeting all the composers, poets and artists of St. Petersburg and performing his first works. In 1906, Stravinsky became independent and married his cousin, Catherine Nossenko, with whom he had a son in 1907 (Theodore) and a daughter in 1908 (Ludmila). Catherine provided unlimited support to her husband and encouraged his work.
Igor and Catherine Stravinksy – Clarens, 1913 *
In 1907, Stravinsky completed his Symphony in E flat major, whose form and orchestration were strongly influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov. Indeed, Stravinsky dedicated the score "To my dear master Nicolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov". While working on Fireworks, an orchestral fantasy planned for the wedding of Rimsky-Korsakov’s daughter, Stravinsky learned of his master’s death. Shocked and saddened by the news, he wrote Chant Funèbre in his memory. He then resumed work on Fireworks. It was performed on the same night, February 6, 1909, as his Scherzo Fantastique at the influential Siloti Concerts in St Petersburg. That evening would be crucial for Stravinsky's career : Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of the famous "Ballets Russes", happened to be in the audience and listened attentively to the unknown young man’s music. Diaghilev asked Stravinsky to orchestrate two Chopin pieces for his ballet "Les Sylphides", shown in Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet on June 2, 1909.
Nijinsky as Petrushka - 1911
The following year, on June 15 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, confirmed Stravinsky’s fame with Petrouchka, the second part of the Russian composer’s trilogy. The new ballet was a triumph due to the novelty and quality of the score, but also because of the memorable and moving interpretation of Vaclav Nijinsky. Petrouchka, set in 1830 during the Mardi Gras festivities in St. Petersburg, tells the story of a puppet who suffers from being a mere puppet unable to express his love like a human being. Stravinsky’s sometimes dissonant music illustrates Petrouchka’s pain and the score for a large orchestra has an extraordinary strength. Stravinsky turned the ordered, predictable world of classical music upside down. Petrouchka’s rhythm, with its frequent variations, is a primordial element. "In composing this music, I had the clear vision of a puppet suddenly unleashed, who, by diabolical cascades of arpeggios, exasperates the patience of the orchestra, which in turn responds to him by threatening flourishes. " **
Igor Stravinsky – Ustilug, 1913 *
This first period of the composer's life, during which he displayed remarkable energy, is that of his most famous works.
"Should we not wonder", asked his son Theodore, "at the stunning creative vitality displayed by the young musician of 30 years ? Did he not, in three years, create three masterpieces that put him at the pinnacle of fame? All the while assuming the responsibility of a family who lived in an atmosphere of perpetual transhumance, in addition to his many personal trips... "
* © Fondation Théodore Strawinsky, Genève. Use or reproductions strictly forbidden.
** An Autobiography
*** Memories and Commentaries