Why we love Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky was the trailblazing creator of groundbreaking scores that overshadowed most of his contemporaries.

Was Stravinsky the 20th century’s greatest composer? 

Unquestionably. He wrote masterpieces in almost every genre and his ability to continually reinvent himself ensured that the music he composed in his 80s sounded as fresh as when he first unleashed The Rite Of Spring upon an unsuspecting musical world in 1913. He knew exactly how far to stretch an audience’s ability to absorb new ideas without losing them altogether, and his influence was huge, ranging from Copland and Orff, to Ravel and Poulenc. 

What should I listen out for? 

When listening to Stravinsky’s music, one is swept away by its dazzling invention above all else. He liberated rhythm as an organising force, building music out of small blocks of sound ingeniously knitted together in ear-tweaking combinations. 

Was Stravinsky a great conductor? 

Stravinsky recorded most of his important works for CBS/Sony, an unprecedented undertaking as well as an invaluable resource for study and illumination. Let’s just say he knew what he wanted and orchestras were happy enough to oblige. 

I heard he wasn’t short on opinions? 

Stravinsky was not only the most written-about composer of the 20th century, he was also the most widely quoted, and the most willing to air his occasionally tongue-in-cheek, often penetrating views on a whole variety of subjects. 

What’s all this about Stravinsky writing a piece for a troupe of elephants? 

In 1942 the great dancer-choreographer, George Balanchine, asked Stravinsky to compose a short piece to accompany a ballet of elephants, during which one would lift Balanchine’s wife up onto its back. The resulting Circus Polka is an absolute riot. 

And another about a game of cards? 

Unlikely as it may sound, in 1936 Stravinsky did indeed compose a ballet in three “deals” based around an ongoing game of poker entitled Leu de Cartes, which includes a Joker’s Dance’, Combat Between Spades And Hearts, and a Dance For The Four Queens.