IGOR STRAVINSKY (1882 - 1971)



Stravinsky, unlike Debussy, was born into a musical family: his father was the Principal Bass singer at the Imperial Opera in St. Petersburg and one of the most well known and famous musicians in Russia. Young Stravinsky therefore met and knew many of the most important artists and composers of the time, and developed an early love for music. His father’s wishes for Igor to study law required that Stravinsky attend law school, which Igor dutifully did, but in a 4-year course at the University of St. Petersburg, Stravinsky only attended around 50 class sessions. Stravinsky was prevented from taking his law finals due to the 1905 revolution in Russia, so he received a ½ course diploma.

            With the death of his father in 1902, Stravinsky was free to pursue his musical studies actively, and he began his association with Rimsky-Korsakov, which lasted from 1903 until Rimsky-Korsakov’s death in 1908. Rimsky-Korsakov was the principal teacher of Igor Stravinsky, and much in Stravinsky derives from R-K influences:

  1. BulletBrilliant orchestration

  2. BulletUse of octatonic scales

  3. BulletExoticism in music

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Stravinsky was also influenced heavily by contemporary Russian composers, including (of course) Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, and (especially) Scriabin.


You can listen to representative works of these composers in the “Audio and Visual Extras” section of this website to discern the influences these composers had on the young Stravinsky. In particular, Scriabin exerted a tremendous influence on Stravinsky’s HARMONY, through his use of ALTERED DOMINANT HARMONY, FRENCH 6th CHORDS, etc. This harmony finds its way into much of early Stravinsky, including Scherzo fantastique, Fireworks, and The Firebird, which is based on many harmonic ideas that were used by Scriabin.

The very early student works of Stravinsky do not show much individual character (again, please refer to the “Audio and Visual Extras” section for examples of early Stravinsky) and are heavily indebted to Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Arensky, and others.


Composes two works which will help gain attention, and which for the first time show the “real” Stravinsky:

  1. 1.Scherzo fantastique (for large orchestra)

  2. 2.Fireworks (for large orchestra)  NOTE: this work is in your score binder


  1. BulletHeavy Rimsky-Korsakov influence with the use of OCTATONIC SCALE PATTERNS and super-brilliant and showy orchestration

  2. BulletCombines two elements that we will see in other works of Stravinsky: the juxtaposition of CHROMATIC music and DIATONIC music

The music begins with a 3-note octatonic fragment that is tossed back and forth in the winds, and then doubled back on itself, created octatonic patterns, plus a highly DIATONIC melody that forms the basis of the very short (3:51) piece. According to Stravinsky biographer and scholar Richard Taruskin,

“It is an extremely brainy little piece. This is one piece that was not composed at the piano but meticulously deduced on paper.”

(Stravinsky almost ALWAYS composed at the piano throughout his entire career….)



Present at the first performance (January 24, 1909) of Fireworks was the great Russian impresario and director of the famous Ballets Russes, SERGEI DIAGHILEV (1872-1929), who immediately recognized the immense talent of Stravinsky and asked him to do some orchestrations for the ballet company. Based on the success of these, Stravinsky was asked to compose a full-length ballet for the 1910 season, and the result was The Firebird (1910), which catapulted Stravinsky to international fame and success, and launched his career as the most important and controversial contemporary musician (perhaps with the exception of Arnold Schoenberg). The Stravinsky-Diaghilev collaboration would span almost 20 years and create some of the great masterpieces of the 20th century.


Diaghilev and Stravinsky: an amazing photograph!





  1. BulletKnow the story! Here it is: Prince Ivan ventures into the garden of the evil Kashchei. He catches the magical Firebird. She promises to aid the Prince whenever he needs help if he will release her. He takes a magic feather from the bird's tail, then releases her. Twelve princesses with the Tsarevna (daughter of the Tsar) dance. They are in the power of Kashchei. Prince Ivan falls in love with the Tsarevna. He asks Kashchei whether he can marry her. Kashchei is angry and sends his monsters after the Prince. Kashchei is about to turn him to stone, when the Prince waves the feather. The Firebird appears, and comes to the Prince’s rescue. She casts a spell on the monsters. They fall asleep. The Firebird tells the Prince that Kashchei’s soul lies in an egg. The Prince smashes the egg. Kashchei loses his power, the monsters, and his palace. The Prince marries the Tsarevna.

  2. BulletOriginal choreography by Michel Fokine

  3. BulletThe music and story represent a DUALITY between the magical world (Kashchei and the Firebird) and the “real” world of humans (the Prince and Princesses), and this is represented musically by EXTREME CHROMATICISM (magical world/evil world) and DIATONICISM (the “real” human world)

  4. BulletIn particular, Stravinsky makes use of alternating minor and major thirds (and tritones) to represent the world of the evil Kashchei, altered dominant harmony and French 6th chords to represent the world of the Firebird (thank you, Scriabin….), and good ‘ol diatonic harmony and ACTUAL RUSSIAN FOLK MELODIES (important!) to represent the real world of humans (i.e. the Prince and Princesses). The use of borrowed folk melodies is a very important characteristic of the “Russian” Period of Stravinsky (1902-1914)

  5. BulletRHYTHMIC DISPLACEMENT!!!! VERY IMPORTANT!!!!! Stravinsky begins to utilize the concept of displacing the beat, often by one eighth note, to create immense rhythmic tension (especially in the Infernal Dance of Kashchei). It is the beginning of the “rhythmic revolution” in Stravinsky’s music.

Below is a diagram of Stravinsky’s famous “ladder of thirds” that is the basis for much of the music in The Firebird.  Recall how the ladder of thirds is created:


YELLOW: French 6th Chords

GREEN: Fully diminished 7th Chords

Please CAREFULLY study and LISTEN TO the excerpt from The Firebird that is located on page 17 of your score music and is TRACK 2 on the CD. Also carefully study Fireworks (page 1 of scores and TRACK 1 on CD). IMPORTANT!


BACKGROUND: Petrouchka (“Little Peter” in Russian) began life as a Konzerstück for solo piano and orchestra, as Stravinsky describes in his Autobiography:


Before tackling The Rite of Spring, which would be a long and difficult task, I wanted to refresh myself by composing an orchestral piece in which the piano would play the most important part: a sort of Konzertstück. In composing the music, I had in my mind a distinct picture of a puppet, suddenly endowed with life, exasperating the patience of the orchestra with diabolical cascades of arpeggios.

The idea of turning this music into a ballet came to Diaghilev as soon as he heard the music, and thus was Petrouchka born. This work is a pivotal work in the career of Stravinsky, as author Stephen Walsh succinctly puts it:

“The emergence of Stravinsky as a modernist, with an individual manner unlike any other, can be dated with precision to his early work on Petrouchka.”



The story, which unfolds in four scenes, takes place in St. Petersburg in 1830 during the annual Butterweek Fair, the Russian equivalent to Mardi Gras. The first scene opens on a square filled with a rowdy crowd of peasants, aristocrats, soldiers, street performers, vendors, and various others, all seeking amusements and diversion. Their activities are interrupted by the appearance of a bearded showman, the Charlatan, who presents his three puppets – the doll-like Ballerina, the opulent Moor, and the sad Petrouchka – performing a mechanical dance.

Scene Two takes place in Petrouchka’s dark cell, dominated by a watchful portrait of the Charlatan, and reveals the puppet’s awkward and despairing love for the self- involved and uncomprehending Ballerina.

Scene Three shifts to the Moor’s colorful room. The Moor plays with a coconut and momentarily allows the admiring Ballerina to distract him. His rage at Petrouchka’s entrance results in a chase. In the final scene, back at the fair, Petrouchka runs out of the Charlatan’s booth, followed by the Moor, who kills him. The crowd is horrified, but the Charlatan picks up the limp puppet, convincing them that the corpse is just sawdust and rags. As the fair ends, the ghost of Petrouchka appears above the rooftop, both threatening and triumphant. The bewildered Charlatan drops the doll and flees in terror.

Stravinsky and Nijinsky (Petrouchka) at the first performance of the ballet (1911)

  1. BulletThe work is divided into two different worlds: the REAL world of the outer world, populated by real human beings—a “Symphony of the Street”, and the INTERIOR world of the puppets, introducing the love triangle between Petrouchka, the Moor, and the Ballerina. This is the magical world divorced from reality.

  1. BulletThe music for these two worlds is distinctly different!


  1. BulletThe outer world (which comprises Tableaux 1 and 4, or the outer scenes) is based on popular Russian folk tunes (15 of them, to be exact), is pan-diatonic in nature, and is more straightforward harmonically than the interior scenes.

DEFINITION: “Pan-Diatonicism”  à enriching the diatonic scale with other members of the scale in chord combinations.

  1. BulletThe interior scenes (Tableaux 2 and 3) are characterized by extremely progressive music, dominated by octatonic scale usage, C/F# bitonal usage, chromatic writing, and a much higher level of dissonance, relative to the outer scenes. Please remember that the octatonic scale dominates the ENTIRE work. In the words of the world’s most respected Stravinsky expert, Richard Taruskin,

“No composition, whether by Stravinsky or by anyone else, had ever been so completely octatonic in its structural conception. The octatonic collection is raised structurally to the level of a ‘key’.”

  1. BulletThe famous “Petrouchka Chord” dominates much of the work (the simultaneous keys of C and F# major). Note the tritone relationship, always an important factor in the music of Stravinsky’s Russian Period.

“I had conceived of the music in two keys in the second Tableaux as Petrouchka’s insult to the public.” --- Igor Stravinsky

  1. BulletThe work centers around 4 key areas: C/F#/A/Eb Major. If you combine all of the notes from these scales together and make a scale from them, you will wind up with an octatonic scale (try it!). Also note that these keys consist of two tritone relationships (C/F# and A/Eb).

  1. BulletThe motives and themes of the work are generated by very small cells of notes (reminiscent of how Debussy composed). As an example, the very beginning of the work (in your scores) is based on the notes D/E/G/A, which form the flute melody AND the underlying harmony and repeated notes in the horns as accompaniment.

  1. BulletPerhaps the most important innovations in the work have to do with RHYTHM:

  1. 1.POLYMETRIC MUSIC (use of two different time signatures simultaneously)

  2. 2.RHYTHMIC DISPLACEMENT (taken to a higher level than in The Firebird)

  3. 3.Much more prominent use of MIXED METERS and constantly changing meters (will become even more so in The Rite of Spring)

  4. 4.Prominent use of OSTINATO rhythms (again, taken to unbelievable heights in his NEXT work, The Rite of Spring)


Certainly the most famous of the three “Russian” ballets by the composer. First performance on May 29, 1913 in Paris, with attending “riot” (usually overstated).

Let’s examine the three main aspects of the work, which make it so noteworthy: HARMONY, RHYTHM, and MELODY (orchestration is also quite important). But first it will be important to know how the work is put together (see below) à

  1. 1.How is the HARMONY generated? THREE MAIN WAYS:

  1. 2.How is the RHYTHM generated? THREE MAIN WAYS:

  1. 3.How is the MELODIC content generated?

Stravinsky once again relies on some folk material (much less so than in Petrouchka, however) and bases his melodic usage on extremely short motivic cells.  According to Eric Walter White,

Generally speaking, he develops them (i.e. melodies) by repeating and rearranging the notes and altering their time values so as to avoid the minimum literal repetition or imitation needed to achieve formal symmetry. This means that the patterns of his melos are irregular; they are continually shifting, changing, and being renewed. So restless a method of thematic exposition was certainly calculated to exasperate listeners who had been nurtured on the regular formal music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

  1. 4.ORCHESTRATION: the orchestral forces called for in The Rite of Spring are among the largest of the composer’s entire career, and would not be utilized again during the rest of his lifetime:

5 flutes (including two piccolos and one alto flute)

5 oboes (including two English Horns)

5 clarinets (including 2 bass clarinets)

5 bassoons (including 2 contrabassoons)

8 horns (including two tenor tubas)

5 trumpets (including piccolo trumpet)

3 trombones

2 tubas

2 sets of timpani (two players)

triangle/tambourine/guiro/antique cymbals/bass drum/tam-tam


NO HARP!!!!!

Regarding the premiere performance on May 29, 1913:


Stravinsky debuted the The Rite of Spring Ballet at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on May 29, 1913, to an audience accustomed to the grace, elegance, and traditional music of "conventional" ballets, i.e. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Opposition to Stravinsky's work literally happened within the first few minutes of the piece as members of the audience booed loudly in response to the inharmonic notes accompanying the unrecognizable bassoon's opening solo. What's more, the work's unconventional music, sharp and unnatural choreography (dancers danced with bent arms and legs and would land on the floor so hard their internal organs would shake), and Russian pagan setting, failed to win over the majority of the audience.

As the ballet progressed, so did the audience's discomfort. Those in favor of Stravinksy's work argued with those in opposition. The arguments eventually turned to brawls and police had to be notified. They arrived at intermission and successfully calmed the angry crowd (yes, the show wasn't even half way over before people were throwing punches). As the second half commenced, police were unable to keep the audience under control and rioting resumed. Stravinsky was so taken aback by the audience's reaction, he fled the scene before the show was over.

For a very interesting Leonard Bernstein rehearsal of The Rite of Spring, please watch the following!

A brief overview of the main compositions of the Russian Period (1901-1914)

  1. Bullet1905-07Symphony in Eb

  2. Bullet1908Scherzo Fantastique

  3. Bullet1908Fireworks

  4. Bullet1910The Firebird

  5. Bullet1911Petrouchka

  6. Bullet1913The Rite of Spring

Transitional works leading to the Neoclassic Period (1914-1918)

  1. Bullet1908-14The Nightingale (his first opera)

  2. Bullet1914Three Pieces for String Quartet

  3. Bullet1914Pribaoutki

  4. Bullet1916Reynard the Fox

  5. Bullet1917The Song of the Nightingale

  6. Bullet1918The Soldier’s Tale

  7. Bullet1918Ragtime

THE CRISIS OF 1914 (see World War I origins in AUDIO & VISUAL EXTRAS)

At the outset of World War I in August of 1914, Stravinsky found himself in Switzerland. He would not return to Russia for almost 50 years. Stravinsky wrote in his autobiography:

I have had to survive two crises as a composer, though as I continued to move from work to work I was not aware of either of them as such, or, indeed, of any momentous change. The first—the loss of Russia and its language of words as well of music, affected every circumstance of my personal no less than my artistic life, which made recovery more difficult.

The transitional period between 1914-1920 was a very important time for Stravinsky, as he sought to come to terms with his self-imposed exile from Russia, and also figure out how to compose post-Rite of Spring music. You can listen to two important transitional works in the AUDIO AND VISUAL EXTRAS section of this website:  THREE PIECES FOR STRING QUARTET (1914) and RAGTIME (1918). The Soldier’s Tale (1918) is in your score binders and on your CD. As Stravinsky moves towards his Neoclassic Period, which will begin “officially” with his Pulcinella in 1920 and take up most of the rest of his career (the next 31 years), he begins to make use of new techniques in his music, and the harshness of The Rite of Spring fades into the distance.

THE SOLDIER’S TALE (L’histoire de soldat)  (1918)


A Narrator tells the story of a Soldier coming home on leave while the war goes on. He is far from home and is very tired from walking. But suddenly, while on his way home, there appears the Devil. He offers him a deal: to exchange his fiddle (his soul) for a magic book with the power to provide everything asked. This way, the Soldier gets swindled by the Devil.

When he finally reaches home, his neighbors and relatives don't recognize him, and he is even rejected by his own mother. The Soldier finds himself alone and totally deceived: he has been away not three days but three years! Then, he decides to get back to the Devil and recover his fiddle, but with no result. The Devil convinces him that the best he can do is use the magic book, because he has nothing else left. So, he becomes a rich landed man overnight.

After some time, he realizes all of this is useless. The Soldier wants to recover his old fiddle. However, now he is unable to play his instrument. This leads him again to despair, and he decides to abandon everything in order to get on the road once more and start from scratch.

His clothes get dirty again with dust from the roads. Then he finds a chance to give sense to his erratic wandering: saving a king's daughter from her lethargy. The king offers her hand to anyone able to heal her. When he makes up his mind to save the princess, the Devil crosses him one more time. The Soldier is still under the Devil's influence and can do nothing useful to save the princess. This time, the Narrator takes part in the action helping the Soldier free himself. He will have to play a card game with the Devil, betting him all the things he had obtained from the magic book, to recover his fiddle.

After beating the Devil, the Soldier succeeds in healing the princess but, when it seems everything will be all right, the Soldier ventures too far along the road and again falls into the Devil's trap.

With this ending, it appears that the Devil always wins, but there is actually an open door left: it is the Soldier himself who is telling us the story, that is to say, it is possible to defeat the Devil definitively.


Stravinsky first met C.F. Ramuz (who wrote the libretto for the work) in Switzerland in the autumn of 1915.  Both artists were suffering considerably from the effects of World War I. Stravinsky had been cut off from his family estate in Russia and was receiving no royalties from his publishers, which had its headquarters in Berlin (an enemy country to Russia). Stage performances of his music by the Russian Ballet were very infrequent, and there were virtually no concert performances of his music at all. Ramuz derived the greater part of his income from sales of his novels in France, and his royalties had been seriously affected by the War. In these circumstances, the two artists thought they would try to solve their difficulties by writing a new work that would be as simple as possible to produce. They would devise something that did not need a large theater, a large cast or a large orchestra – that could be mounted in any type of hall or theater, or even in the open air. They would have a kind of mobile theater unit that could tour Switzerland. From this idea came The Soldier’s Tale.



        String Bass






Important points to consider about the music:

  1. BulletStravinsky makes use of ragtime and jazz-influenced styles in this work! In his own words (Autobiography) he states,

My knowledge of jazz was derived exclusively from copies of sheet music, and as I had never actually heard any of the music performed, I borrowed its rhythmic style not as played, but as written. I could imagine jazz sound, however, or so I liked to think. Jazz meant, in any case, a wholly new sound in my music, and L’histoire marks my final break with the Russian orchestral school in which I had been fostered.

As an example, listen to the Ragtime movement (below) from The Soldier’s Tale, and see if you can discern the distinct jazz/ragtime influence.

  1. BulletGREATER DIATONICISM! The majority of the music for this work is recognizably based on major and minor modes and is quite tonal. Only two of the eleven movements have key signatures, but the tonality of each movement is usually very easy to determine. This is a huge departure from The Rite of Spring and the Three Pieces for String Quartet. A feature of particular interest that will recur throughout the rest of the Neoclassic Period of Stravinsky is his ambiguous use of MAJOR vs. MINOR thirds.

  1. BulletRHYTHM: in the realm of rhythm, Stravinsky is still making much use of

  2. 1.Many meter changes in quick succession

  3. 2.Heightened use of rhythmic ostinato (everywhere!)

  4. 3.Multiple planes of rhythmic activity going on simultaneously (see below) à does this remind anyone of Debussy???


EXAMPLE FROM L’HISTOIRE DU SOLDAT: notice how a them in an irregular meter is accompanied by at least three different regular meters (the time signatures of the accompaniment have been altered to make this point clear) à

  1. BulletINSTRUMENTATION: commentators often remark that the most amazing feature of this composition is the brilliant handling of the chamber orchestra of seven players. The instruments are contrasted with each other and balanced with superb adroitness and audacity. Recall that most of Stravinsky’s fame prior to this work rested on his huge orchestral compositions (i.e. the ballets). Stravinsky now proved that he was able to create masterpieces on a smaller scale, with reduced forces.

A contemporary staged performance of L’histoire at Juilliard


The Neoclassic Period of Stravinsky consists of the years from 1920-1951, and includes the majority of his output. Consider the following important works from this period:

        1920    Pulcinella

        1920    Concertino for String Quartet

        1920    Symphonies of Wind Instruments

        1922    Mavra (opera)

        1923    Octet

        1924    Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments

        1924    Sonata for Piano

        1925    Serenade in A

        1927    Oedipus Rex

        1928    Apollo Musagetes

        1928    The Fairy’s Kiss

        1928    Four Studies for Orchestra

        1929    Capriccio

        1930    Symphony of Psalms

        1931    Violin Concerto

        1932    Duo Concertante

        1934    Persephone

        1936    Jeu de Cartes

        1938    Dumbarton Oaks Concerto

        1940    Symphony in C

        1940    Tango

        1942    Danses Concertantes

        1942    Circus Polka

        1942    Four Norwegian Moods

        1944    Babel

        1944    Scenes de Ballet

        1944    Scherzo a la Russe

        1945    Symphony in Three Movements

        1945    Ebony Concerto

        1946    Concerto in D for String Orchestra

        1947    Orpheus

        1947    Mass

        1951    The Rake’s Progress (opera)

It is not so important that you memorize this list: what I would like to point out is the following:

  1. BulletNotice that Stravinsky was constantly writing: very few years go by without a work being composed  (some large-scale works, such as operas and ballets, took a number of years to compose…)

  2. BulletNotice also the titles of some of these works: Symphonies, Concertos, Sonatas, etc. The use of the traditional older FORMAL STRUCTURES was one of the primary characteristics of the Neoclassic Period.

What is Neoclassicism?

“Neoclassicism involves an impulse to revive or restore an earlier style that is separated from the present by some intervening period. The Neoclassic aesthetic thus reaches across a cultural and chronological gap and tries to recover or revive a past model.”

---Martha Hyde, Stravinsky’s Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism is often said to have originated with Stravinsky in 1920 with Pulcinella, but there were others who preceded him, especially Ravel (Le Tombeau de Couperin, 1917), Prokofiev (Classical Symphony, 1917), Tommasini (The Good-Humored
Ladies, 1917) and others.

I strongly urge you to visit the AUDIO AND VISUAL EXTRAS segment of this website to listen to some short excerpts from these composers, to be able to compare and contrast their take on Neoclassicism with that of Stravinsky. IMPORTANT!



Neoclassicism was also a very important visual art movement as well, practiced by such artists as Picasso and others. As an example, consider the two paintings below by Picasso:


On the left, we have a pre-cubist painting by Picasso from 1907 (Les Demoiselles d’Avignon), and on the right we have a painting from Picasso’s “Neoclassic” phase (Mother and Child, 1921). Can a parallel be drawn between Stravinsky’s “primitivism” in The Rite of Spring and the Neoclassic music of the composer (say, Pulcinella)???


               (you need to know these on the exam!)

  1. BulletThe basic musical ideas are all reactions against late Romantic excesses, i.e. it is an anti-Romantic movement.

  2. BulletRevival of absolute forms:





                Concerto Grosso



                Etc. etc. etc.

  1. BulletNew concept of MELODY: Romantic melody had largely been vocal melody. Neoclassicism turns toward instrumental melody.

  2. BulletThe music turns away from the chromaticism of the Romantic period and is more DIATONIC  (PAN-DIATONIC is a better definition, however)

  3. BulletTEXTURE: VERY IMPORTANT!!! The music moves away from the massive sonorities of the late Romantic period and toward a transparent, linear texture, with greater clarity. NO LUSH SONORITIES.

  4. BulletRHYTHM: the rhythm is less complex than The Rite of Spring rhythm.

Basically, in Romanticism, harmony, rhythm, and color were used for their own sake. Neoclassicism tries to bring the elements back together as parts of a unified whole. 


         (again, you need to know these on the exam!)

  1. 1.Imitation and borrowing from pre-existing sources: examples would be Pulcinella (borrowing from Pergolesi) and The Fairy’s Kiss (borrowing from Tchaikovsky)

  2. 2.“Eclectic Imitation” à the composers takes allusions, echoes, phrases, techniques, structures, and forms from unspecified earlier composers and styles and these are all mixed together, forming an eclectic mix, i.e. more Stravinsky than Pergolesi, for instance.

“Eclectic Imitation treats the musical past as an undifferentiated stockpile to be drawn on at will, and it permits the kind of brilliant manipulation of new and old that produced a number of Stravinsky’s most important works.”

---Martha Hyde, Stravinsky’s Neoclassicism



            Concerto for Piano and Winds

            Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra

            Oedipus Rex

            Igor Stravinsky comments on Oedipus Rex:

                  “Much of the music is a construction of random materials put together from whatever came to mind.”   

  1. 3.Types of pieces that follow most closely specific Baroque or Classical forms and create a broader synthesis.


            Symphony in C

            Symphony in Three Movements

            Symphony of Psalms

Your scores and listening CDS have three very important works included, one from each area of Neoclassicism:

  1. BulletPulcinella (1920) à Stravinsky borrows from themes of Pergolesi to create his first Neoclassic masterpiece.

“Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, through which the whole of my later work became possible.”

--Igor Stravinsky


  1. BulletOctet (1923) à  In this “Eclectic Imitation” work, the most important point is that the VERTICAL music of The Rite of Spring has been replaced by HORIZONTAL or purely linear music.  Counterpoint is ALL-IMPORTANT  à and this is a new idea for Stravinsky, as counterpoint was NOT a major Stravinsky characteristic in the Russian Period.

“Form in my music derives from counterpoint. I consider counterpoint as the only means through which the attention of the composer is concentrated on purely musical questions.”

---Igor Stravinsky

  1. BulletSymphony in Three Movements (1945) à Stravinsky utilizes the third type of Neoclassicism, composing a full three-movement symphony, with movements in recognizable standard Classical formal structures.

Chronologically, the Neoclassic period of Stravinsky has a few divisions:


  1. Bullet1920-26Instrumental works                                                                           

  2. Bullet1927-36“The Return to the Stage”

Works in this period include:

Oedipus Rex


The Fairy’s Kiss


Jeu de Cartes

  1. Bullet1939-51American Years: Stravinsky desperately trying to make a living in the USA and creates a number of smaller scale “popular” works, such as:


Circus Polka

Four Norwegian Moods

Scherzo a la Russe

Scenes de Ballet

Ebony Concerto


Stravinsky completed his last opera, which would be his good-bye to Neoclassicism, in 1951. The Rake’s Progress is the longest work by Stravinsky and considered to be one of his supreme masterpieces.


ACT I. Anne Trulove is in the garden of her father's country house with her suitor, Tom Rakewell, admiring the springtime. Sending Anne into the house, her father, Trulove, tells Tom he has arranged an accountant's job for him in the city. Tom declines the offer and the older man leaves. A stranger enters as Tom declares his determination to live by his wits and enjoy life. When he says "I wish I had money," the stranger introduces himself as Nick Shadow, "at your service." Shadow tells Tom that a forgotten rich uncle has died, leaving the young man a fortune. Anne and Trulove return to hear the news, the latter urging Tom to accompany Shadow to London to settle the estate. As Tom leaves, promising to send for Anne as soon as everything is arranged, Shadow turns to the audience to announce, "the Progress of a Rake begins." At a brothel in the city, whores entertain a group of "roaring boys," dissolute young playboys; together they toast Venus and Mars. Shadow coaxes Tom to recite for the madam, Mother Goose, the catechism he has taught him: to follow nature rather than doctrine, to seek beauty (which is perishable) and pleasure (which means different things to different people). Tom refuses, however, to define love. Turning back the clocks when he sees Tom restless to escape, Shadow commends him to the pursuit of hedonism with these companions. Tom responds with ruminations of love. When the whores offer to console him, Mother Goose claims him for herself and leads him off.

As evening falls, Anne leaves her father's house, determined to find Tom, since she has heard nothing from him.

ACT II. Tom, who is in the morning room of his house in the city, is beginning to tire of city pleasures and no longer dares to think of Anne. When he says "I wish I were happy," Shadow appears, showing a poster for Baba the Turk, a bearded lady whom he urges Tom to marry, because only when one is obligated to neither passion nor reason can one be truly free. Amused by the idea, Tom gets ready to go out.

Anne approaches Tom's house but is hesitant to knock. As darkness falls, she sees servants enter with strangely shaped packages. A conveyance arrives and Tom steps out. Startled to see Anne, he says she must forget him, he cannot go back to her. Baba calls out from the sedan, whereupon Tom admits to the astonished Anne that he is married. Hurried along by Baba's impatient remarks, Anne faces the bitter realities, while Tom repeats that it is too late to turn back. As Tom helps Baba from the sedan, a curious crowd gathers. Anne hurriedly leaves.

In his morning room, Tom sits sulking amid Baba's curios as she chatters about the origin of each. When he refuses to respond to her affection, she complains bitterly. Tom silences her and she remains motionless as Tom falls asleep. Shadow wheels in a strange contraption, and when Tom awakens, saying, "Oh I wish it were true," the machine turns out to be his dream: an invention for making stones into bread. Seeing it as a means of redemption for his misdeeds, Tom wonders whether he might again deserve Anne. Shadow points out the device's usefulness in gulling potential investors.

ACT III. On a spring afternoon, the same scene (including the stationary Baba) is set for an auction. Customers examine the various objects: Tom's business venture has ended in ruin. Amid rumors as to what has become of Tom, Anne enters in search of him. An auctioneer, Sellem, begins to hawk various objects -- including Baba, who resumes her chatter after the crowd bids to purchase her. Indignant at finding her belongings up for sale, she tries to order everyone out. She draws Anne aside, saying the girl should try to save Tom, who still loves her. Anne, hearing Tom and Shadow singing in the street, runs out.

Shadow leads Tom to a graveyard with a freshly dug grave, where he reminds the young man that a year and a day have passed since he promised to serve him: now the servant claims his wage. Tom must end his life by any means he chooses before the stroke of twelve. Suddenly,

Shadow offers a reprieve: they will gamble for Tom's soul. When Tom, placing his trust in the Queen of Hearts, calls upon Anne, and her voice is heard, Shadow realizes he has lost. In retaliation, he condemns Tom to insanity. As Shadow disappears and dawn rises, Tom -- gone mad -- imagines himself Adonis, waiting for Venus.

In an insane asylum, Tom declares Venus will visit him, whereupon fellow inmates mock the idea. The Keeper admits Anne. Believing her to be

Venus, Tom confesses his sins: "I hunted the shadows, disdaining thy true love." Briefly they imagine timeless love in Elysium. With his head upon her breast, Tom asks her to sing him to sleep. As she does, her voice moves the other inmates. Trulove comes to fetch his daughter, who bids the sleeping Tom farewell. When he wakens to find her gone, he cries out for Venus as the inmates sing "Mourn for Adonis."

EPILOGUE. The principals gather to tell the moral that each finds in the story. Anne warns that not every man can hope for someone like her to save him; Baba warns that all men are mad; Tom warns against self-delusion, to Trulove's agreement; Shadow mourns his role as man's alter ego; and all concur that the devil finds work for idle hands.


Stravinsky’s idea was to compose an opera in what he called the “Italian-Mozartian” style. The work was a smash success, but not with younger composers, who felt it was old-fashioned. Much of the opera is based on the minor vs. major mode idea, and it also uses bitonality. The libretto was by W.H Auden and Chester Kallman, based on paintings by the British artist William Hogarth.

Stravinsky on The Rake’s Progress:

“Crisis number 2 was brought on by the natural outgrowing of the special incubator in which I wrote The Rake’s Progress. I could not continue in the same strain, could not compose a sequel to the Rake.”

In other words, after The Rake’s Progress, Stravinsky said goodbye to Neoclassicism and entered his final period, the SERIAL PERIOD.


The central figure in this momentous change was ROBERT CRAFT, Stravinsky’s assistant, who lived with Stravinsky through this period and handled his career. He rehearsed orchestras in preparation for Stravinsky concerts, and introduced Stravinsky to the music of Schoenberg and Webern. Up until this time, Stravinsky had known virtually nothing about the music of these two composers.

Robert Craft and Igor Stravinsky

Why did Stravinsky turn to serial music in 1952 (the year after Schoenberg’s death)?

In the words of the composer himself,

The creator’s function is to sift the elements he receives from the imagination, for human activity must impose limits upon itself. The more art is controlled, limited, worked over, the more it is free…..My freedom consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action.

---Igor Stravinsky

Serialism was immediately attractive to Stravinsky as a way of organizing the flow of notes and intervals in his music. Stravinsky had always composed with ostinatos and repeated groups of notes, so to him the SERIES represented a kind of apotheosis of the ostinato.

“Stravinsky quickly recognized that the series could provide him with a useful point of departure, a way of regulating the musical flow, a set of rules and constraints to accept, struggle with, or evade as he saw fit.”

---Joseph Strauss, Stravinsky the Serialist

How is the serial music of Stravinsky different than that of Schoenberg?

  1. BulletHis series often stays in a single voice as a recognizable thematic idea, whereas Schoenberg divides his series up among different instrumental voices. It is a simplification, deliberate by Stravinsky

  2. BulletStravinsky did not like what he considered Schoenberg’s emotional bombast and self-indulgent excesses. Stravinsky had a more objective approach.

  3. BulletStravinsky often uses series that are NOT all 12 notes!! IMPORTANT!!! Actually, more often than not, Stravinsky does NOT employ 12-tone technique.

  4. BulletRHYTHM!!! Stravinsky’s insistence on the primacy of RHYTHM always stayed with him. When we think of Schoenberg, we don’t usually think of driving, pulsating rhythms, but Stravinsky’s use of serial technique did NOT end his rhythmic drive and propulsion. Quite the contrary!


  1. 1.DIATONIC SERIALISM: in his earliest serial works, Stravinsky often uses series that are entirely DIATONIC and not CHROMATIC, or nearly so.

  2. 2.NON-DIATONIC SERIALISM: in the course of the 1950s, Stravinsky’s serial music became more chromatic and less obviously based on diatonic scales.

  3. 3.TWELVE-NOTE SERIALISM: Stravinsky first used “traditional” 12-tone serialism in Canticum Sacrum in 1955

  4. 4.ROTATIONAL ARRAYS: from Movements for Piano and Orchestra to the end of his career, Stravinsky restricted himself to what he considered the four basic forms of the series: P/R/I/RI, which are NOT TRANSPOSED to different pitch levels. IMPORTANT! He turns his back on the approach of Schoenberg and Webern, which depends on the wide-ranging exploration of the entire row class.


Important Stravinsky Serial Works



            1953Three Songs From William Shakespeare

            1954In Memoriam Dylan Thomas

            1955Canticum Sacrum



            1959Movements for Piano and Orchestra


            1961A Sermon, A Narrative, and A Prayer

            1962The Flood

            1963Abraham and Isaac

            1964Elegy for J.F.K.


            1966Requiem Canticles