The Composer of Russia

November 21, 2020

Written by William Higgs

The years 1939 through 1945 were a period of heavy cultural and artistic influence between Russia and the United States. During WWII, many artists moved between the two countries, including famed composer Igor Stravinsky. He is widely known for The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, which influenced the American composer Aaron Copland's influence. Of course, Aaron was one of the most formative American composers of the 20th century. In addition, he became a citizen of the United States in 1945.

Challenges in Russia

Stravinsky initially sought to leave Russia during the political turmoil of 1917. Initially, he settled in Switzerland, later moving to France until the outbreak of WWII in 1939. Six years later, after the war, Stravinsky would become a citizen of the United States. Stravinsky was known to incorporate polyrhythmic structures and folk elements that were not common at the time. For example, His Rite of Spring drew heavily from Russian folk music, with the opening melody coming directly from an anthology of folk songs and the entirety of the composition drawing from what Stravinsky described as “some unconscious folk memory.”

Innovator of Music

Stravinsky’s other experiments with dissonance, polyrhythm, stress, and tonality helped to inspire an entire generation of composers. Aron Copland described Stravinsky as his “hero” and The Rite of Spring, particularly as a masterpiece that created an entire era of composition featuring displaced accents and polytonal chords. Stravinsky would go on to compose serialist works in the 1950s, which along with the 12 tone innovations of  German composer Arnold Schoenberg, himself an ex-pat to the United States during WWII, would go on to heavily influence American avant-guardists like John Cage, Robert Morris, and Morton Feldman.

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