The Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) is considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century. While he experimented with a number of musical styles over the course of his career, innovation consistently served as an integral component of his work. The composer experienced a spectrum of musical change throughout his lifetime: consider that young Stravinsky witnessed Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky conduct and yet lived to see the breakup of the Beatles.
Stravinsky’s many innovative works made its way into the canon of Western classical music, but he is most known for his first three ballet scores: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). At the age of 27, the largely unknown composer was commissioned to write The Firebird for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which placed the composer on the musical map. This was a more traditional piece, which owed much of its style to his teacher and celebrated Russian orchestrator Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
While composing The Firebird, Stravinsky began work on The Rite of Spring promptly after Russian philosopher/artist Nicholas Roerich relayed the idea of a ballet centered around a pagan ritual in which a young maiden dances herself to death. Although he intended to complete The Rite of Spring as his next project, Stravinsky became sidetracked the following year with what became his second ballet score for the Ballets Russes, Petrushka, a work which demonstrated the composer’s more personal and unique musical style. It was also his first time working with the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, who performed the role of the puppet Petrushka. Stravinsky was becoming a rising star in the classical music world, but it was his third piece for the Ballets Russes, The Rite of Spring and the controversy surrounding it that sealed his legacy.