June 12, 2017. Stravinsky, Pleyel. Igor Stravinsky, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, was born on June 17th of 1882 in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov) outside of Saint Petersburg. For years, as we celebrated Stravinsky, we were traversing his life in its amazing transmutations. We’ve mentioned it before, but one can think of only one other artist who could change his creative styles so drastically and succeeded so enormously in every one of them – and that’s Picasso. Last year we wrote about one of Stravinsky’s most successful neoclassical pieces, his ballet Apollo. Apollo was composed early in 1928. Stravinsky was living in France and leading, at least on a personal level, a double life: while still married to Catherine (Katya) Nosenko, mother of his four children, he had since 1921 been carrying on an affair with Vera de Bosset, then the wife of the painter Sergei Sudeikin (Vera would leave Sudeikin a year later). Stravinsky bought a house in Anglet just outside of Biarritz and moved his family there. When not visiting Anglet, he lived in Paris with Vera. Katya knew about the affair but didn’t do anything about it. Stravinsky stayed married to Katya for the remainder of her life; the last years were very unhappy. Some years earlier Katya had contracted tuberculosis, which had developed slowly, but in 1938 she infected both Igor and their daughter Lyudmila. Lyudmila died in 1930 at the age of 30, Catherine – three months later, in March of 1939. Igor spent several months in a hospital but recovered.
But that was still to come. In the meantime, in 1928, following the success of Apollo, Ida Rubinstein, a famous danseuse, commissioned Stravinsky for another ballet for her company. Rubinstein wanted a romantic tale, and Alexander Benois, a wonderful Russian painter who had collaborated with Stravinsky (and Diagilev) on a number of projects, came up with the idea to base the ballet on the music of Tchaikovsky. Stravinsky liked it; what came out of it was Le baiser de la fée (The Fairy's Kiss), a wonderfully inventive one-act ballet. Bronislava Nijinska was the choreographer; the ballet premiered in November of 1938, marking the 35th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s death. It’s interesting to compare two masterpieces, Apollo and The Fairy's Kiss, written just months apart – the apollonian stillness of the former and the inventive brilliancy of the latter. In 1934 Stravinsky wrote a “Divertimento” – a suite based on the music of the ballet. You can listen to it here. The Bulgarian National Radio Symphony is conducted by Mark Kadin.
While in Paris, Stravinsky found an interesting source of income: writing arrangements for the piano manufacturer Pleyel. The company had recently designed a piano player they called Pleyela and Stravinsky used its ability to play notes beyond the capacity of a human pianist. By the late 1920, Playel was one of the major piano manufacturers in Europe, on par with Bechstein, Bösendorfer and the Hamburg Steinway. The company was started by Ignaz Pleyel, a composer and piano maker, whose birthday we also mark this week. Pleyel was born on June 18th of 1757 in Ruppersthal, Austria. He moved to Strasbourg, Alsace, and eventually to Paris. A prolific composer of many symphonies, quartets, etc., he didn’t leave a lasting mark, although he was well-received in England, which he toured the same time as his friend Haydn. The field he really excelled in was business. First, he established a successful music printing business, and then, in 1807, Pleyel et Cie, a piano manufacturer. They were the first to introduce a metal frame and make an upright piano (or “pianino,” as they called it). Chopin played Pleyels, and so did many other French pianists and composers. Working with Wanda Landowska, they introduced the modern harpsichord. And we shouldn’t forget their contribution to the performing scene: the company commissioned the original small Salle Pleyel and its replacement, the modern concert hall which serves as the home base to the Orchestre de Paris Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Igor Stravinsky was one of the conductors of the inauguration concert.