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200 × 130 mm
208 pages
30 illustrations
21 Sep 2015
Critical Lives

Igor Stravinsky Jonathan Cross

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) was perhaps the twentieth century’s most feted composer, a leading light of modernism and a restlessly creative artist. This book traces the story of Stravinsky’s life and work, setting him in the context of the turbulent times in which he lived. Born in Russia, Stravinsky spent most of his life in exile – and while he swiftly became a cosmopolitan figure, the discomfort of estrangement nonetheless left its mark both on the man and on his work, in the form of an ever-present sense of loss and nostalgia.

In this engaging critical biography, Jonathan Cross charts Stravinsky’s work over the course of decades spent in Paris, Los Angeles and elsewhere, in an artistic circle that included Joyce, Picasso and Proust, and which culminated in Stravinsky being celebrated by both the White House and the Kremlin as one of the great artistic forces of the era. A celebrity composer in an increasingly celebrity-obsessed age, Stravinsky’s extraordinary music reflected and shaped his own times, and still resonates with today’s audiences.

Approachable and absorbing, Igor Stravinsky tells of a colourful life lived against the backdrop of the twentieth century’s wars and revolutions.

‘[an] elegant, often resonant study’ – Gramophone

‘this is a concise and stimulating account of Stravinsky’s life and works. All the major compositions are discussed in some detail and very few of the smaller gems are neglected . . . this life-and-works is absolutely essential, a model of its kind.’ – Classical Music Magazine

‘In my view, Jonathan Cross’s brief Stravinsky in the Reaktion series of Critical Lives could not be bettered. Indeed, it is a model of elegant lucid writing and clear organisation, providing an overview of the composer’s life and work with a useful light-handed aperçu of current scholarship, and enlivened by the author’s own distinctive literary persona and critical perceptions. Much additional colour, too, is provided by his evident visual sensibility – not, I’m afraid, a conspicuous feature of most musicological publications . . . Cross also vividly emphasises the importance of the wider cosmopolitan cultural context of interwar Paris with which Stravinsky totally identified himself in the genesis of his neoclassical works’ – The Musical Times

‘as a compelling survey of the life and compositional career in relation to the changing cultural contexts, Jonathan Cross’s brilliantly written book is now an essential acquisition. The debates will continue and new perspectives emerge, for we long to know where this extraordinary art sprang from. This book, especially in its reflections on dislocation and the emotional distancing of certain stylistic elements, will play a valuable part in that debate. The music itself endures, indestructible and indispensable.’ – Music Web International

‘Here is an up-to-date introduction, which addresses more recent discoveries and “revelations” – genuine or otherwise – within a beautifully written and thought-provoking narrative . . . Drawing on recent scholarship, Jonathan Cross depicts Stravinsky's character and private life in vivid detail, and persuasively demonstrates how the composer was very much a man of his time – not simply a lone genius who impacted the musical world.’ – BBC Music Magazine

‘Jonathan Cross’s work on an artist often regarded as the greatest (or at least the most influential) composer of the 20th century tells his story fluently and authoritatively . . . Cross’s approach intersperses biography with a discussion of the works themselves, including some technical description. There’s a sprinkling of appropriate photographs throughout, and the text is consistently easy to read.’ – Opera

‘A composer of extraordinary works and a man of extraordinary talents (and contradictions), the famously guarded Igor Stravinsky is brilliantly unpicked in a new biography . . . Cross’s musical readings are vivid and jargon-free, and even when we leave the colourful familiarity of the early ballets for the complexity of The Rake’s Progress and Stravinsky's serial experiments, we lose none of the narrative clarity . . . Whatever his personal weaknesses, Stravinsky stood on the cusp of worlds in both art and life, straddling not only the East-West divide but also pre and post-war eras, modernism and the neo-classical. The result is a unique vantage point, a 'creative life full of extraordinary encounters'. With Cross as our guide, these are encounters that we too share – drawn in, intimately close, to a composer who kept the world at arm’s length.’ – Sinfini Music

‘Cross takes us through Stravinsky’s entire life, painting him as a creator of twentieth-century music and culture while showing how Stravinsky was subject to the force of alienation in several different guises . . . Cross has produced an account of the life of Igor Stravinsky that is at once sophisticated and thoughtful.’ – The Russian Review

‘Cross is a well-known Stravinsky scholar, having written The Stravinsky Legacy and edited The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky. True to form, his contribution to the Critical Lives series is deeply insightful, highly engaging, but not technical, and he gives the reader a multifaceted understanding of Stravinsky’s life and music. Cross effectively interweaves and connects biographical details, pivotal life events, approachable musical analysis, and broad cultural trends. Particularly cogent is his use of complementary personal anecdotes and large-scale influences in Stravinsky’s works. Musicians and non-musicians alike will enjoy this excellent contribution to studies of Stravinsky’s life and times.’ – Choice

‘True to form for Critical Lives, Jonathan Cross packs a rich life into a lean yet bountiful biography in Igor Stravinsky . . . the combination of Cross’s comprehensive research, succinct writing, and a realistic view of his all-too-human subject are all, to say the least, highly admirable. Even when Cross is giving the reader a brief window into the music world’s somber mood just after Stravinsky’s passing, a time when we’re all prone to gild the lily, the narrative doesn’t wander anywhere near idolatry.’ – PopMatters

‘A fitting examination of the man Cross refers to as the twentieth century’s most celebrated composer. Cross compares his subject to the famous nesting matryoshka dolls of Russia. What one first perceives as a whole is a series of wholes that only deepen the mystery once the doll owner has begun unwinding the layers. So, too, with Stravinsky . . . Cross’ eye and ear for detail and ability to add something quiet but significant to the larger conversation about his subject make Igor Stravinsky well worth reading.’ – Spectrum Culture

‘Jonathan Cross creates a literary masterpiece in his quest for the “real” Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky. Through his eloquent and authoritative narrative of Stravinsky’s extraordinary life, Cross traces Stravinsky’s compositional process while acknowledging the composer’s need for objectivity and his tendency to hide behind masks and myths musically and personally.’ – Maureen Carr, author of After the Rite: Stravinsky's Path to Neoclassicism (1914–25)

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Jonathan Cross is Professor of Musicology at the University of Oxford, and Tutor in Music at Christ Church, Oxford. He is the author or editor of many books including The Stravinsky Legacy (1998), The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky (2003) and Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus (2009).