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Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) was perhaps the twentieth century’s most celebrated composer, a leading light of modernism and a restlessly creative artist. This new entry in the Critical Lives series 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 his work was deliberately cosmopolitan, the pain of estrangement nonetheless left its mark on the man and his work, distinguishable in an ever-present sense of loss. Jonathan Cross shows how that work emerged over the course of decades spent in Paris, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, in an artistic circle that included Joyce, Picasso, and Proust and that culminated in Stravinsky being celebrated by both the White House and the Kremlin as one of the great artistic forces of the era.
Approachable and absorbing, Cross’s biography enables us to see Stravinsky’s life and artistic achievement in a new light, understanding how his work both reflected and shaped his times.

224 pages | 30 halftones | 5 x 8 | © 2015

Critical Lives

Biography and Letters

Music: General Music

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“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

“Elegant, often resonant study.”


“As a compelling survey of the life and compositional career in relation to the changing cultural contexts, 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, 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

“Cross’s work on an artist often regarded as the greatest (or at least the most influential) composer of the twentieth 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.”


“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 organization, 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 color, too, is provided by his evident visual sensibility—not, I’m afraid, a conspicuous feature of most musicological publications. . . . Cross also vividly emphasizes the importance of the wider cosmopolitan cultural context of interwar Paris with which Stravinsky totally identified himself in the genesis of his neoclassical works.”

Musical Times

“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.”


“True to form for Critical Lives, Jonathan Cross packs a rich life into a lean yet bountiful biography in Igor Stravinsky.”

John Garratt | PopMatters

“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

“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’s 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

“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

Table of Contents

Preface: Finding Igor
Prelude: How Stravinsky Became “Stravinsky”
1. A son of St Petersburg
2. Russian Ballets
3. Portrait of a Scandal
4. A First Exile: Switzerland, War and Revolution
5. A Creative Epiphany: Paris Style and Neoclassicism
6. To the Glory of God
7. An Extraordinary Creative Partnership: Stravinsky and Balanchine
8. Another War, Another Country
9. An Opera About Opera
10. A Crisis and a Way Forward
11. A Citizen of the Modern World
Postlude: Stravinsky Remains

Select Bibliography
Select Discography and Videography
Photo Acknowledgements

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