It should come as no surprise that if any one composer could cause a riot, it would be Igor Stravinsky. Unpredictable in nature, and comparable in stature to painter Pablo Picasso, Stravinsky was an enigmatic figure who moved like a chameleon through the cultural world. He made his reputation with his erotically charged masterpieces The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). Throughout these works, you could hear Stravinsky gradually forsaking the world of romanticism which would lead him to ultimately forge a new style of neoclassicism in 1920 with Pulcinella. Yet right at the moment when he was pioneering that phase of his musical career, he joined forces with his serialist adversaries, Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg, who had abandoned classicism altogether. "People always expect the wrong thing of me," Stravinsky once said. "They think they have pinned me down and then all of a sudden – au revoir!"
Born in St. Petersberg in 1882, Stravinsky had such a great aptitude for music that the colourful Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov took him on as a pupil. In 1909, Russia's top impresario, Serge Diaghilev, heard two of Stravinsky's first compositions, Scherzo fantastique and Feu d'artifice, at a concert in St. Petersberg. He was so impressed that he commissioned Stravinsky to write a couple of numbers for a ballet he was producing. Out of that encounter came The Firebird which was an overnight success. While not as daring or innovative as his later ballet scores, The Firebird still had something more foreboding than the exotic colours of Rimsky-Korsakov. Diaghilev could hear immediately that Stravinsky's work had what author Joan Peyser in To Boulez and Beyond called "a latent barbarism." This "latent barbarism" would, of course, be even more explicit in his next work for Diaghlev titled Petrushka. This piece, with its polytonality and sharper rhythms, caused something of a small commotion.