Quarantine Music…Music inspirations of Igor Stravinsky during Spanish flu pandemic

Chamber music did not stop Stravinsky’s creativity

After the outbreak of World War I and also the spreading of flu, Stravinsky faced restrictions in the availability of orchestral opportunities. Substantial productions that could finance big orchestras were out of the question. Hence the Russian composer had to focus on chamber music. This didn’t stop his creativity, and Stravinsky worked on pieces for solo instruments or small ensembles. As the war went on, the composer — who had to provide food for a family of five including himself was left helpless.

He started thinking about how to overcome the situation and decided to write a new work called ‘L’histoire du soldat’(The Soldier’s Tale). A theatrical performance for a small ensemble and an actor. The plot tells the story of a soldier. He sells his fiddle to the devil in exchange for a book which reveals events that will happen in the future. And with this knowledge he becomes rich. He works under this restrictive circumstances, but Stravinsky seems to thrive in the lack of freedom.

Igor Stravinsky

The work itself is a true masterpiece. He worked on his techniques and styles, to a smaller ensemble with just as much success. As in his works for larger orchestras. In doing so, he was silently reinventing the scope of chamber music. His is one of the first chamber pieces to contain a solo for percussion.

Flu Outbreak

Unfortunately, Stravinsky’s plan to tour Europe with ‘The Soldier’s Tale’ was to face another dramatic incumbency: the Spanish Flu. This is a rather grim similarity to the present situation, since the virus was in fact related to COVID-19. The Spanish Flu belonged to the same family of viruses (H1N1) with an exceptionally high mortality rate. Leading to killing between 50 and 80 million people worldwide. Many of the performers in the theater company became ill, including the composer himself who also got the flu.

However, Stravinsky recovered from the Spanish Flu and was able to keep working and gifting the world with his amazing compositions for years onwards.

Enjoy one of his compositions (composed in the year 1919)

Mayesh Babu