Performance | Serge Diaghilev | Modern Era | Classical

Few non-performing or non-composing figures have had as much effect on the development of twentieth-century music as Serge Diaghilev (1872–1929). Born in Russia, he became enamoured early of Russian national music, memorizing Ruslan i Lyudmila (‘Ruslan and Ludmilla’, 1842) by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804–57) as a child.

Though he studied composition with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908), Diaghilev abandoned it to concentrate on promoting, rather than creating, Russian works. In 1898, he organized an exhibition of Russian national art and became the founder-editor of the enormously influential magazine Mir iskusstva (‘The World of Art’). A lover of ballet, he was annoyed by the conservatism of the Russian Imperial Ballet and found a company with some younger dancers, including Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky and Michel Fokine. Their collective impact on the rest of the world took place when Diaghilev, failing to make headway with his ideas, decided to leave Russia after the Russo-Japanese War (1904) and the 1905 Winter Palace Massacre. His move to Paris both ensured him publicity and in turn transformed ballet, stage-design and music, through his celebrated collaborations with famous choreographers, painters, dancers and composers, including Maurice Ravel (1875–1937), Stravinsky and Debussy.

Undaunted though not unaffected by the financial crises following World War I, Diaghilev pointed Stravinsky and Poulenc in the direction of neo-classicism, the former with his ballet Pulcinella (1919–20), the latter with his witty social satire Les biches (‘The Darlings’, 1923).

Introduction | Modern Era | Classical
Performance | Turandot | Modern Era | Classical


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