Monday, May 29, 2017

Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring As Genius And Madness

On this day 104 years ago the young composer, Igor Stravinsky, made music history in Paris. The event was the premiere of the ballet The Rite of Spring. Like his earlier work for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, it was experimental and revolutionary. When combined with primitive choreography and a human sacrifice theme audiences were either dazzled or infuriated.

Photo from 1913 showing original costumes 

In the early 1980's the original choreography was meticulously reconstructed after being lost for almost six decades. A few years after its completion it was presented by the Joffre Ballet. There is no better representation around of what that 1913 audience both heard and saw. Here is Part 1 - all three available on YouTube - of their performance.

Stravinsky's imaginative compositions went on to  have a huge impact on music and the arts. At the forefront stands The Rite of Spring  as one of the most widely recorded and performed symphonic works in the world. It remains as fresh in 2017 as it was in 1913. In that century its innovative energy in sound and rhythm has been re-patterned by the likes of Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams, Philip Glass and many others. 

Some say the most productive experiments often make the biggest messes. The genius and madman in Stravinsky would be pleased. 


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photo from First Nights: Five Musical Premieres by Thomas F. Kelly. Yale University Press, New Haven 2000. 

Igor Stravinsky entry,

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