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Stravinsky had already been guided by Diaghilev to produce The Firebird and Petrushka, which were great successes in the 1910 and 1911 seasons. For the 1913 season, the 29-year-old composer had completed Vesna svyashchennaya, the initial idea coming to him, ‘while I was still composing The Firebird. I had dreamed a scene of pagan ritual in which a chosen sacrificial virgin danced herself to death.’ Working his material into two parts, the work was eventually completed in Clarens, Switzerland, 1912.
The most famous and beloved riot in recent musical history ensued at the Rite’s opening night on 29th May 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. The venue was not a venerable institution, but a new-build of only a few weeks, which had a rather functional feel when compared to the luxuries to be found in the established Parisian theatres. Like Hendrix at Woodstock, or Callas at Covent Garden, everybody, whether they were anybody or not, seems to have been in attendance. Anger, excitement, confusion and scuffle was the order of the day: the initial folksong-based bassoon introduction, the vicious, non-balletic stamping chords, the ‘knock-kneed, long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down’ to Nijinsky’s controversial choreography, the scenario and tent-like costumes by Roerich, the audience cliques’ goading, the ill-feeling of the Parisian public toward recent avant garde Russian influence in the ballet—all have been blamed for the punch-ups, cock-ups and calamities of the night. Stravinsky himself was also bright with anger, and he knew what was on offer. It seems that Pierre Monteux, the conductor, was the only unflappable presence in the theatre, calmly guiding the orchestra through to the end, Stravinsky praising him as ‘nerveless as a crocodile’. Some sources suggest that many of the major players in the Ballets Russes were clear that uproar was inevitable. Certainly not a situation Diaghilev would have lost any sleep over.
The succeeding Ballets Russes performances were, of course, sold out, and the following year Stravinsky rejoiced in a concert performance at the Casino de Paris which he described as ‘a triumph such as composers rarely enjoy … At the end of the Danse sacrale the entire audience jumped to its feet and cheered’ and the composer was carried to the local square in celebration. Newspaper headlines were equally good news marketing for Diaghilev, composer and company, Le Ménestrel punning with the ‘Massacre du printemps’ and New York Times joined the fray with ‘Russian Dancer’s Latest Offering—The Consecration of Spring—A Failure’. Success for the work was guaranteed.
The Rite of Spring is still regarded as the touchstone for all approachable modernist music, and it never disappoints. Its cleverly constructed concatenation of rhythms, folksong and brilliant, brutalist orchestration quickly removed it from the ballet and installed it as a concert hall favourite, which over the years has, in the right hands, lost none of its bite. Stravinsky himself was well aware that this was a work without sequel, and in time, he added to the mystique and his own ritual part in its creation:
I was guided by no system whatever in Le sacre du printemps. When I think of the other composers of that time who interest me—Berg, who is synthetic (in the best sense), Webern, who is analytic, and Schoenberg, who is both—how much more theoretical their music seems than Le sacre; and these composers were supported by a great tradition, whereas very little immediate tradition lies behind Le sacre du printemps. I had only my ear to help me. I heard and I wrote what I heard. I am the vessel through which Le sacre passed.
from notes by M Ross © 2013
|Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring & other works for two pianos four hands|
The Rite of Spring as you may never have heard it: Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin give the definitive performance of the composer’s own rendering for two pianos. Coupled with Stravinsky’s other music written or arranged for the same combi ...» More
|Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring; Poulenc: Les biches|
Almost no musical work has had such a powerful influence or evoked as much controversy as Stravinsky's ballet score The Rite of Spring. Also featuring Francis Poulenc's ballet Les Biches, the present recording captures the excitement and vibrancy ...» More
|Ravel: Mother Goose & La valse; Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring|
Contrasting pieces by two masters of orchestral composition, these live performances capture the energy and movement of three much-loved balletic works; Ravel's intricate vignettes of childrens' stories in Mother Goose and 'choreographic poem' La ...» More
|Hyperion sampler - December 2020|