Igor Stravinsky's epic, The Rite of Spring, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Stories of its eventful premiere on May 29, 1913 in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris are legendary. A veritable riot erupted in the theatre, more the result of Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography than Stravinsky's music (or Pierre Monteux's conducting). Insults were shouted from the audience, slapping and punching took place, it must have been quite an evening. And the Parisians' reaction was, I suppose, predictable. Graphic depiction of pagan Russia was hardly what the audience was expecting, and Stravinsky's primitively pulsating music full of angular harmonics and orchestral histrionics was more than the proper public could tolerate.
This year, Ballet companies all over the planet will celebrate with performances of the iconic work. The Columbus Symphony and BalletMet will team up for a collaborative effort with all participants on stage at the Ohio Theater. Carolina Performing Arts is creating a year long celebration including a wonderful blog with all sorts of interesting activities. And Boosey&Hawkes, the publisher of the work has announced the publication of a facsimile edition not only of the full score, but Stravinsky's own piano reduction, as well as a collection of scholarly essays on the piece. I have long been fascinated with the exploration of such editions as they give wonderful insight into the craft of a particular composer. There no doubt are recording projects (I still prefer the Boulez recording), and tours of the work (The Joffrey has appeared with it in a number of major cities), and countless performances of the score by orchestras of all shapes and sizes.
The Rite of Spring, much like the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, changed the course of musical composition. Stravinsky taught us much with this work. He stretched the notions of orchestration (the bassoon is barely recognizable at the beginning of the piece) which has evolved as quickly as the technical prowess of instrumentalists. He also gave us a lesson in unique combinations of instruments that could meld into a new, compelling sound. His use of rhythm inspired composers and performers to explore new realms in complexity in the division of the beat. His use of form encouraged his successors to question the existing limits of architecture and explore new designs. A remarkable piece of music by any standards.I recall hearing it for the first time, as a backdrop to animated pre-historic animals in Walt Disney's Fantasia. The piece fascinates me every time I hear it, and I marvel at its complexity every time I take a trip through the printed score.
Happy Birthday, Rite! And many happy returns.
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