The Rite of Spring  

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"One of the things that's interesting about The Rite of Spring in particular, it seems to be the most treasured piece of the the European canon by jazz musicians, it seems to have always been that way since Ellington, it has basslines, it has this staggering percussion going on." --Greg Tate, The Wire, Feb 2004

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Rite of Spring, French title Le Sacre du printemps is a ballet and orchestral concert work by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It was written for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company, with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky and stage designs and costumes by Nicholas Roerich. When the ballet was first performed, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on 29 May 1913, the avant-garde nature of the music and choreography caused a near-riot in the audience. Although designed as a work for the stage, with specific passages accompanying characters and action, the music achieved growing success as a concert piece and later became recognised as one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century. It is widely performed in the concert hall, and is frequently revived on the stage.

Stravinsky was a young, virtually unknown composer when Diaghilev recruited him to create works for the Ballets Russes. The Rite was the third such project, after the acclaimed The Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911). The concept behind The Rite, developed by Roerich from Stravinsky's outline idea, is suggested by its subtitle, "Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts"; in the scenario, after various primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring, a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death. After a mixed critical reception for its original run and a short London tour, the ballet was unperformed until the 1920s, when a version choreographed by Léonide Massine replaced Nijinsky's original. Massine's was the forerunner of many innovative productions directed by the world's leading ballet-masters, which gained the work worldwide acceptance. In the 1980s, Nijinsky's original choreography, long believed lost, was reconstructed by the Joffrey Ballet in Los Angeles.

Stravinsky's score contains many features that were novel for its time, including experiments in tonality, metre, rhythm, stress and dissonance. Analysts have noted in the score a significant grounding in Russian folk music, a relationship which Stravinsky tended to deny. The music has influenced many of the 20th century's leading composers and is one of the most recorded works in the classical repertoire.

Succes de scandale

Igor Stravinsky's premiere of 'Le Sacre du printemps' at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées

The archetypal example of succes de scandale in art is Stravinsky's ballet Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) , which premiered in 1913 by the Ballets Russes. In the high days of the Belle Epoque, the public attending this premiere was so scandalised by the brutal sounds produced by the orchestra and the evocation of a blood sacrifice on stage that a riot broke out. A shower of bad press and criticism followed, but Stravinsky kept aloof, as if he knew that overnight he had become the most famous composer of the 20th century. He would never have to return to scandalous music again; he moved to chamber music and the neoclassical style for the next few years, nothing that could upset large audiences. From what he said years later — the Sacre du Printemps had eventually been turned into a Disney classic — he appeared certain that none were better than him at exploiting a scandal for success.

See also

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