Rite Of Spring By Igor Stravinsky

Read this article to learn of the history and turbulent premeire of Stravinsky's

Stravinsky "Rite of Spring" is one of the most powerful classical pieces available today. It is known throughout the world for its powerful lines, orchestration and melody. But when this piece premiered, it was a different story. Read this article to learn of the history and creation of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."

Igor Stravinsky was a Russian composer renowned for his works in the early 1900's. Stravinsky created the "Firebird Suite," a work for ballet and orchestra in 1910. His ideas for a next piece were not to be so favorably received. Stravinsky wanted to create a piece that was in accordance with a new rage passing through Paris and certain parts of Europe. This societal trend was toward the primitive, and led to a resurgence of tribal beats and dances in public forums. For his piece, Stravinsky wanted to create a dance around a tribal myth of a virgin being sacrificed. His music and ballet followed the plot of a small girl being killed to appease the God of Spring, and the ensuing Springtime.

Stravinsky's work, eventually named the "Rite of Spring," was subtitled "Pictures of a Pagan Russia" by the composer. In keeping with this theme, Stravinsky created music that varied greatly in beat and rhythm, and used loud, strong downbeats and blaring orchestral sounds. Because his theme was so chaotic, his music is wild and unpredictable, and sometimes seems to come from an alien planet. While hints of Russian folk tunes exist in the piece, they are present only in idea. Nothing like this piece was ever heard before Stravinsky's time.



The ballet for the piece was choreagraphed by the famous dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. His lead dancer was Sergei Diaghilev, a Russian dancer of huge renown. This dancer was infamous because of his numerous affairs with other male members of the Parisian musical world and even, it is said, with the composer. The piece was split into two parts, The Adoration of the Earth and The Sacrifice. The dancers moved in blocked, step-like patterns quite different from the normal lavish movements found on a stage. The set was minimal, and contained all sorts of pagan references to sacrifice. Huge leaps and irregular motions were included in the dancing, making it incredibly hard for the dancers to perform.

Costume and design were no different for the set. The costumes were brown and draped around the dancers bulkily. The stage contained gray, black and brown hues, and the dancers moved in an open space in the center surrounded by images and shadows of rocks and primeval earth-like references. Most of the dancers are on record complaining about the costumes, calling them everything from "potato sacks" to "tatters." The dark colors and departure from the aesthetic shocked the audience, who expected a glittering, colored sequel to the Firebird Suite.

The premiere, therefore, was a landmark event, for reasons one may not expect. The work opened in Paris in 1913, at the Theatre des Champs Elysees. The Parisian audience was dotted with a number of very famous musicians and composers, as well as not a few critics. When the evening began with a former ballet of the composer, "Les Sylphides," the audience settled in for a peaceful night. Their peace was shattered with the opening of the "Rite of Spring." Drums nearly knocked them from their seats, and they responded with roars. Audience members stood on their seats to boo and yell, and the noise made it impossible for the dancers to hear. Nijinsky and Diaghilev shouted timing and numbers from the back to keep the dancers in step, while audience members left. To keep themselves heard, the orchestra played louder and louder, and finally the piece was terminated near the end. Famous composers that were there had an even split in their thinking-half thought that the work was pure genius, while half thought that the composer should be shot.

There are reasons that an audience may not have been ready for the work. In one case, the strong sense of religion that invaded Paris at the time caused many to look down at the primitive rage that swept the arts crowd. The costumes were minimalist and the blocking and dancing unusual, especially for an audience used to glittering costumes and fairy tales. The music itself was jarring and dissonant, a shocking change from the other melodies and tonal works of the composer. The work was simply too futuristic, too ahead of its time, from the mind of a composer that could not be restrained by the period he was in.

Today, the "Rite of Spring" is loved. It is a common component of music classes and a dazzling exercise in the power of music. So while it had a rough start, it will not be forgotten for generations to come. The lesson that this rejection teaches will hopefully have an influence at the next scorned premiere of a great work.

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