100 Years Of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring"

May 23, 2013


2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the first performance of Igor Stravinsky's landmark ballet "Le Sacre du Printemps," commonly known as "The Rite of Spring."

James Baker and Ron Moore, for many years co-hosts of KPAC's Alternate Routes, recently took time out to reflect on the meaning of 100 years of The Rite of Spring.

There are essentially two versions of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

The first, and its many variants (and choreography), is for dancers and orchestra. The second is the later concert version for orchestra alone. (A subset of the concert version would be the many revised versions which Stravinsky, always one to tinker,  produced over many decades.)

The great irony in this is that it is the latter score, the  concert version, which most people know and love, rightly considering it the work of a single mind and heart. However, what is being celebrated in 2013 is the premiere of the original theatrical version.

It is a gargantuan and collective work with the music, of course, at its center.

The first version, which few have ever seen, is the product of a group of creative artists which included choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky.

Nicolas Roerich, a painter, philosopher and mystic with an interest in folklore, co-wrote the scenario while also painting the sets and designing the original costumes, coincidentally still used to this day.

Finally, Pierre Monteux was chosen to conduct after working in previous productions by the impresario Sergei Diagaliev.

It was reported that when Monteux first heard the piano score, performed in rehearsal by Stravinsky and Debussy, he left the room with a headache. Fifty years after that he would say (to paraphrase) that he still wasn't sure if he liked the piece.

Nevertheless, as fate would have it, he conducted the famous premier. By his own recollection, he kept the orchestra going from beginning to end, despite the "infamous" riot, which occurred during the performance.

Monteux also made many "suggestions" to Stravinsky as to the practical scoring. Many of his suggestions remain today part of the performing score.

Part fact, part myth, the first performance of "The Rite of Spring" was decidedly out of the ordinary. There were hoots of derision, cheers of approval and, yes, a fight amongst audience members did take place.

In this extended exploration of the making of "The Rite of Spring," James Baker and Ron Moore discuss the many paths which had to merge in order to make possible the creation of one of the most storied musical and choreographic events of the 20th Century.

They also consider a handful of significant recordings of the work, making several suggestions for further exploration of the score.

Several of these recordings come from a recently issued set of 40 different performances of Rite of Spring, spread over 20 discs.

Interested in a completely different take, or remake, of The Rite of Spring? Try this bit of creative work by the Metropolis Ensemble, a live performance of The Rite Remixed.

Finally, here's a show from WNYC - New York Public Radio which explores not only the startling modernism of "The Rite of Spring," but many other 1913 events of Culture Shock.