Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

Were it not for Russian composer Anatol Liadov, Igor Stravinsky may never have had the opportunity to compose The Rite of Spring. At the time Diaghilev was looking for someone to create a ballet for the folk tale, The Firebird, he contacted Liadov. The composer loved to procrastinate on projects. In this way he was somewhat like Oblomov, the title character of a famous Russian novel of the time. When the time came for the commission to be done, Liadov acted true-to-form. Diaghilev had to select an untried talent, Igor Stravinsky. As history tells us, The Firebird was warmly received, so Diaghilev turned to his new-found composer again, when The Rite of Spring needed to be written. The Russian ballet had been engaged for the inaugural performances at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris in 1913. First on the docket was the new ballet Jeux by Debussy. Its choreography was not warmly received by the audience.

The next work to be featured was a full production of Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky. This was a great success. On May 29 was slated the première performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It was expected that there might be demonstrations against the music. Grigoriev, the régisseur of the ballet, warned everyone of this. He told the dancers that if there was a disturbance to remain calm and keep dancing. He told the conductor Montreux that on no account should the orchestra stop playing, the ballet should be performed to the end. As we know, the result was one of the most famous riots in musical history.

No sooner had the brilliant opening solo for bassoon begun, but the protests began from the audience. The noise grew louder until Stravinsky ran backstage. He found the choreographer Nijinsky standing on a chair and shouting out numbers to the dancers to keep the production together. Diaghilev was also standing agitated backstage. When the first half was over, he kept the lights up so that the police could remove some of the worst offenders. Hardly had the second half of the ballet begun but the protests began afresh until it was then quite difficult to hear the music. At the end of the evening everyone was exhausted.

The young music critic Carl Van Vechten who attended the premiere, wrote of his experience: “I was sitting in a box in which I had rented one seat. Three ladies sat in front of me and a young man occupied the place behind me. The intense excitement under which he was laboring, thanks to the potent force of the music, betrayed itself presently when he began to beat rhythmically on the top of my head with his fists. My emotion was so great that I did not feel the blows for some time. They were perfectly synchronized with the beat of the music. When I did, I turned around. His apology was sincere. We had both been carried beyond ourselves.”

Return to classroom second floor..

Return to classroom first floor..

If you need to leave, Go to initial page of site.

If you are interested in advertising a music-related business in the pages of the classroom, please send us an e-mail regarding rates by clicking here.