Little Bits of History

May 29

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 29, 2017

1913: Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is first performed. Stravinsky was born in Russia in 1882. His compositional career began in 1910 with his first ballet commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev. It was followed by a second ballet performed again in Paris and again by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1911. His breakthrough came with the Rite of Spring which was so unusual it caused a near-riot at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on this day at the premiere. Both the music and choreography were so sensational, the audience was up in arms. The choreography was by Vaslav Nijinsky and the stage and costume designs were provided by Nicholas Roerich. The ballet was written for the stage, but the music itself achieved recognition alone as a concert piece. It is widely considered to be one of the most influential musical works of the century.

While Stravinsky’s first two ballets received good reviews, his third was astonishing. Roerich and Stravinsky worked to develop the story line which is suggested by the subtitle of the work, “Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts”. Various primitive pagan rituals are practiced in order to determine the sacrificial virgin for the event. She then dances herself to death. The ballet had a short run and then was not performed again until the 1920s and then with choreography by Léonide Massine. The original choreography was thought to be lost but resurfaced for a performance in Los Angeles by the Joffrey Ballet in the 1980s.

Stravinsky’s music had many novel features, which in part led to the riotous behavior on this day. He experimented with tonality, meter, rhythm, stress, and dissonance. There was a significant nod to Russian folk music, something Stravinsky tended to deny. This music influenced much of the work that followed and Rite of Spring one of the most recorded works in classical music. The music was first performed as a concert on February 18, 1914 in St. Petersburg with Serge Koussevitzky conducting. On April 5, 1914 (less than a year after a “near riot”) the work was again offered as a concert piece with Stravinsky in the audience. The crowd was so pleased, they carried him triumphantly out of the theater on the shoulders of his fans.

Stravinsky not only wrote ballets, he wrote operas with his first being The Nightingale (Le Rossignol) begun in 1908. This was even before he began his association with the ballet and he received 10,000 rubles for his work which was finally finished in 1914. Stravinsky suffered under a change of regime and moved to France in 1920 and was sponsored by Coco Chanel. When World War II broke out in 1939, he was able to leave for the US at the age of 57. He settled in California and lived for thirty years with musicians, artists, and intelligentsia on the west coast. He moved to the Essex House in New York City in 1969 and lived there until his death in 1971 at the age of 88. He is buried at San Michele, as is his friend, Sergei Diaghilev.

I loathe all communism, Marxism, the execrable Soviet monster, and also all liberalism, democratism, atheism, etc.

I know that the twelve notes in each octave and the variety of rhythm offer me opportunities that all of human genius will never exhaust.

I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.

To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.  – all from Igor Stravinsky

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