The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A century later, is “The Rite of Spring” still new and edgy? Was Igor Stravinsky the Pablo Picasso of modern music? It’s a good question to consider as “The Rite” turns 100 this Wednesday, May 29, and NPR devotes several worthy stories to Stravinsky and his music. | May 26, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Wednesday, May 29, marks the 100th anniversary of the premiere of “The Rite of Spring” by the 20th century master Igor Stravinsky (below at about the time of “The Rite.”).

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

You may remember that its sensational premiere in Paris in 1913, which also ushered in modern dance as well as modern music, was conducted by Pierre Monteux, caused  a literal riot in the concert hall at the Theatre of the Champs Elysees. (Below are the dancers of the Ballets Russes who performed the original 1913 choreography by the famed Nijinsky and a video of the opening from the Joffrey Ballet‘s recreation of the original production.)

Nijinsky's dancers original Rite of Spring Ballets Russes 1913

A century later, the ballet score remains a shockingly visceral, raw, convulsive and heart-pounding work that has lost none of its impact. It is, like late Beethoven string quartets — I believe it was Stravinsky himself who made the observation about Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge”  — forever modern.

Miles Hoffman recently discussed “The Rite” on NPR within the very varied and very long career of Stravinsky, and how Stravinsky (below, in a photo by Richard Avedon) was musical chameleon who constantly pushed his art and evolved his sense of style in different directions.

Igor Stravinsky old 2

Hoffman, himself a performing musician (a violist) and a fine writer, compared Stravinsky to Pablo Picasso for the range and diversity of his experimentation and the masterful results.

Certain, the range of Stravinsky (1882-1971) is worth considering even as record labels are issuing special centennial editions and performances of “The Rite of Spring.”

What, one wants to ask, about the neo-Classical Stravinsky? Or the 12-tone Stravinsky? The contrasting styles are all so central to understanding his career. (I love the earlier Stravinsky of “Rite” and “The Firebird” but I adore the Neo-Classical Stravinsky and admire the courage that it took for the ever-morphing composer to buck his modernist colleagues.)

And the often repeated comparison to Picasso is especially appropriate given that the two prolific and protean  ever-changing artists knew each other and even had a bet on who would live the longest. (Picasso, who lived from 1881 to 1973, won the bet.)

hoffman_rite

Here is a link to the NPR piece, which features audio samples and which I highly recommend you listen to and not just read:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/24/186296467/igor-stravinskys-rite-of-spring-counterrevolution

Here is a piece to another NPR piece, “A Cocktail Party Guide to Stravinsky,” complete with audio and video samples, from Tom Huizenga.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/24/186443524/the-cocktail-party-guide-to-igor-stravinsky

And here is a third NPR piece that features sound clips and the 48-year-old Leonard Bernstein (below) in an electrifying and thrilling performance of the difficult but thrilling score to “Le Sacre du Printemps” with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1966:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/25/186489566/leonard-bernsteins-rite-of-spring-thrill-ride

Leonard Bernstein conducting

Finally, here is anther comprehensive NPR piece done by Tom Vitale that aired Saturday on Weekend Edition host Scott Simon:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/25/186497792/then-the-curtain-opened-the-bracing-impact-of-stravinskys-rite

Meanwhile here in a YouTube video is the part of “The Rite of Spring” that always seems my ears like the soundtrack to an Aztec heart sacrifice — well, it is about pagan Russia — with its incredible use of slashing strings, pounding percussion, spooky winds and brass, and propulsive off-beats.

What careful mastery, craft and precision went into something so physical, so visceral, so emotive! There is a lesson there for advocates of passionate art who mistake sincere confession for careful craft!


1 Comment »

  1. […] Classical music: A century later, is “The Rite of Spring” still new and edgy? Was Igor S… (welltempered.wordpress.com) […]

    Pingback by Stravinsky and Wordsworth for a Spring day | The Milwaukee Muse — May 29, 2013 @ 11:04 am


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