OK, so THE RITE OF SPRING isn’t technically a story. Stravinsky (or Iggy, as I enjoyed calling him, which led to me being thrown out of a music history course), considered Rite “a musical-choreographic work representing pagan Russia… unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of spring.” So there’s that.[[MORE]]
The story I love about the RITE OF SPRING is the story of its premiere. On May 29, 1913, at Paris’ luminous Theatre des Champs-Élysées, the RITE caused a riot. A riot. Not an “I say, dear sir, your golf clap is too loud” guffaw. A riot. Some loved RITE, with its dissonant sounds and tribal, primal rhythmic drive. Some hated it. Neither side loved each other, much to the consternation of the orchestra, whose members became the target of any projectile the audience could get their hands on. Fistfights, duel challenges, hoots, hollers, profanity-laden tirades and more spilled out into the street. Passion was not lacking in the hall.
Nonetheless, the performance went on. Iggy later said that “I have never again been that angry” when laughter erupted during the opening bars of the introductory bassoon solo (one of the most legendarily difficult passages to play well, pushing the limits and breathing capacity of even the best bassonists). The RITE has gone on to be, in the hundred years following its uproarious premiere, heralded as a defining work of 20th century genius. The story of THE RITE‘s premiere is one that should define all of our works: never middling, never keeping people in their seats. It should provoke a reaction, positive or negative.There is nothing I dread more than a polite golf clap. RITE is a perfect melding of a work of an uncompromising genius with the perfect audience and place and time. It is a work of beauty. It is a work of primal rhythms and innovation. It is a work of infamy. It is an inspiration.