I’ve seen quite a few performances and media that have cocked my head to the side and stare transfixed back. However, never have I seen such a performance that stemmed as far back as the early 1900’s. When first viewing Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, I was immediately taken aback at both the choreography, coupled with the orchestral accompaniment. As controversial as it was at its premiere, it is impossible to miss how much this work has had an impact on music and the arts today.
The above link is one part of a recreation by the Joffery Ballet of Igor Stravinksy’s Le Sacre de Printemps or The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky created the work as a commission by Sergei Diaghilev in 1912 in Clarens Switzerland (Rytell Music). It was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinski, a legend for his time. The story centers on a pagan rite of selecting a girl to dance herself to death, in sacrifice to the god of spring. As you can see in the link above, it’s Nijinski’s visual choreography that can provide the piece’s most visceral emotions. Stravinsky also provides another stimulus to illicit audience fervor with his use of rhythm changes, harmonic shifts and an overall primal sound that is made to startle.
We see how much of an impact this revolutionary piece had in 1913, when it premiered, by its opening night. Not only was the music difficult to compound with the choreography, but so many rehearsals were needed to get the piece ready. When it was finally staged, the audience was first enraptured by the introduction’s haunting imagery. But this soon turned to appalled displeasure, which eventually ended in a riot in the crowd that left Stravinsky storming out of the theater before police could arrive to quell the unrest (Gutmann Igor).
It, of course, was later largely embraced and shaped the world of music and ballet to this day. Stravinsky created new musical tones and rhythms that are would sometimes be called conservative today, but only proves to be revolutionary and more than influential after it was performed (Rytell Music). It influenced the likes of many other composers, including Schoenberg, as well as other choreographers, like Tatsumi Hijikata. Its impact on the arts cannot be left unnoticed.
Gutmann, Peter. Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring. Classical Notes, 11 Jan. 2009. Web. 7 Apr. 2011.
Rytell, David. “Music Worthy of a Riot”. Members.Cox.net, 1 Jan 1989. Web. 7 Apr. 2011.