The Rite Stuff (4)’s a little message I’ve received from Gill — in response to my ‘anniversary’ posting of 29 May, about the (in)famous premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps :

. . . I watched the clip and found it fascinating, I didn’t know about the ‘riot’ . . . How did the second night go??

Well, I wasn’t there (sadly!); but, as it happens, a few bits of information about ‘what happened next’ can be found in the wikipedia entry for Le Sacre:

The premiere was followed by five further performances of The Rite at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the last on 13 June. Although these occasions were relatively peaceful, something of the mood of the first night remained; the composer Puccini, who attended the second performance on 2 June,[71][72] described the choreography as ridiculous and the music cacophonous—”the work of a madman. The public hissed, laughed – and applauded”.[73]

And there’s another bit of the tale to be added after that: in April 1914 — almost a year after the premiere — the work was performed simply as a concert piece, without any choreography (save for what happens when a vast orchestra struggles with a terrifically complex and difficult piece…). Stravinsky himself wrote in the following terms about what happened:rite plus one(Source: Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft: Expositions and Developments, New York, 1959. Anyone wanting to read more of the story can see the entire text here, courtesy of Google Books.)

In fact, if anyone is interested in actually hearing and seeing Stravinsky while he talks — many years later! — about the creation and reception of Le Sacre, there is a rather nice little video to be found on youTube:

And since my posting of a few days ago has clearly ignited a bit of interest, let me finish by including a few more videos that people might not think of looking for.

First, here is Le Sacre du Printemps in a form rather closer to that in which Stravinsky heard it as he was writing it. Not a lot of people seem to know this fact, but Stravinsky wasn’t one of those composers who sit in a silent room and send the musical thoughts straight from their brain onto a piece of paper: he composed at the piano, physically in touch with the resonance and the rhythm of what he was working on. And when Le Sacre was first tried out, it was in a version that was fitted into the capabilities of two pianists sitting at one piano. Which sounds — and indeed looks — like this:

Secondly, since the extract I included from Riot at the Rite didn’t allow the historically reconstructed choreography to be seen without distraction, here is a video showing a complete performance. (And, before anyone asks: no, I don’t appreciate all the ‘pit-shots’ of the conductor and the orchestra. There simply seems to be no better version on YouTube at present…)

Thirdly, as the piece is nowadays performed and respected much more as a concert work than as a ballet score, here is a video of a concert performance that lets everyone see the very large orchestra as clearly as they hear it. (Alas, the pictures and the sound aren’t quite in sync; but, then, you can’t have everything…):

And, fourthly, here is a video showing not only how enormous numbers of people found Le Sacre entering their lives when they were (or had) children, but also how enormous amounts of money entered Stravinsky’s bank account. Yes, it’s part of the Walt Disney Fantasia of 1940 — and, yes, conductor Leopold Stokowski has made all sorts of changes to the music to make it fit either the hot dinosaur action or his own tastes (the great genius-charlatan was quite a one for doing the latter!).

If anyone cares what I think: little as I value Disney overall, I do regard the storylining and animation here as very fine indeed. Hats off!

That’s all for now. My thanks to Gill for asking such an interesting and productive question!


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One thought on “The Rite Stuff (4)

  1. Thanks Mark. As someone who had a very unpleasant introduction to formal music as a schoolchild I appreciate such offerings as a means to appreciate what I had previously ‘tuned out” on.


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