100 years of The Rite of Spring

May 29, 2013 at 8:01 pm (culture, France, history, Jim D, modernism, music, revolution, theatre)

Stravinsky’s  The Rite of Spring (‘Le Sacre du Printemps’) opened 100 years ago in Paris, to derisive laughter that quickly developed into a riot. The orchestra was bombarded with vegetables and other missiles, but kept playing. Nijinsky’s choreography, featuring dancers dressed as pagans, caused as much outrage as Stravinsky’s polyrhythmic and dissonant score.

The critics (and some fellow-composers) were savage:

“The work of madman …sheer cacophony” –  Giacomo Puccini

“A laborious and puerile barbarity” Henri Quittard, Le Figaro

“If that’s a bassoon, then I’m a baboon!” – Camille Saint-Saëns

It was “a revolutionary work for a revolutionary time” as George Benjamin writes in today’s Graun.

‘Riot of Spring’: Norman Lebrecht in Standpoint, here.

Above:  Stephen Malinowski’s animation of Part 1 ‘The Adoration of the Earth’ (from NPR)


  1. phildange said,

    It is “LE sacre du Printemps”, “un sacre” meaning a coronation, while “sacré” means holy .

  2. Jim Denham said,

    Thank you. Correction now made.

  3. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    There was an interesting Radio 3 essay by Richard Witts earlier this year which debunked the whole bourgeois conservative music fans riot narrative and suggests that it was really all about the promoter and the theatre and the audience (classical music being as poisonously factionalised and politicised as every other aspect of French society in 1913) rather than the music or the choreography:


    And like most of the Modernists (or at least the genuinely talented ones) Stravinsky’s politics were right-wing: unlike Prokofiev he refused to return to Russia after the revolution, closely identified with the virulently anti-semitic and reactionary Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, lobbied hard (but unsuccessfully) in 1933 to persuade the Nazis that his music was not degenerate and that he was fervently anti-Bolshevik, participated in Cold War propaganda events (including an anniversary gala performance of Le Sacre in the same theatre it had been premiered in) masterminded by the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom etc, etc.

    None of which makes his music any less brilliant.

    • les said,

      i challenge your statement about how most of the high modernists (especially the talented ones, as you call them) were politically reactionary.for example, a little before le sacre had its premier, arnold schoenberg unveiled pierrot lunaire, and took the first steps that led to serial composition, the other revolutionary development in 20th century music. in fact, the impact that serial music had was so great, that by the mid 1950s, stravinski himself wound up writing his later works in the manner, although not the style, of people like schoenberg and webern. what does that tell you? perhaps the problem is that for every ezra pound you can name, there was a louis zukofsky, for every t.s. eliot, a frederico garcia lorca, people whose names and contributions both time and the intellectual establishment (itself a rather conservative kind of institution) has struggled to efface. what i don’t understand is why so many people on the left fail to recognize, or at least, want to distance themselves from a very important part of our history here.why is that?

      • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        I would respond with a long list of right-wing modernists, by pointing out that ‘most’ does not equal ‘all’ and observe that if you think Zukofsky is in any way equivalent to Pound we probably are not going to be able to come to any form of agreement about the relative value of modernist artists.

        But I really don’t think that people who refuse to use proper punctuation and capitalisation should ever be encouraged.

  4. Modernity's Ghost said,

    In related matters, I am surprised that you haven’t posted on Russia’s continued intervention in Syria, from repairing attack helicopters to supplying armaments on a monthly basis.

    But more importantly why much of the British Left doesn’t even want to mention Putin’s intervention in Syria and its implications.

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