Stravinsky (1882 - 1971)

“Le sacre du printemps”, ballet (35')

The premieres of Scherzo fantastique, Op. 3 and Feu d’artifice (Fireworks), Op. 4 on February 6, 1909 was a successful event for the composer. The compositions were not only well received but they were above all also heard by Sergei Diaghilev, a Russian ballet impresario who later commissioned Stravinsky to write a series of ballet music including L’oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Petrushka, and Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring). Stravinsky composed The Rite of Spring for the 1913 season of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, a ballet company based in Paris. The first performance of the work took place on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The choreographer for the premiere was Vaslav Nijinsky. As its subtitle “Pictures from Pagan Russia in Two Parts” suggests, the ballet was inspired by Russian culture, depicting primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring. It consists of fourteen pieces in two parts. The titles in Part I (“Adoration of the Earth”) are: 1) Introduction; 2) The Augurs of Spring: Dances of the Young Girls; 3) Ritual of Abduction; 4) Spring Rounds; 5) Ritual of the Rival Tribes; 6) Procession of the Sage: The Sage; 7) Kiss of the Earth; and 8) Dance of the Earth, and those in Part II (“The Sacrifice”), 1) Introduction; 2) Mystic Circles of the Young Girls; 3) Glorification of the Chosen One; 4) Evocation of the Ancestors; 5) Ritual Action of the Ancestors; and 6) Sacrificial Dance. According to the composer, the whole work was “unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring,” but the ballet is really a collection of various scenes, lacking a unified single story found in typical traditional ballets. The premiere of The Rite of Spring was scandalous. It is said that the audience was already restless soon after the ballet started. Scoffing became more apparent in the sections where dissonant harmony and pounding percussive rhythms are abundant. The dancers on the stage did not help people to stop ridicule the performance. The ballet dancers wore unconventional costumes that lacked grace, and to many their choreographic movements were simply bizarre. It is not entirely clear whether the audience was upset with Stravinsky’s music or Nijinsky’s choreography, but it is certain that Stravinsky’s music was different and left a strong impression on people. The Rite of Spring is scored for a gigantic orchestra, calling for piccolo, three flutes (the third doubling piccolo), alto flute, four oboes (the fourth doubling English horn), English horn, E-flat clarinet, three clarinets (the third doubling bass clarinet), bass clarinet, four bassoons (the fourth doubling contrabassoon), contrabassoon, eight French horns (the seventh and eighth doubling Wagner tubas), piccolo trumpet, four trumpets, bass trumpet, three trombones, two tubas, timpani, triangle, tambourine, tam-tam, guiro, bass drum, crotales, cymbals, and strings. At the beginning of the piece, the solo bassoon plays a mysteriously sounding melody in the extremely high register of the instrument, immediately drawing the listener’s attention. Stravinsky also avoids writing tuneful melodies and places much emphasis on rhythm. The Rite of Spring is after all a ballet.

[Akira Ishii]