Historians have based their explanations for the tumultuous 1913 première of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps on the accounts (none published before 1935) of the participants—Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, and Monteux.
Due to these accounts, for years it has been believed that either the choreography or the revolutionary score was the cause of the riot in the audience, and that the uproar was a spontaneous reaction to the performance.
However, an examination of contemporary newspaper and journal reviews and an understanding of the personal and political characteristics of Sergei Diaghilev reveals that the riot was actually anticipated and encouraged by the management of the Ballets Russes. The earliest reviews published in Paris offer a wealth of material relating to cultural values of the age.
This according to “The riot at the Rite: Not so surprising after all” by Truman C. Bullard, an article included in Essays on music for Charles Warren Fox (Rochester: Eastman School of Music, 1979, pp. 206–211).
Today is the 100th anniversary of Le sacre’s premiere! Above, a photograph from the original Ballets Russes production; below, part of the BBC’s dramatization from 2009.