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.
Stravinsky has been widely characterized as enigmatic, a composer whose stylistic transformations were impossible to anticipate. He cultivated this image, not in a disingenuous way, but because his eccentricity was central to his self-definition.
More than any composer of 20th-century art music, Stravinsky was able to make the leap from a rarefied intellectual world to the status of a pop icon, widely respected by people who largely did not understand his music. He needed to be public, accepted, and popular, and a surprisingly large proportion of his archival documents reflects his efforts toward these goals.
Television producers in Europe and North America found in Stravinsky the ideal nonconformist film icon: droll, quirky, conversational, contentious, and pedestaled as the epitome of the rebellious hero. He was drawn to them as well, as a natural performer who needed and commanded the spotlight.
This according to “Truths and illusions: Rethinking what we know” and “Film documentaries: The composer on and off camera” by Charles M. Joseph, two essays included in Stravinsky inside out (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 1–34 and 162–195, respectively).
Below, the composer works the camera with some of his favorite things to say about Le sacre du printemps.
Although Stravinsky’s transplantation to the glamour-conscious culture of Los Angeles may have seemed completely out of character, he genuinely thrived there. Still, his inability to relinquish control made it impossible for him to work as a film composer, despite his efforts to break into the business.
The notable exceptions are his associations with Walt Disney, who used excerpts from the composer’s works for several films—most notably Le sacre du Printemps for Fantasia—before they had a falling-out over financial arrangements.
This according to “The would-be Hollywood composer: Stravinsky, the literati, and the dream factory” by Charles M. Joseph, an essay included in Stravinsky inside out (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 100–131). Below, the Rite of spring segment in its entirety.
Stravinsky the global dancer: A chronology of choreography to the music of Igor Stravinsky is a free online database that aims to list all dances choreographed to Stravinsky’s works, with references to about 100 compositions, about 1250 dances, and about 700 choreographers. Compiled by Stephanie Jordan and Larraine Nicholas, it is searchable by title of composition, year of composition, year of choreography, name of choreographer, dance company, and country.
Jordan’s “The demons in a database: Interrogating Stravinsky the global dancer” (Dance research XXII/1 [summer 2004] pp. 57–83) presents analyses of findings in the database regarding the distribution of new Stravinsky dance productions over the years, incidence of choreographing the narrative vs. the concert scores, distribution by choreographer, and distribution by country, along with case studies of the choreographic histories of Le sacre du printemps, Apollo, and Agon.
Above, the composer in his Ballets Russes days with Serge Diaghilev and Serge Lifar, who originated the role of Apollo. Below, the Houston Ballet performs an excerpt from Balanchine’s choreography for that work.