Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is a work that has caused a shock within the audience on the night of the premier. The theme of a primal ritual and the use of Slavic elements both in the musical composition, choreography, and costumes add uniqueness to this work. Regardless, this ballet is considered to be a masterpiece, and Stravinsky is among the most influential composers of the 20th century. This paper will summarise Stravinsky’s life and the steps he took to write the “Rite of Spring.”
This section of the paper will summarize the important information about Igor Stravinsky and his compositions based on the data from an interactive webpage titled “A righteous premier.” The composer was born on June 17, 1882, near Saint Petersburg in Russia (“A righteous premier,” 2006). Notably, as a child, Stravinsky spent a lot of time at his father’s workplace—the Imperial Theatre.
As a child, Stavinsky lived in Ustilug and listened to Russian music, which was different from what he heard at the Imperial Theatre. This music is characterized by a limited range, use of only a few notes, and singers signing in and out of these notes (“A righteous premier,” 2006). Different tunes are layered, each having its unique rhythm. At 11, Stravinsky went to school as previously he was homeschooled.
His parents wanted Stravinsky to study law, which is why he went to the University of St. Petersburg. Still, he did not abandon music, and after meeting a son of a well-renounced composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, he was convinced that he should continue pursuing a career in music.
In 1909 at the Conservatory of St. Petersburg, Stravinsky presented “Fireworks” and “Scherzo fantastique.” These premiers are what allowed Stravinsky to meet Diaghilev. Diaghilev asked Stravinsky to work on an arrangement of Chopin’s work for Ballet Russes. This work caught the attention of Alexander Ziloti, a famous conductor, who asked Stravinsky to prepare other orchestra transcripts. He also worked on his opera “Nightingale” at this time.
Stravinsky worked hard to finish the ballet, and the only other project he devoted time to was a short piece ordered by Diaghilev for a fundraiser.
Stravinsky was working on “Petrushka” in Switzerland. During August of 1911, Stravinsky and Diaghilev discussed the “Rite of Spring.” The issue was not an artistic doubt but the feeling of being excluded. In November 1912, the composer wrote in his notebook that he finished working on the piece, while in reality, more work had to be done. In December of 1912, he was in Berlin at the performance of Pierrot Lunaire. This performance and Shoenberg’s work influenced Stravinsky. Despite the difficulties and some disagreements with others involved in staging the premiere of the “Rite of Spring,” the work was shown to the audience on May 29, 1913.
Diaghilev helped ensure that Stravinsky’s work is premiered in front of the audience. Diaghilev supported the production of famous works such as “The World of Art” and “Boris Godunov.” Moreover, he had a collection of artworks by Finnish and Russian painters and exhibited them. After hearing Stravinsky’s premiere, he invited the latter for a meeting, which marked the cooperation between the two men. In 1911, Diaghilev invited Stravinsky to Karlsbad, intending to talk him out of premiering this piece. Together with Nijinsky, they invited a Polish-Russian dancer Rembert to join the ballet.
Another individual involved in the creation and premiere of the “Rite of Spring” was Vaslav Nijinsky. Vaslav was born in 1890 in Kyiv in a family of dancers and became a dancer himself. He studied in the Imperial School of Ballet and worked at the Imperial Theatre before joining Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. In December of 1912, he began working on the choreography for the “Rite of Spring.”
Roerich designed costumes for Diagheve’s ballets and worked on the “Rite of Spring.” He worked for Diagheve’s journal about art “Mir Iskustva.” Moreover, he was an artist and a director of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts. During the winter of 1912, Roerich received a letter written by Stravinsky, informing them that the first act was finished. However, Roerich was worried that the music would be unfinished by the time of the premier. In one letter, Roerich writes that the goal of the “Rite of Spring” was to present the slaves’ view on the “celestial joy” and “earthy triumph” (“A righteous premier,” 2006). During the rehearsals, Roerich was a peacemaker helping Nijinsky.
Reflection on the “Rite of Spring”
In objective terms, the “Rite of Spring” fascinated the listener due to its riotous and avant-garde nature. This work consists of two parts: “Adoration of the Earth” and “The Sacrifice.” The introduction is a simple melody where a listener hears pipes. Next, the viewer sees the people dressed in clothes that resemble those worn by tribal people near the mountains, as the first scene begins. Rhythm is perhaps the most remarkable element of this work, both musically and choreographically. The irregular beat creates a sensation of witnessing something primal. In addition, Stravinsky used bitonality in the “Rite of Spring” or the application of two keys simultaneously in one musical piece. The work sounds wholesome, and the choreography helps understand the storyline. In part I, the opening melody stops abruptly and is then repeated in a lower register. Percussion and brass instruments are heard throughout this piece. Thus, a sense of a “riot” is the basis of this work by Stravinsky, which is supported through the use of irregular beats and bitonality.
Subjectively, listening to the “Rite of Spring” as an enlightened person, knowledgeable of the background of this work, has several implications. For instance, knowing that the premier of this work caused a lot of trouble to the composer, as the “Rite of Spring” was not received well but caused a revolution in the music world. The primal theme that one hears and the rhythm the composer chose for this work is remarkable, and they are unlike everything that the author of this reflection heard before. While listening, the beat and rhythm create a sense of evoking some primal fear.
At times, the beat resembles thunder, which contributes to the sense of fear and thrill. Also, while viewing the dance and listening to the music, the author was provoked to think about the life of our ancestors and their connection to nature, which in essence is what the rituals are shown in the “Rite of Spring” demonstrate. Hence, this work by Stravinsky evokes feelings of fear before nature while invoking interest for the viewer, since the music, with its simple melody, creates a sense of anticipation. Hence, one wants to continue listening to see and hear how the ritual, which is the central theme of this work, will end. Overall, Stravinsky’s “Right os Spring” is one of the musical masterpieces.
A righteous premier. (2006). Web.