Controversial ballet 'Le Sacre du printemps'—'The Rite of Spring'—performed in Paris

Controversial ballet 'Le Sacre du printemps'—'The Rite of Spring'—performed in Paris

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On the night of Thursday, May 29, 1913, the pioneering Russian ballet corps Ballet Russes performs Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), choreographed by the famous dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, at the Theatre de Champs-Elysees in Paris.

In founding the Ballet Russes in 1909, the flamboyant impresario Serge Diaghilev was searching for his own version of the Gesamtkunstwerk (or total art form), a concept introduced by the enormously influential German composer Richard Wagner in his book Oper und Drama (1850-51). Early in the second decade of a new century, Diaghilev saw ballet, and indeed all art, as a means of deliverance from the confines of morality and convention that had ruled Western society in the 19th century. This kind of avant-garde sensibility was widespread in Europe by 1913—particularly in Germany, the birthplace of the era’s most prominent philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, whose writings articulated both the sense of chaos and destruction and the call for a violent rebirth of modern society that Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Nijinsky strove to portray in Le Sacre.

When the curtain went up in the newly constructed—and architecturally controversial—Theatre de Champs-Elysees on May 29, 1913, it seemed all of Paris society was there. There was great anticipation surrounding Diaghilev’s newest production; advance publicity for the ballet had called it real and true art, art that disregarded the traditional boundaries of space and time. Almost as soon as the curtain rose, the audience began to react strongly to the performance, starting with whistles and proceeding to hisses and howls as the dancers appeared. Originally titled The Victim, Stravinsky’s ballet portrayed a pagan celebration in which a virgin sacrifices herself to the god of spring. The music was dissonant and strange, while the choreography by Nijinsky marked a radical departure from classical ballet, with the dancers’ toes turned in and their limbs thrust at sharp angles instead of smooth, rounded curves.

As Carl Van Vechten, drama critic for the New York Sun later wrote, "The unruly audience became as much a part of the performance as the dancers and musicians: Some forty of the [protestors] were forced out of the theater but that did not quell the disturbance. The lights in the auditorium were fully turned on but the noise continued and I remember Mlle. Piltz [the dancer portraying the sacrificial maiden] executing her strange dance of religious hysteria on a stage dimmed by the blazing light in the auditorium, seemingly to the accompaniment of the disjointed ravings of a mob of angry men and women."

Subsequent coverage in the press of the ballet—which is now considered one of the great musical achievements of the 20th century—was resoundingly negative; the music was dismissed as mere noise and the dance as an ugly parody of traditional ballet.

In light of the horrifically destructive conflict that exploded in Europe barely one year later, the violent reaction to Le Sacre de Printemps came to seem like a logical and inescapable response to such an expression of nihilism and chaos. Against a background of growing nationalist fervor across the continent, French audiences were understandably anxious—about their own country’s declining influence in the face of Germany’s growing strength, about the seeming failure of traditional notions of morality and order and about what was to come. A year later, during the July Crisis, the French critic Maurice Dupont praised the sanity of the French reaction, calling Le Sacre a Dionysian orgy dreamed of by Nietzsche and called forth by his prophetic wish to be the beacon of a world hurtling towards death—a wish that would soon be fulfilled on the battlefields of World War I.

Rite that caused riots: celebrating 100 years of The Rite of Spring

The audience, packed into the newly-opened Théâtre des Champs-Élysées to the point of standing room only, had neither seen nor heard anything like it.

As the first few bars of the orchestral work The Rite of Spring – Le Sacre du Printemps – by the young, little-known Russian composer Igor Stravinsky sounded, there was a disturbance in the audience. It was, according to some of those present – who included Marcel Proust, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy – the sound of derisive laughter.

By the time the curtain rose to reveal ballet dancers stomping the stage, the protests had reached a crescendo. The orchestra and dancers, choreographed by the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky, continued but it was impossible to hear the music above what Stravinsky described as a "terrific uproar".

As a riot ensured, two factions in the audience attacked each other, then the orchestra, which kept playing under a hail of vegetables and other objects. Forty people were forcibly ejected.

The reviews were merciless. "The work of a madman … sheer cacophony," wrote the composer Puccini. "A laborious and puerile barbarity," added Le Figaro's critic, Henri Quittard.

It was 29 May 1913. Classical music would never be the same again.

On Wednesday evening at the same theatre in Paris, a 21st-century audience – hopefully without vegetables — will fill the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées for a reconstruction of the original performance to mark the 100th anniversary of the notorious premiere. It will be followed by a new version of The Rite by the Berlin-based choreographer Sasha Waltz, among a series of commemorative performances.

Today, the piece has gone from rioting to rave reviews and is widely considered one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century.

"It conceals some ancient force, it is as if it's filled with the power of the Earth," Waltz said of Stravinsky's music.

Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, currently principal conductor and artistic adviser for the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, who will conduct the Rite of Spring at the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday and at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées shortly afterwards , said The Rite still made his spine tingle. "I have to admit that when we come to the moment just before the last dance … my blood pressure is up. I have this kind of adrenaline surge," he told Reuters.

"It's an old caveman reaction."

Salonen added: "The miracle of the piece is the eternal youth of it. It's so fresh, it still kicks ass."

There is still confusion and disagreement about events that night in 1913, which the theatre describes as "provoking one of the greatest scandals in the history of music" and turning The Rite into the "founding work of all modern music".

Stravinsky, was virtually unknown before Sergei Diaghilev hired him to compose for his Ballets Russes's 1913 Paris season. His first two works, The Firebird, performed in 1910, and Petrushka, in 1911, were generally acclaimed. The Rite, subtitled "Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts", begins with primitive rituals celebrating spring, and ends with a young sacrificial victim dancing herself to death.

Not only was the theatre hall packed that evening in 1913, but the stairways and corridors were full to bursting with excited and jostling spectators.

The Rite opened with an introductory melody adapted from a Lithuanian folk song, featuring a bassoon playing, unusually, at the top of its register, and prompting composer Camille Saint-Saëns to exclaim: "If that's a bassoon, then I'm a baboon!" The heavy, stomping steps were a world away from the elegance of traditional ballet, as the dancers enacted the brutal plot.

As the audience erupted, Diaghilev called for calm and flashed the house lights on and off, while Nijinsky was forced to call out steps to the dancers as the beat of the music was drowned out by the riotous cacophony. Even now there is debate over whether the audience reaction was spontaneous or the work of outraged traditionalists armed with vegetables who had come looking for trouble.

The turbulent premiere was followed by five more relatively peaceful performances before one show in London, which received mixed reviews, but the complete ballet and orchestral work were only performed seven times before the outbreak of the first world war.

After the fighting ended, Diaghilev attempted to revive The Rite of Spring, but found nobody remembered the choreography. By then Nijinsky, the greatest dancer of his generation, was in mental decline.

Since then The Rite has been adapted for and included in an estimated 150 productions around the world including gangster films, a punk rock interpretation, a nightmarish vision of Aboriginal Australia by Kenneth MacMillan, and Walt Disney's 1940s film Fantasia. A commemorative performance was staged at the Royal Albert Hall in London to mark the 50th anniversary of the premiere.

To mark this year's centenary of The Rite of Spring, described by Leonard Bernstein as the most important piece of music of the 20th century, both Sony and Universal have released box sets reprising the best versions in their back catalogues.


Figure 1. Part of Nicholas Roerich’s designs for Diaghilev’s 1913 production of Le Sacre du printemps

The Rite of Spring (French: Le Sacre du printemps , Russian: «Весна священная»,Vesna svyashchennaya ) is a ballet and orchestral concert work by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It was written for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company the original choreography was by Vaslav Nijinsky, with stage designs and costumes by Nicholas Roerich. When first performed, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on 29 May 1913, the avant-garde nature of the music and choreography caused a sensation and a near-riot in the audience. Although designed as a work for the stage, with specific passages accompanying characters and action, the music achieved equal if not greater recognition as a concert piece, and is widely considered to be one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century.

Stravinsky was a young, virtually unknown composer when Diaghilev recruited him to create works for the Ballets Russes. The Rite was the third such project, after the acclaimed Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911). The concept behind The Rite of Spring, developed by Roerich from Stravinsky’s outline idea, is suggested by its subtitle, “Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts” in the scenario, after various primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring, a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death. After a mixed critical reception for its original run and a short London tour, the ballet was not performed again until the 1920s, when a version choreographed by Léonide Massine replaced Nijinsky’s original. Massine’s was the forerunner of many innovative productions directed by the world’s leading ballet-masters, which gained the work worldwide acceptance. In the 1980s, Nijinsky’s original choreography, long believed lost, was reconstructed by the Joffrey Ballet in Los Angeles.

Stravinsky’s score contains many novel features for its time, including experiments in tonality, metre, rhythm, stress and dissonance. Analysts have noted in the score a significant grounding in Russian folk music, a relationship Stravinsky tended to deny. The music has influenced many of the 20th-century’s leading composers, and is one of the most recorded works in the classical repertoire.

Discovering Literature: 20th century

The premiere of Igor Stravinsky&rsquos The Rite of Spring is perhaps the most famous scandal in the history of the performing arts. It took place on the evening of 29 May 1913, at the brand-new Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, in front of a glittering audience. The writer Jean Cocteau wrote that &lsquothe smart audience in tails and tulle, diamonds and ospreys, was interspersed with the suits and bandeaux of the aesthetic crowd. The latter would applaud novelty simply to show their contempt for the people in the boxes&rsquo. [1]

What drew both the swanky crowd and art-loving crowd was the whiff of something potentially outrageous: a brand-new ballet from the Ballets Russes, a company of Russian dancers put together by the most famous impresario in history, Serge Diaghilev. The Ballets Russes had entranced and shocked Paris ever since their first appearance there in 1909. What the Parisians especially liked was the way these &lsquoNorthern Savages&rsquo (as one critic called the company) played to the fashion for everything primitive and untamed. All the rumours about The Rite of Spring suggested this new ballet would be more than usually primitive.

Igor Stravinsky, the composer, had scored a massive hit the previous year with Petrushka, a ballet in which three puppets enact a story of love and jealousy. This added an exciting element of modernist collage to colourful Russian folklore. Vaslav Nijinsky, the famous dancer who was also the choreographer of The Rite, had caused a minor scandal a few months previously with his blatantly erotic portrayal of the lovesick faun in Debussy&rsquos L&rsquoAprès-midi d&rsquoun Faune.

What actually happened on that scandalous night will always be a mystery to some degree, because the reports contradict each other. Was it the choreography that annoyed people, or the music? Were the police really called? Was it true that missiles were thrown, and challenges to a duel offered? Were the creators booed at the end, or cheered? The dancer Dame Marie Rambert remembered that right at the beginning ‘a shout went up in the gallery: &ldquoUn docteur!" (Call a doctor!). Somebody else shouted louder, &ldquoUn dentiste!" (a dentist!)’ [2] The aristocrat Harry Kessler said that people started to whisper and joke almost immediately. [3] Stravinsky himself was so angry that he stormed out and went backstage to help the dancers keep time.

What is certain is that the audience was shocked – and with good reason. Stravinsky’s score for The Rite of Spring contradicted every rule about what music should be. The sounds are often deliberately harsh, right from opening Lithuanian folk melody, which is played by the bassoon in its highest, most uncomfortable range. The music was cacophonously loud, assaulting the ears with thunderous percussion and shrieking brass. Rhythmically it was complex in a completely unprecedented way. In the ‘Ritual of the Rival Tribes’ the music unfolds in two speeds at once, in a ratio of 3:2. And it makes lavish use of dissonance, i.e. combinations of notes which don’t make normal harmonic sense. ‘The music always goes to the note next to the one you expect,’ wrote one exasperated critic.

Then there was the dance, choreographed by Nijinsky. According to some observers this was what really caused the scandal at the first night. When the curtain rose the audience saw a row of ‘knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down’ [4] as Stravinsky called them, who seemed to jerk rather than dance. Classical dance aspired upwards, in defiance of gravity, whereas Nijinsky’s dancers seemed pulled down to the earth. Their strange, stamping movements and awkward poses defied every canon of gracefulness.

Both the music and the dance of The Rite of Spring seemed to deny the possibility of human feelings, which for most people is what gives art its meaning. As Stravinsky put it, ‘there are simply no regions for soul-searching in The Rite of Spring’. This is what separates it so decisively from Stravinsky’s hit of 1911, Petrushka. There we’re immersed in a human world, which exudes the very specific cultural ambience of Russia. It’s true that the main characters are puppets, rather than rounded human beings. But they have characters, even if they’re somewhat rudimentary, and at the end there’s even a suggestion that Petrushka might have a soul.

Photograph of a scene from The Rite of Spring, 1913

Now recognised as one the most significant musical masterpieces of the 20th century, Stravinsky&rsquos ballet, Rite of Spring, caused a storm when it premiered at the newly opened Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris in 1913.

Usage terms © Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

In contrast, there&rsquos no sign that any of the creatures in The Rite of Spring have a soul, and there&rsquos certainly no sense of a recognisable human culture. The dancers are like automata, whose only role is to enact the ritual laid down by immemorial custom. An iron necessity rules everything: there has to be a game of Rival Tribes, there has to be Dance of the Young Girls, and an elder has to bless the earth. And finally, a young girl has to be chosen and then abandoned to her fate, which is to dance herself to death.

Given all this, it&rsquos no surprise there was a scandal. And yet, among the shouting and hissing, there were one or two sensitive observers who realised they were witnessing something deeply original, rather than merely shocking. The American (later British) poet T S Eliot realised that what made the music of the Rite original was its puzzling combination of the primitive and the modern. He felt that Stravinsky&rsquos music seemed to transform &lsquothe rhythm of the steppes into the scream of the motor horn, the rattle of machinery, the grind of wheels, the beating of iron and steel, the roar of the underground railway, and the other barbaric cries of modern life and to transform these despairing noises into music&rsquo. [6]

As for the dance, its primitivism was deeply disturbing to many, including the French writer Jacques Rivière. ‘There is something profoundly blind about this dance,’ he wrote after the premiere, and went on:

There is an enormous question being carried about by all these creatures moving before our eyes. It is in no way distinct from themselves. They carry it about with them without understanding it, like an animal that turns in its cage and never tires of butting its head against the bars. [7]

To be reminded of that brute animal unconsciousness at the zoo is one thing to have it enacted by a troupe of highly trained dancers and musicians, in a theatre full of Parisian sophisticates, is quite another. Perhaps the uproar at the premiere was a sign of disquiet, a feeling that the world had lost its moorings, and that barbarism was about to be let loose in the streets. Given that the First World War would soon break out, that feeling wasn’t so wide of the mark.


[1] Jean Cocteau, 'Cock and Harlequin', trans. Rollo H. Myers (London: Egoist Press, 1921), quoted in Richard Buckle, Nijinsky: A Life of Genius and Madness (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971), p. 300.

[2] Quoted in Eric Walter White, Stravinsky: The Composer and his Works (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 177.

[3] Harry Kessler, Towards the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918 (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 2011), p. 619.

[4] Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Expositions and Developments (London: Faber & Faber, 1959), p. 143.

[5] Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Dialogues and a Diary (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), p. 90.

[6] Thomas Stearns Eliot, &lsquoLondon Letter&rsquo in The Dial, 71, October 1921, pp. 452&ndash5.

[7] Jacques Rivière, &lsquoLe Sacre du Printemps&rsquo, Nouvelle Revue Francaise, November 1913, quoted in Ferdinand Lesure (ed.) Igor Stravinsky: &ldquoLe Sacre du Printemps&rdquo: Dossier de Presse (Geneva: Editions Minkoff, 1980), p. 299.

Banner credit: Getty Images/ Gamma-Keystone

Ivan Hewett is a classical music critic for the Telegraph. He has been working in classical music as journalist, festival director, composer, lecturer, broadcaster and author for three decades. He presented BBC Radio 3's flagship magazine programme Music Matters for nine years, and is the author of 'Music: Healing the Rift', published by Continuum.



Lawrence Morton, in a study of the origins of The Rite, records that in 1907–08 Stravinsky set to music two poems from Sergey Gorodetsky’s collection Yar. Another poem in the anthology, which Stravinsky did not set but is likely to have read, is “Yarila” which, Morton observes, contains many of the basic elements from which The Rite of Spring developed, including pagan rites, sage elders, and the propitiatory sacrifice of a young maiden: “The likeness is too close to be coincidental”. Stravinsky himself gave contradictory accounts of the genesis of The Rite. In a 1920 article he stressed that the musical ideas had come first, that the pagan setting had been suggested by the music rather than the other way round. However, in his 1936 autobiography he described the origin of the work thus: “One day [in 1910], when I was finishing the last pages of L’Oiseau de Feu in St Petersburg, I had a fleeting vision … I saw in my imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of Spring. Such was the theme of the Sacre du Printemps”.

By May 1910 Stravinsky was discussing his idea with Nicholas Roerich, the foremost Russian expert on folk art and ancient rituals. Roerich had a reputation as an artist and mystic, and had provided the stage designs for Diaghilev’s 1909 production of the Polovtsian Dances. The pair quickly agreed on a working title, “The Great Sacrifice” (Russian: Velikaia zhertva) Diaghilev gave his blessing to the work, although the collaboration was put on hold for a year while Stravinsky was occupied with his second major commission for Diaghilev, the ballet Petrushka.

In July 1911 Stravinsky visited Talashkino, near Smolensk, where Roerich was staying with the Princess Maria Tenisheva, a noted patron of the arts and a sponsor of Diaghilev’s magazine World of Art. Here, over several days, Stravinsky and Roerich finalised the structure of the ballet. Thomas F. Kelly, in his history of the Rite premiere, suggests that the two-part pagan scenario that emerged was primarily devised by Roerich. Stravinsky later explained to Nikolai Findeyzen, the editor of the Russian Musical Gazette, that the first part of the work would be called “The Kiss of the Earth”, and would consist of games and ritual dances interrupted by a procession of sages, culminating in a frenzied dance as the people embraced the spring. Part Two, “The Sacrifice”, would have a darker aspect secret night games of maidens, leading to the choice of one for sacrifice and her eventual dance to the death before the sages. The original working title was changed to “Holy Spring” (Russian: Vesna sviashchennaia), but the work became generally known by the French translation Le Sacre du printemps, or its English equivalent The Rite of Spring, with the subtitle “Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts”.


Stravinsky’s sketchbooks show that after returning to his home at Ustilug in the Ukraine in September 1911, he worked on two movements, the “Augurs of Spring” and the “Spring Rounds”. In October he left Ustilug for Clarens in Switzerland, where in a tiny and sparsely-furnished room—eight feet square, with only a piano, a table and two chairs—he worked throughout the 1911–12 winter on the score. By March 1912, according to the sketchbook chronology, Stravinsky had completed Part I and had drafted much of Part II. He also prepared a two-hand piano version, subsequently lost, which he may have used to demonstrate the work to Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes conductor Pierre Monteux in April 1912. He also made a four-hand piano arrangement which became the first published version of The Rite he and the composer Claude Debussy played the first half of this together, in June 1912.

Following Diaghilev’s decision to delay the premiere until 1913, Stravinsky put The Rite aside during the summer of 1912. He enjoyed the Paris season, and accompanied Diaghilev to the Bayreuth Festival to attend a performance of Parsifal. Stravinsky resumed work on The Rite in the autumn the sketchbooks indicate that he had finished the outline of the final sacrificial dance on 17 November 1912. During the remaining months of winter he worked on the full orchestral score, which he signed and dated as “completed in Clarens, March 8, 1913”. He showed the manuscript to Maurice Ravel, who was enthusiastic and predicted, in a letter to a friend, that the first performance of the Le Sacre would be as important as the 1902 premiere of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. After the orchestral rehearsals began in late March, Monteux drew the composer’s attention to several passages which were causing problems: inaudible horns, a flute solo drowned out by brass and strings, and multiple problems with the balance among instruments in the brass section during fortissimo episodes. Stravinsky amended these passages, and as late as April was still revising and rewriting the final bars of the “Sacrificial Dance”. Revision of the score did not end with the version prepared for the 1913 premiere rather, Stravinsky continued to make changes for the next 30 years or more. According to Van den Toorn, “[n]o other work of Stravinsky’s underwent such a series of post-premiere revisions”.

Stravinsky acknowledged that the work’s opening bassoon melody was derived from an anthology of Lithuanian folk songs, but maintained that this was his only borrowing from such sources if other elements sounded like aboriginal folk music, he said, it was due to “some unconscious ‘folk’ memory”. However, Morton has identified several more melodies in Part I as having their origins in the Lithuanian collection. More recently Richard Taruskin has discovered in the score an adapted tune from one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “One Hundred Russian National Songs”. Taruskin notes the paradox whereby The Rite, generally acknowledged as the most revolutionary of the composer’s early works, is in fact rooted in the traditions of Russian music.


Nijinsky in 1911, depicted by John Singer Sargent in costume for his role in Nikolai Tcherepnin’s ballet Le Pavillon d’Armide

Taruskin has listed a number of sources that Roerich consulted when creating his designs. Among these are The Primary Chronicle, a 12th-century compendium of early pagan customs, and Alexander Afanasyev’s study of peasant folklore and pagan prehistory. The Princess Tenisheva’s collection of costumes was an early source of inspiration. When the designs were complete, Stravinsky expressed delight and declared them “a real miracle”.

Stravinsky’s relationship with his other main collaborator, Nijinsky, was more complicated. Diaghilev had decided that Nijinsky’s genius as a dancer would translate into the role of ballet-master he was not dissuaded when Nijinsky’s first attempt at choreography, Debussy’s L’après-midi d’un faune, caused controversy and near-scandal because of the dancer’s novel stylised movements and his overtly sexual gesture at the work’s end. It is apparent from contemporary correspondence that, at least initially, Stravinsky viewed Nijinsky’s talents as a choreographer with approval a letter he sent to Findeyzen praises the dancer’s “passionate zeal and complete self-effacement”. However, in his 1936 memoirs Stravinsky writes that the decision to employ Nijinsky in this role filled him with apprehension although he admired Nijinsky as a dancer he had no confidence in him as a choreographer: “… the poor boy knew nothing of music. He could neither read it nor play any instrument”. Later still, Stravinsky would ridicule Nijinsky’s dancing maidens as “knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas”. Stephen Walsh, a leading Stravinsky analyst, has suggested that the belated disavowal of Nijinsky’s choreography, together with the denial of folk music influences, was part of an attempt by the composer, then in exile, to downplay the music’s Russian roots and influences.

Stravinsky’s autobiographical account refers to many “painful incidents” between the ballet-master and the dancers during the rehearsal period. By the beginning of 1913, when Nijinsky was badly behind schedule, Stravinsky was warned by Diaghilev that “unless you come here immediately … the Sacre will not take place”. The problems were slowly overcome, and when the final rehearsals were held in May 1913 the dancers appeared to have mastered the work’s difficulties. Even the Ballets Russes’s sceptical stage director, Serge Grigoriev, was full of praise for the originality and dynamism of Nijinsky’s choreography.

The conductor Pierre Monteux had worked with Diaghilev since 1911, and had been in charge of the orchestra at the premiere of Petrushka. Monteux’s first reaction to The Rite, after hearing Stravinsky play a piano version, was to leave the room and find a quiet corner. Although he would perform his duties with conscientious professionalism, he never came to enjoy the work nearly fifty years after the premiere he told enquirers that he detested it. On 30 March Monteux informed Stravinsky of modifications he thought were necessary to the score, all of which the composer implemented. The orchestra, drawn mainly from the Concerts Colonne in Paris, was with 99 players much larger than was normally employed at the theatre, and had difficulty fitting into the orchestra pit.

After the first part of the ballet received two full orchestral rehearsals in March, Monteux and the company departed to perform in Monte Carlo. Rehearsals resumed when they returned the unusually large number of rehearsals—seventeen solely orchestral and five with the dancers—were fitted into the fortnight before the opening, after Stravinsky’s arrival in Paris on 13 May. The music contained so many unusual note combinations that Monteux had to ask the musicians to stop interrupting when they thought they had found mistakes in the score, saying he would tell them if something was played incorrectly. According to Doris Monteux, “The musicians thought it absolutely crazy”. At one point, a climactic brass fortissimo, the orchestra broke up in nervous laughter at the sound, causing Stravinsky to intervene angrily.

The role of the sacrificial victim was to have been danced by Nijinsky’s sister, Bronislava Nijinska when she became pregnant during rehearsals she was replaced by the then relatively unknown Maria Piltz.

The Rite of Spring at 100

When Igor Stravinsky's ballet Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) premiered during the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, its avant-garde music and jarring choreography scandalized audiences. Today it is considered one of the most influential musical works of the twentieth century. In this volume, the ballet finally receives the full critical attention it deserves, as distinguished music and dance scholars discuss the meaning of the work and its far-reaching influence on world music, performance, and culture. Essays explore four key facets of the ballet: its choreography and movement the cultural and historical contexts of its performance and reception in France its structure and use of innovative rhythmic and tonal features and the reception of the work in Russian music history and theory.

List of Audio-Visual Materials
Foreword: A Total Art-Work: Memorable Resonances and Reverberations in The Rite / Stephen Walsh
Note on Transliteration

Introductory Essay: Stravinsky's Russia: The Politics of Cultural Ferment / Donald J. Raleigh
Part One: Dancing Le Sacre Across the Century
1. A Century of Rites: The Making of an Avant-Garde Tradition / Lynn Garafola
2. The Rite of Spring as a Dance: Recent Re-Visions / Stephanie Jordan
3. Re-Sourcing Nijinsky: The Rite of Spring and Yvonne Rainer's RoS Indexical / Gabriele Brandstetter
4. Death by Dancing in Nijinsky's Rite / Millicent Hodson

Part Two: Le Sacre and Stravinsky in France
5. Le Sacre du Printemps: A Ballet for Paris / Annegret Fauser
6. Styling Le Sacre: The Rite's Role in French Fashion / Mary E. Davis
7. The Rite of Spring, National Narratives, and Estrangement / Brigid Cohen
8. Formalizing a "Purely Acoustic" Musical Objectivity: Another Look at a 1915 Interview with Stravinsky / William Robin
9. Racism at The Rite / Tamara Levitz

Part Three: Observations on Le Sacre in Russia
10. Commentary and Observations on Le Sacre in Russia: An Overview / Kevin Bartig
11. Stravinsky, Roerich, and Old Slavic Rituals in The Rite of Spring / Tatiana Baranova Monighetti
12. Orchestral Sketches of Le Sacre du Printemps in the National Library of Russia / Natalia Braginskaya
13. Yuri Nikolaevich Kholopov: His Analytical Comments on The Rite of Spring / Grigory Lyzhov
14. Leonard Bernstein's 1959 Triumph in the Soviet Union / Olga Manulkina
15. The Rite of Spring in Russia / Svetlana Savenko
16. "I Penetrated the Mystery of the Spring Lapidary Rhythms:" Baroque Topoi in The Rite of Spring / Elena Vereshchagina
17. "The Great Sacrifice:" Contextualizing the Dream / Tatiana Vereshchagina
18. An Interview with Composer Vladimir Tarnopolski / Edited and with an Introductory Note by Christy Keele and John Reef

Part Four: The Sounds of Le Sacre
19. The Physicality of The Rite: Remarks on the Forces of Meter and Their Disruption / Pieter C. van den Toorn
20. How Not to Hear Le Sacre du Printemps? Schoenberg's Theories, Leibowitz's Recording / Severine Neff
21. Rethinking Blocks and Superimposition: Form in the "Ritual of the Two Rival Tribes" / Gretchen Horlacher
22. Stravinsky at the Crossroads after The Rite: "Jeu de rossignol mécanique" [Performance of the Mechanical Nightingale] (1 August 1913) / Maureen A. Carr
23. Dissonant Bells: The Rite's "Sacrificial Dance" 1913/2013 / Marianne Kielian-Gilbert
24. Revisiting The Rite in Stravinsky's Later Serial Music / Lynne Rogers
25. Dionysos Monometrikos / Stephen Walsh
Plenary Essay: Resisting The Rite / Richard Taruskin
Bibliography / Compiled by Letitia Glozer, Sara Hoffee, and John Reef
List of Contributors

Severine Neff is the Eugene Falk Distinguished Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is author of The Musical Idea and the Logic, Technique, and Art of Its Presentation (with Patricia Carpenter) Coherence, Counterpoint, Instrumentation, Instruction in Form and The Second String Quartet in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 10: A Norton Critical Score. She served as Editor-in-Chief of Music Theory Spectrum.

Gretchen Horlacher is Professor of Music at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University at Bloomington. She is author of Building Blocks: Repetition and Continuity in Stravinsky's Music.

Maureen A. Carr is Distinguished Professor of Music Theory at The Pennsylvania State University. She is author of After the Rite: Stravinsky's Path to Neoclassicism (1914–1925) Multiple Masks: Neoclassicism in Stravinsky's Works on Greek Subjects and two facsimile editions for A-R Editions: Stravinsky's "Pulcinella": A Facsimile of the Sources and Sketches, and Stravinsky's "Histoire du soldat": A Facsimile of the Sketches.

John Reef is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Nazareth College.

The content is diverse, thought provoking, and occasionally controversial. . . . Recommended.

Any serious Stravinsky scholar will find The Rite of Spring at 100 to be a necessary and valuable resource. The quantity and scope of excellent scholarship in this one volume are simply astounding.

The editors of the volume are to be credited for having given space to several dialectically productive positions that allow us to be clear, in an unequivocal way, that The Rite is a milestone in twentieth-century culture.


But this fall, it is being audacious. The company is reviving ''Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring)'' in its original form, as given in Paris by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes on May 29, 1913, at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. The production, shown for the first time in Los Angeles on Sept. 30, will receive its New York premiere Wednesday evening at the City Center.

The opening bars of Igor Stravinsky's dissonant score must have convinced Parisians in 1913 that ''Sacre'' (as dancers call the ballet for short) would be extraordinary. Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography owed little to traditional balletic ideals of grace in its depiction of the ceremonies of a prehistoric Slavic tribe, among them a sacrificial ritual during which a maiden dances herself to death to appease the gods. Nicholas Roerich's designs looked barbaric, and the entire production seemed an assault on eye and ear. Catcalls arose. So did cheers. That opening night performance was, quite literally, a riot.

''Sacre'' made history. Roerich's vividly colored and patterned designs reflected the interest of many early 20th-century artists, including the Cubists, in primitive art. And both Stravinsky's rhythmically vital score and Nijinsky's unconventional choreography, with its sudden jumps and shudderings, were bold experiments.

Yet, the choreography almost slipped into oblivion. It was danced only eight times. Diaghilev and Nijinsky later quarreled, and when Nijinsky's career was cut short by mental illness, people assumed his ''Sacre'' was lost. Diaghilev offered a new ''Sacre'' in 1920, rechoreographed by Leonide Massine. Although such other choreographers as Maurice Bejart, Kenneth MacMillan, Paul Taylor, Martha Graham, Mary Wigman and Pina Bausch have also rechoreographed it, not until now has anyone tried to restore Nijinsky's version.

Three people became convinced that a restoration was possible. Robert Joffrey, director of the Joffrey Ballet, has long admired Nijinsky as a dancer and choreographer. His company's revival is being supervised by Millicent Hodson, an American dance historian, and her husband, Kenneth Archer, a British art historian. Ms. Hodson became interested in ''Sacre'' in the 1970's the ballet was the subject of her doctoral dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1981, she met -and then married - Mr. Archer, an expert on Roerich.

To reconstruct the work, Ms. Hodson and Mr. Archer have tried to assemble and correlate every scrap of information that exists about the 1913 production. They have sifted through reviews and dancers' reminiscences, and they have studied photographs and artists' drawings. At times, they have been detectives. At other times, they have resembled archaeologists putting the fragments of an ancient artifact together.

Ms. Hodson, Mr. Archer and Mr. Joffrey each recently commented on what makes the ballet unusual. Ms. Hodson said Nijinsky's choreography is notable for its '�ting and breaking up of movements. The movement is constantly broken into fractions. One figure may start a movement, then other people will take it up in slightly different ways. What could be called cells of movement are constantly forming and splitting.''

She pointed out that the choreography possesses 'ɺ great sense of restriction. And from the restriction comes much of the ballet's power.'' Many sequences involve such seemingly simple activities as walking, running or jumping. But these motions are performed with the body held in such contorted poses that their execution is difficult. Mr. Joffrey commented, ''Nijinsky's movements are not just rearrangements of classical steps. Rather, he tried to invent movements that would be uniquely appropriate to 'Sacre' and to no other ballet.''

Two documents proved especially valuable to the choreographic reconstruction. One was a score in which Stravinsky had written descriptions of the stage action above the music. Although, according to Ms. Hodson, these notes seldom mention specific dance steps, they do indicate what happens by means of such phrases as ''The men group together'' and ''Here they fall to the floor.''

Even more crucial has been a score with choreographic notes by Marie Rambert, a Polish dancer who was an expert in a method of rhythmic analysis known as Dalcroze eurhythmics. Asked by Diaghilev to help Nijinsky analyze the complex music, deeply impressed by the choreography, she sought to note down as much of it as possible. Later, she founded London's Ballet Rambert, which remains a major British company. To raise money for her troupe in a financial crisis, she auctioned off her score during the 1960's. Its present whereabouts is unknown. However, almost as if she foresaw such a fate, she transcribed her notes into a second copy of the score. Unfortunately, she mislaid it, and it was only after her death in 1982 that the copy was found tucked away in a cupboard in her home.

Ms. Hodson had interviewed Rambert before her death. Ms. Hodson also started staging passages of choreography on dancers willing to be guinea pigs. But it was only after she had consulted the Rambert score that she felt certain that a complete reconstruction was feasible.

Mr. Joffrey had stayed in Rambert's house when he was a guest choreographer for her company in 1955. Her reminiscences fascinated him he even saw the now-missing score. His acquaintance with Ms. Hodson began in 1971, when the Joffrey Ballet visited Berkeley. He found that both he and Ms. Hodson, who had studied ballet and modern dance at Indiana University and the University of California, were passionate about preserving old choreography. A decade later, learning of her research, he began to wonder whether ''Sacre'' could be revived.

He said, ''I never had any doubts about Millicent as a historian.'' Nevertheless, to make sure that the ballet was truly stageable, he made her painstakingly describe the choreography for every measure of the music. Ms. Hodson has had to invent a few transitional passages. But both she and Mr. Joffrey insist that this production is essentially a reconstruction of the Nijinsky version.

Mr. Archer thinks audiences may find the designs as striking as the choreography. He observed that many people assume that, because of its grim theme, the ballet must have looked grim. ''In reality,'' he said, ''Roerich's backdrops and costumes are very colorful. The impression of drabness may simply be caused by the fact that we are used to seeing black-and-white photographs of the ballet.''

''Sacre'' was ''Roerich's brainchild,'' as Mr. Archer puts it. Stravinsky often claimed that the idea for it came to him in a dream. Yet, interviews in Russian newspapers of the time reveal that when Stravinsky finished composing 'ɿirebird'' in 1910 and sought ideas for a new ballet, Roerich suggested two scenarios. One concerned chess. The other was ''Sacre.''

Born in 1874, Roerich was a Russian painter interested in archeology, folklore and mysticism. He had previously designed ''Prince Igor'' for the Ballets Russes in 1909. After leaving Russia in 1917, he devoted himself to art and to such humanitarian causes as the Red Cross, cancer research and world peace. He died in the Himalayas in 1947. A Roerich Museum in Manhattan at 319 West 107th Street from time to time schedules exhibitions both of his paintings and of works by other artists.

Roerich and Nijinsky worked well together, and Roerich introduced Nijinsky to a pantheon of ancient idols, which impressed the choreographer greatly. The Joffrey production of ''Sacre'' may therefore lead to a reappraisal both of Nijinsky as a choreographer and of Roerich as an artist. Certainly, Ms. Hodson, Mr. Archer and Mr. Joffrey are convinced they have restored what Marie Rambert once called 'ɺ truly epic ballet - so far, unexcelled anywhere.''

The Rite of Spring in the 21st Century

Just like Beethoven's 9th Symphony changed the future of symphony composition, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring changed the future of ballet. Up to that point, ballet was beautiful, elegant, and charming. As I mentioned before, audiences were accustomed to seeing and hearing works like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring introduced new concepts in music, dance, and story. Today, it is considered to be a milestone in the history of ballet. It has become a regular work in many ballet companies' repertoires. The music has been used extensively in film, television, and radio, for example, Disney's Fantasia. It has also inspired composers like John Williams (Star Wars) and Jerry Goldsmith (Outland).

Dance Critique: The Rite of Spring

The Rite of Spring was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, a Russian dancer and choreographer. He joined The Imperial School of Ballet in 1900 and was later the lead dancer of the Ballet Russes. He eventually choreographed many works, one of them being Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) in 1913. He “exceeded the limits of traditional ballet” and the Rite was an example of this. In 1919 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent the rest of his life in and out of hospitals until he died in London on April 8, 1950. The Rite of Spring was performed by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes on May 29th, 1913 at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris. It was later remade by the Joffrey Ballet in Los Angeles on September 30, 1987. Igor Stravinsky was the composer for The Rite of Spring. In his works for the Rite there was a significant basis of Russian and Lithuanian folk music. His music has influenced many of the 20th century composers and the idea that the Rite portrayed was inspired by Pagan Russia. The Rite of Spring became one of the first pieces of work that led to modern dance.

The Rite of Spring had two acts, the first was called The Adoration of the Earth and the second was The Sacrifice. In act one, a group of men and women danced in circles in order to welcome the new season of spring. The mood during this act was very happy and bright. I think this performance showed the ritualistic actions of pre-civilized natives who welcomed spring and worshipped mother nature, and possibly dancing in hopes of good crops. There is a moment in this act where it seems as though the men and women are fighting but peace is then restored when an old man comes out and calms everyone. The mood drastically shifts to depressing, dark, sorrowful, and violent in the second act when a young woman is picked to be a sacrifice. The woman starts off scared and stays still in the circle of people that surrounds her but.

1. “Kim”

Released on The Marshall Mathers LP on May 23, 2000

Eminem’s Kim is a haunting and disturbing six minute explosion of anger and hatred leveled towards his ex-wife Kim Mathers. The song samples “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin and features an additional piano riff playing over it. Kim is told from the point of view of Eminem as he tortures and murders Kim after killing her husband and young child. The song famously ends with the sound of Eminem cutting her throat, yelling “Bleed, Bitch! Bleed,” and dragging her body into the trunk of a car.

The Controversy:

The song “Kim” was one of the most reviled, hated, and celebrated rap songs in history. It was condemned by politicians and parents for its graphic language and depiction of domestic abuse. Released a little over a year after the Columbine High School Massacre, the song was censored upon release due to its reference to Eminem killing a four year old boy. The song also landed Eminem in court after the real-life Kim attempted suicide after watching the song performed in Detroit on July 7, 2000.

Watch the video: Le Sacre du printemps. The Rite of Spring - Ballets Russes