Saturday, September 19, 2009

"The Rite of Spring" - A History of Turbulence

When the most powerful Russian composer, arguably, of the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky committed his ballet masterpiece "The Rite of Spring" to manuscript, little could he have known what a history of controversy and even violence would be the result.
His viewing of the work as one representing ancient sacrifice of a maiden to placate the God of Spring was the central focus. He and Nijinsky, the eminent genius of ballet, constantly argued with one another as their soon-to-be immortal result was carved out of their collective creative powers.
Stravinsky looked down at Nijinsky for his "total lack of understanding of the role of music" in such an endeavor, and Nijinsky sneered, on more than one occasion, at the supreme egocentricity of the composer; however, as history will have proven, the result became and is one of the most singular incarnations in the world of the arts in the 2oth century.
On May 29, 1913, the premiere of "The Rite of Spring" was given in Paris. Almost immediately after the bassoon began, there were catcalls and shouts from the detractors in the audience, followed by shoving and scuffling, then some actual fistfights in the hall. In just a matter of minutes, a full riot erupted, spilling out into the streets, with Stravinsky barely escaping physical attacks upon himself, let alone Nijinsky as well. Never, to this extent, had a piece of music caused such a reaction.
Years later, when Walt Disney worked on his masterpiece "Fantasia" which dealt, in cartoon form, with the combining of musical and visual art forms, he decided to use "The Rite of Spring" as one of his musical entries. His interpretation, however (and you know this to be so, if you have seen the movie) was to use the age of the dinosaur and other animals of that period as the visual components, rather than Early Man, and when it was made known to Stravinsky, he became incensed, berating Disney and terming his interpretation as blasphemous. Stravinsky used the word "unacceptable" as the first known use of invective against Disney.
And so, the elemental violence as Stravinsky so magnificently projects in one of his most important works and the ensuing public and interpretive consternation that came out of it is most assuredly a great moment in the saga we call Man's Art.

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