I can’t pass today up without saying “Happy Birthday” to one of the masterworks in Western art music. Igor Stravinksy’s Le sacre du printemps – The Rite of Spring – had its premiere on this day exactly one century ago. Its performance unleashed the passions of an incredulous, and, as the show went on, mocking, audience who laughed, yelled, and pelted orchestra and dancers with vegetables. Today we’d call them hooligans. [For a dissenting view, see here]
The Rite of Spring has always been about bodies – passions, rituals, paganism, hedonism, dances, life, death. The music is raw, visceral and dangerously close to nature. This is nature at its most sublime: glorious, terrifying, monstrous, magical, and awe-inspiring, hideous in its power and reach.
This is, quite simply, beastly music.
Nature with a capital ‘N,’ The Rite of Spring is an uncontrollable force that threatens to undermine the carefully-constructed edifice of human exceptionalism and rationality. Who are we without the trappings of civilized society? Without the confident force of our intellect to guide us? What do we become when we give Nature free reign? When we dance wildly and stomp our feet? Who are we when we stop caring what others think and instead, reach into our elemental selves? What might this look like? How might it feel? How might it taste? And what does it sound like?
Art music has never been the same since and I, for one, am grateful.
Here’s to you, Igor. Thank you.
And here, for your delectation, is a project Inspired by Stravinsky. Commissioned by the Carolina Performing Arts at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Radhe, Radhe is inspired by a jazz vocabulary and a Hindu rite of spring. Enjoy!