Sunday, November 21, 2004

Stravinsky and Le Sacre du Printemps

from Stravinsky; His Life and Works

History of Stravinsky and Le Sacre du Printemps

Le Sacre du Printemps was one of the most controversial ballet and orchestral pieces of the 20th century. Stravinsky's idea for this piece came in a dream: a scene showing a pagan ritual in which a chosen sacrificial virgin danced herself to death. He met with Nicolas Roerich to plan the story line of Le Sacre du Printemps. On his way to Princess Tenichev's estate, he missed his train and convinced a freight train to take him there. Once there he saw Russian ethnic art. The inspiration for the scenarios came from the Russian ethnic art owned by Princess Tenichev. The titles of the movement were thought of in only a few days. The original name for this ballet was Vesna Sviaschennania--Sacred Spring/Holy Spring.

After returning home Stravinsky wrote the entire piece utilizing a muted-upright piano in a room that was 8x8 feet. Stravinsky began writing the piece in the summer of 1911 and completed writing it in early 1912. By late spring, the instrumentation had been put in score form. Le Sacre du Printemps was choreographed by Nijinsky and was staged at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris on May 1913. Najinsky's choreography was able to match the music of Stravinsky with something equally original and startling.

Neither the music nor choreography was proved acceptable to the general public on the first performance. At the first public performance there was chaos, as members of the audience took sides for or against the piece. There were boo’s and hissing as the piece began and continued through out the entire piece. Through the deafening and violent objects from many of the audience members, the dancers and musicians continued playing to the end, although the music was impossible to hear. Stravinsky recalls the events of the evening;

“Mild protests against the music could be heard from the very beginning of the performance. Then, when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long braided Lolitas jumping up and down, the storm broke. Cries of ‘Ta guele’ came from behind me………I left the hall in a rage; I was sitting on the right near the orchestra, and I remember slamming the door. I have never been that angry. The music was so familiar to me; I loved it………people who had not yet heard it wanted to protest in advance. I arrived in a fury backstage…………the rest of the performance I stood in the wings……”

In 1914, one year after the incident, the score was played by itself and was accepted with good grace. At the end of this performance the entire audience jumped to their feet and cheered. Instead of jeers, they were celebrating the great piece Stravinsky had written. Audience members rushed back stage and placed Stravinsky on their shoulders. After Le Sacre du Printemps, composers were free to write more dissonant and complicated music.

Here are some images of Le Sacre du Printemps with current and original costume ideas.

Part I: Adoration of the Earth

Auguries of Spring (Dances of the Young Girls)
Mock Abduction
Spring Khorovod (Round Dance)
Games of the Rival Clans
Procession of the Wise Elder
Adoration of the Earth (the Wise Elder)
Dance of the Earth

Part II: The Sacrifice

Mystical Circles of Young Girls
Glorification of the Chosen Victim
The Summoning of the Ancients
Ritual of the Ancients
Sacrificial Dance (the Chosen Victim)

Listen to Le Sacre du Printemps

Hear Performance Today's host Lisa Simeone and commentator Thomas Kelly discuss the scandalous premiere of Stravinsky's great score and how it changed music forever.


Expositions and developments
Conversations with Igor Stravinsky
The Music of Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky by Michael Oliver
Naxos Music Library