The shock of the new

Rite

“Knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas”, 1913.

Though The Rite of Spring has become standard, a classic, since the 1970s, it remains overwhelming today, whether or not you’re familiar with it. Playing it in 1970 with the National Youth Orchestra, conducted by Boulez, was one of the great experiences of my life. Never mind that it’s the kind of imagining of “pagan rites” that academically I would dispute—it’s a world away from the cultural pundits’ romanticized view of folk culture! (For a “pagan” ritual performer among the Cheremis, see here; and for the New Year rituals of Gaoluo in China, here.)

Remember, at the 1913 Paris premiere the ballet was just as shocking as the music—the recreation (from 25.40) following this documentary gives an impression:


Pina Bausch’s version is amazing:

For an intense series of posts on the ballet, see here.

Among endless discussions, try this. And here’s an attractive quandary:

Stravinsky once joked that the dauntingly high-register bassoon solo which opens the piece should be transposed up every year to stop players getting complacent about it. He wanted the effort to register.

But “it’s complicated”—see also here (and note the ritual wind instrument connection). I’m not sure about the dudka, but if it’s really related to the Armenian duduk, then there’s a link to the guanzi of north Chinese ritual bands! There’s a wealth of discussion of that opening solo in bassoon blogs.

Not only do concert-goers “share intimate and personal cultural moments with strangers”, but they have to keep still; the Rite is one of many pieces where this should be an impossible demand. And another where conducting without a score yields fruit:

If Stravinsky really said that Karajan’s version

sounded like someone driving through the jungle in a Mercedes with the windows up,

then good for him.

And then there’s the “original instrument” debate—the “lite Rite”, as Richard Taruskin called it:

This version for organ, far from silly, is just awe-inspiring:

A harpsichord rendition has also appeared on YouTube. Jazz tributes include the Bad Plus arrangement:

In her recent exploration of The Rite, Gillian Moore also observes:

My feelings of creeping feminist unease in writing a book on a ballet about the sacrifice of a young woman created by three men were at least partly relieved when I came across the Russian folk metal band Arkona and their frontwoman Masha Scream.

On a lighter note, here I imagine the Danse sacrale as a suitable riposte to the haka.

By the way, Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, less revolutionary but no less captivating, must have suffered by its proximity.

22 thoughts on “The shock of the new

  1. Pingback: Composers | Stephen Jones: a blog

  2. Pingback: Hours, days, millennia | Stephen Jones: a blog

  3. Pingback: Trauma: music, art, objects | Stephen Jones: a blog

  4. Pingback: The late great Hugh Maguire | Stephen Jones: a blog

  5. Pingback: Bach and Stravinsky | Stephen Jones: a blog

  6. Pingback: NYO Prom: The Rite | Stephen Jones: a blog

  7. Pingback: On visual culture | Stephen Jones: a blog

  8. Pingback: Mahler 9 | Stephen Jones: a blog

  9. Pingback: Musicking | Stephen Jones: a blog

  10. Pingback: Ritual and sport: the haka | Stephen Jones: a blog

  11. Pingback: Mahler 3 at the Proms | Stephen Jones: a blog

  12. Pingback: King Kong: temple Chinglish | Stephen Jones: a blog

  13. Pingback: More wordplay | Stephen Jones: a blog

  14. Pingback: Taco taco taco burrito | Stephen Jones: a blog

  15. Pingback: Bach as bandleader and arranger | Stephen Jones: a blog

  16. Pingback: New tag: dance | Stephen Jones: a blog

  17. Pingback: The Rite of Spring: an update | Stephen Jones: a blog

  18. Pingback: Alternative Bach | Stephen Jones: a blog

  19. Pingback: Italy: folk musicking | Stephen Jones: a blog

  20. Pingback: Reception history | Stephen Jones: a blog

  21. Pingback: Mozart for winds, and “genius” | Stephen Jones: a blog

  22. Pingback: Pizzica at the Proms | Stephen Jones: a blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s