The shock of the new


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

Though The Rite of Spring has become standard, a classic, since the 1970s, it remains an overwhelming experience 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!

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:

And here are the opening sections on harpsichord:

On a lighter note, here I imagine the Danse sacrée 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.

13 thoughts on “The shock of the new

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