Igor Stravinsky

The Rite of Spring

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 35 Minutes
Genre: Ballet
Time of Creation: 1913
World Premiere: May 29, 1913 (Paris)

Table of Contents

Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring in 5 Sentences

The Rite of Spring (Original: Le Sacre du Printemps) is the third major ballet score (along with Firebird and Petrushka) by Igor Stravinsky, and at its premiere it caused one of the biggest theater scandals to date: shocked by the rawness of the music and staging (see the “Highlights” below), the Paris premiere audience erupted in rioting, including booing and brawling. Lights had to be turned on during the performance to somehow bring order to the chaos. Only the premiere conductor Pierre Monteux appeared unimpressed by all this, conducting the work to its conclusion with stoic calm. The scandal hit Stravinsky hard, but also made him finally world famous.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring

Highlight 1: Beginning – a bassoon discovers the heights

The very beginning caused irritation among the Paris premiere audience: A bassoon PLAYING SO HIGH had never been heard before:

Highlight 2: The Augurs of Spring

Aaaaaah, spring! First rays of sunshine, gentle warmth! What an idyll!

Well, not here. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is about the FORCE of spring. Nature bursts forth, and we can hear it clearly. By the way, at the premiere, the choreography of this number consisted of stomping wildly (which contributed significantly to the shocked audience reaction):

Highlight 3: Dance of the Earth

The first part of the ballet ends with the Dance of the Earth, famous for its “demolished climax” and the oppressive silence that follows:

Highlight 4: Sacrificial Dance

The most famous part of The Rite of Spring is the finale. This sacrificial dance is one of the most pithy pieces I know, and places the highest demands on orchestra and conductor:

3 Questions and Answers about Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring

Question 1: How did people react to Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring?

Reactions to The Rite of Spring ranged from booing to loud protest rallies to beatings.

Question 2: Is The Rite of Spring significant in the history of music?

The Rite of Spring is now considered one of the most significant pieces for music history. Stravinsky brought so much that was new (especially in terms of rhythm and timbre) that the piece was influential for many generations of composers to come.

Question 3: Who premiered The Rite of Spring?

The first performance featured the Ballets Russes, one of the most important ballet ensembles of the 20th century.

2 Recommended Recordings of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring

Recording 1: London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle (live, 2017)

Not only do I find this performance with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle particularly stirring, but solo bassoonist Rachel Gough’s introductory solo deserves nothing less than the label “world class:”

Recording 2: San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas (video production)

It’s stunning what has come out of the year-long collaboration between Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. Be sure to watch the performance of The Rite of Spring (starting at 01:09:30). If you have time, also watch the hour or so documentary before it – it’s worth it!

1 Quote about Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring

Parisians boo the new ballet [...] Intendant must turn on lights to end hostile protests as dance continues.

New York Times report on the world premiere of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

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