While working on The Firebird, the idea came up to Stravinsky to compose a work picturing an epic pagan rite where a young maid is sacrificed to the gods of the earth to bring back Spring and the "mystery of its creative power." On Mai 29, 1913, The Rite of Spring was premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, which had recently opened in Paris. The first performance of the piece is still remembered today as one of the biggest artistic scandal of the early 20th century. It led to a riot among the audience which, Stravinsky remembers, prevented the dancers of the Ballets Russes to hear the music from the orchestra pit. The score featured radically modern and unsettling innovations: dissonant harmonies, absence of melody, furious fortissimos and the frenetic rhythm of the "Sacrificial Dance" where dance amounts to trance. The Rite is a musical landmark which irreparably changed the way music would be thought.
A century has gone by and The Rite has kept its emblematic force and stays a challenge for its interpreters. Leonard Slatkin and the Orchestre national de Lyon were willing to celebrate this anniversary, accompanied by their fellow Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The pianist chose to measure the primitive power of Stravinsky's ballet with Gershwin's Concerto in F and its urban mood in which the blue note adorns the classical form of the concerto. Whereas the critics' reaction to the piece was picky, the most rewarding compliment came from Stravinsky himself as he described it as a composition of genius.
Picture: © David Duchon-Doris
Archives from the 1960s
New Philharmonia Orchestra - BBC Symphony Orchestra