The Rite of Spring at 100

The Rite of Spring at 100

The Rite of Spring at 100

The Rite of Spring at 100


When Igor Stravinsky's ballet Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) premiered during the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, its avant-garde music and jarring choreography scandalized audiences. Today it is considered one of the most influential musical works of the twentieth century. In this volume, the ballet finally receives the full critical attention it deserves, as distinguished music and dance scholars discuss the meaning of the work and its far-reaching influence on world music, performance, and culture. Essays explore four key facets of the ballet: its choreography and movement; the cultural and historical contexts of its performance and reception in France; its structure and use of innovative rhythmic and tonal features; and the reception of the work in Russian music history and theory.


A Total Artwork:
Memorable Resonances and
Reverberations in The Rite

Stephen Walsh

“To begin with,” Richard Taruskin writes in the final essay of the present volume, an essay that itself began life, somewhat less expansively, as a keynote paper at the Carolina Performing Arts conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, from which all the other papers at least obliquely emanated, “to begin with—and this is something musicologists are apt to forget—The Rite is not just a piece of music. It originated, very self-consciously, as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a mixed-media synthesis, and belongs to the histories of dance and stage design, as well as music.” He might have added: the history of costume design and, above all, the history of Russian art and even of Russia itself. At the beginning of the collection, Donald J. Raleigh addresses a phenomenon that, he says, historians have long pondered: “the contrast between Russia’s brilliant artistic, cultural, and intellectual life at the turn of the twentieth century and the country’s turbulent politics.” and he shows, as one might hope, that the contrast is very much more apparent than real. Concepts deeply embedded in the Silver Age are ones that can readily be associated with a complex society in a condition of terminal, irreversible disintegration. Taruskin, meanwhile, resists what he calls “the Romantic urge to elevate our artists into prophets.” But even he might agree that a great artist’s seismograph is sometimes tuned, albeit unawares, to subterranean tremors that the ordinary sensibility cannot detect, like animals reacting to changes in the atmosphere or groundwater in the hours immediately before an earthquake.

Although eventually composed for the Paris stage and reflecting, as Annegret Fauser argues, a whole portfolio of Parisian obsessions and expectations, The Rite of Spring is at bottom a profoundly Russian work. Stravinsky and Nikolai Roe rich were at first open-minded as to whether Velikaia zhertva (The Great Sacrifice), as . . .

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