Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” once performed for the first time in 1913, was notoriously known for its dissonant sound and Vaslav Nijinsky’s peculiar ballet presentation which struck a chord with its audience. Many did not approve of the unusual craftsmanship and display and thought it to be a primitive piece that had attempted to break down the barriers of music and dance or its time. While in todays day and age you can expect people to enjoy the differences in a musician or a choreographer’s art style and their creative “ think outside the box” ideas, people, especially in the early 1900s were not so quick to join the bandwagon and enjoy something new and unfamiliar.
On the night that this piece were to be performed a riot broke loose preventing any remnant in quality of performance to be given. The disorienting and unbalanced score coupled with the atypical ballet choreography angered the audience. You would think that there must have been something horribly wrong with the performance, however, if you watch the performance it doesn’t seem all that unsettling and grotesque enough to initiate a riot. In fact, you would think at most that it was an unusual performance and very different from traditional music and dance that may bare unfavorable opinions.
So, what happened? Why were so many people moved so much by this performance to start a riot? If it was hated so much how did it become a legend to the musical world we know today? Well, as I stated in the the beginning, we can assume that people in the early 1900s were not ready for this sort of musical advancement, however, there were still those who appreciated Stravinsky’s musical work and Nijinsky’s dance style who were elevated in status that aided them into continuing their careers in the arts. For those who despised the performance I would gather that the influence of herd mentality and the idea that a performance that depicts a ritual of a human sacrifice and dissonant chords indicated to a mostly Catholic and Christian population that something ungodly was occurring. Of course, many do not have a viewpoint that reflects this way of thinking as much as it used to so when looking back at the piece now it is more interesting and you can see it is telling a story.
When I watched the performance from more recent years I was taken aback by the mess of the instrumentation and at times I had forgotten that I was watching a ballet performance. It was so different to what we typically associate ballet and music with but that difference is what makes it so attractive. The dissonant chords and the polyphonic instrumentation gave a tone of seriousness and preparation for what was to come. The music demonstrated the importance of the story’s ritual being had and process of determining the sacrifice. I find it fascinating that such a performance exists in high regard when we compare it to its premiere.