The Rite of Spring, Igor Stravinsky

Articulate Silences

In one of the most frequently recounted episodes of 20th century music, the 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring ended in an audience riot as the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées erupted in protest. To modern listeners, the most striking feature of the Russian composer’s third ballet is its high level of dissonance; jarring, oppressive chords tear through the soundscape in an unrelenting cacophony of clashing sounds. Yet, for those attending its premiere there were a number of other disagreeable characteristics of the performance. Indeed, Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography, labelled as “uncouth” by one reviewer, contributed as much to the audience’s indignation as the music.

Musically, in addition to its provocative harmonic character, perhaps what was most shocking to the ballet’s early audience was Stravinsky’s abandonment of classical melodic and harmonic development in favour of the foregrounding of the rhythmic and timbral properties of the music. The Rite of Spring proceeds in…

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