1913’s Prelude to Rock n Roll

2013 marks 100 years since Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes kicked down music’s barriers. The Rite Of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) debuted in Paris on 29 May, 1913. Western music would never be the same. I want to pay tribute to this milestone before the year ends.

The work of a madman.

Rite of Spring premiere, 1913The piece opened with a bassoon in a high register: a sound never before heard in a concert hall. Then the whole orchestra, in unison, became an insistent frantic drum. No orchestra had ever sounded anything like this: it pulsed and throbbed while flutes punctuated its staccato thumping. Many listeners hated it. A near riot broke out in the audience. Theater management called the police and threw out about 40 noisy audience members.

The choreography was by legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. As revolutionary as Stravinsky’s music, it introduced what’s now called modern dance.

1913 marked a sharp break with the past: the Titanic sank while World War I festered just over the horizon. The Rite Of Spring introduced the world to the music of the future. That future would include jazz, big band, bebop, and . . . rock n roll. Yup, decades before Chuck Berry, way back in 1913, Igor Stravinsky shouted, “Roll Over, Beethoven!”

ListenAudio clip: 9-minute BBC description of this performance
Listen: Internet Archive – Rite Of Spring
NPR produced an audio documentary about the Rite Of Spring premiere. It calls the music “angular, dissonant and totally unpredictable.”

YouTube is loaded with Rite Of Spring performances.

Here’s an entire blog that’s devoted to The Rite of Spring.


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