Here are some good quotes about the Rite of Spring I have found in my travels.

  • “Almost no musical work has had such a powerful influence or evoked as much controversy as Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score ‘The Rite of Spring'”. (NPR Online)
  • “…it’s also got the best dissonances anyone ever thought up, and the best asymmetries and polytonalities and polyrhythms and whatever else you care to name.” (Leonard Bernstein)
  • “the intersecting of inherently non-symmetrical diatonic elements with inherently non-diatonic symmetrical elements seems…the defining principle of the musical language of Le Sacre and the source of the unparalleled tension and conflicted energy of the work”. (George Perle)
  • “At the performance, mild protests against the music could be heard, from the beginning. Then when the curtain opened … the storm broke…I was unprepared for the explosion…I left the hall in a rage…I have never again been that angry. (Unknown attendee at the premiere).
  • “…a dazzling exercise in the power of music” (Genevieve Thiers)
  • “…arch-revolutionary, an iconoclast out to destroy all the most sacred canons of musical aesthetics and grammar”. (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music)

A unique mesh of sound

August 16, 2009

Stravinsky uses orchestration in new and amazing ways in The Rite of Spring which still seem revolutionary even now.

First there is the composition of the orchestra, which is large by any measure. Over-full complements of all instruments abound such as the scoring of four oboes as well as the inclusion of more unusual orchestral instruments in the score such as alto flute, Wagner tubas, bass trumpet and guiro.

Wagner tuba

Wagner tuba

This interesting orchestration offers Stravinsky the ability to create unique meshes of sound through unusual combinations of unusual instruments. A nice example of this is the exposed duet between the bass clarinet and the Eb clarinet. At two octaves apart, blending and intonation become challenges for the performers and yet it creates an eerie and haunting sound.

Another concept employed by Stravinsky in the Rite of Spring is to use instruments in their extreme ranges. There is no more obvious example of this than the opening bars by the solo bassoon which is performing in a terrifyingly high area of its range. It is this tension transferred from the player’s nervousness of operating in this zone combined with the not often heard fragile timbre of the extremity of the instrument which creates one of the most revolutionary sounds of 20th century music.

With the opening bars of The Rite of Spring marked rubato and the solo marked ad lib. for the bassoonist, how much liberty should be taken?

Bassoon opening to TRoS

Solo bassoon opening to TRoS

In most recordings and live performances I have heard, the bassoon soloist keeps fairly strictly the rhythm and tempo as marked. Does anyone know of a good recording with a bassoonist who has gone out on a limb here?

Being such a famous introduction, it is not surprising that most soloists keep things fairly standard so as not to disappoint the purists but since the common reaction the TRoS is one of shock – why not!?

Keen to hear what you think…