100 years ago today – on May 29, 1913 – in Paris, Les Ballets Russes staged the first ballet performance of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacré du Printemps,) with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky.
The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first drew catcalls and whistles from the crowd, and were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience escalated into a riot!
The Paris police arrived by the intermission, but restored only limited order – chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance. Nijinsky and Stravinsky were despondent. However, Sergei Diaghilev, the director of Les Ballets Russes, commented that the scandal was “just what I wanted.” The ballet went on to complete its run of six performances amid controversy, but no further disruption.
Both Stravinsky and Nijinsky continued to work, but neither created pieces in this percussive and intense style again. In later years, The Rite of Spring came to be regarded as a ground-breaking 20th century masterpiece.
Pay a visit to Westminster Music Library where you can view a selection of the original concert programmes for performances dating back to the 1920s; we also have a number of journals which include quite a few scathing reviews:
“…little vital achievement from a composer who has attracted so much attention…”
“…at the end we were left wondering what all the fuss and fury was about…”
It’s entirely up to you whether you agree or not, but before you decide, why not give it a listen on-line via Naxos Music Library; just enter your library card number to access.