In recent weeks, my Listening and Analysis class has been studying and focusing on a musical composition titled “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky, a Russian composer who was born in 1882, and created this famous composition in 1913. It is known to be extremely influential and solid as a classic 20th century piece of work, and will always have a place in the history books as being just that.
Theatre des Camps-Elysees, Paris, France
Something about Stravinsky’s 1913 piece that I found most interesting was that during the debut ballet performance, held in Paris in May of 1913, is that during the second act of the performance, there were (reportedly) fights happening within the audience, along with a very hostile type atmosphere and people acting out hostility toward others simply because of the music. It is even reported that Stravinsky had fled the theater before the end of the show because he feared for his life. Just imagine what the crowd had been feeling as a result of this new found presentation of dynamic and intense music.
The recordings we have been analyzing of this classic piece have included the highly dynamic and interesting performance by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Leonard Bernstein. I have also had the opportunity to review other renditions of this classic piece by French composer Pierre Boulez, and renown Hungarian composer Georg Solti.
It is fascinating how dynamic and over-bearing at times the Rite of Spring composition truly is. Throughout the entire performance, we the audience are literally taken on a roller-coaster ride, with ups and downs continuing through the score in its entirety.
I wanted to focus on one section of the Rite of Spring, and to do a comparative analysis of the different performances by Bernstein, Solti, and Boulez.
French Composer Pierre Boulez
The section I found most intriguing and hence that which I studied further, was Part 1, Adoration of Earth – Spring Round Dances. I felt it was a beautiful breakdown and continuation of Part 1, where the listener is able to drop back briefly and regain a bit of composure and clarity from the intensity and brash-like energy that Rite of Spring is all about.
The Rite of Spring – Spring Round Dances (Boulez as conductor)
Of the three separate performances mentioned, my favorite would have to be Leonard Bernstein’s rendition recorded with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. His orchestration feels most warm and pure of intention, without rushing us through the various sections of the piece, but honestly presenting us with a compelling and moving representation.
Below is the full suite of the Bernstein recording. Click to 7:24 to hear the beginning of the Spring Round Dances section of the performance.
In Solti’s performance, the entire section feels rushed, with a dramatic increase in tempo causing it to feel rushed and urgent. Almost jarring, chaotic and hanging on one side of the spectrum of feeling. However, I can understand how some may enjoy Solti’s take more than others. Particularly if they have a desire to experience the composition with perhaps more intensity.
Here is another version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, once again by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra but conducted by Zubin Mehta. I enjoyed this section of the piece as well and wanted to share an additional listening option.
Ultimately, the Rite of Spring is one of the most famous compositions of all time, and considered by some to be the most influential in the 20th century. If you are interested in pushing the boundaries of your musical knowledge and depth of emotional feeling through audio, you owe it to yourself to give a listen to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.