The Rite of Spring

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The first performance of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), which took place at the Théâtre des Champs- Elysées in Paris, on May 29, 1913, created a scandal of the first magnitude.

From Stravinsky - The Composer and His Works:

This was unexpected, for the dress rehearsal had gone off without incident. But on the first night laughter broke out and mild protests could be heard during the orchestral introduction; and as soon as the curtain rose on a group of knock-kneed, long-braided maidens jumping up and down, the storm broke. In his Expositions, Stravinsky recalls hearing cries of 'ta gueule' ['shut up!'] from behind him, and Florent Schmitt shouting 'Taisez-vous garces du seizième' ["Be quiet, bitches of the sixteenth!"]. He then left the auditorium in a furious temper and went back stage.
The scandalous scene in the theatre has been described by various eyewitnesses.
According to Carl van Vechten, 'a certain part of the audience was thrilled by what it considered to be a blasphemous attempt to destroy music as an art, and, swept away with wrath, began, very soon after the rise of the curtain, to make cat-calls and to offer audible suggestions as to how the performance should proceed. The orchestra played unheard, except occasionally when a slight lull occurred. The young man seated behind me in the box stood up during the course of the ballet to enable himself to see more clearly. The intense excitement under which he was labouring betrayed itself presently when he began to bea rhythmically on top of my head with his fists. My emotion was so great that I did not feel the blows for some time.'
According to Romola Pulsky (later Nijinsky's wife) who was in the auditorium during the first part of the ballet, 'One beautifully dressed lady in an orchestra box stood up and slapped the face of a young man who was hissing in the next box. Her escort arose, and cards were exchanged between the men.'
Jean Cocteau saw the old Comtesse de Pourtalès stand up in her box with her face aflame and her tiara awry and heard her cry out, as she brandished her fan, 'This is the first time in sixty years that anyone has dared to make fun of me!'
Towards the end of the ballet, just before the beginning of the 'Sacrificial Dance,' as the hitherto motionless figure of the Chosen Victim [a virgin] was seen to be seized by growing paroxysms of trembling, Marie Rambert heard the gallery call out 'Un docteur...un dentiste...deux docteurs...' and so on.
Meanwhile, there was a scene of a great confusion back stage. Diaghilev [whose dancers performed the ballet] kept ordering the electricians to turn the houselights on or off, hoping in that way to quieten the audience. Nijinsky [the choreographer], with Stravinsky behind him, stood on a chair in the wings, beating out the rhythm with his fists and 'shouting numbers to the dancers, like a coxswain.' At the end of the performance everyone was completely exhausted. [1]

From David Cowart's Thomas Pynchon: The Art of Illusion:

"The composer Igor Stravinsky appears in this chapter as Vladimir Porcépic.
"Pynchon also changes the ballet itself, because Stravinsky's subject matter was equally unsuited to his theme of growing Western decadence and its slide into war. Thus the title becomes L'Enlèvement des Vierges Chinoises , perhaps in recognition of Stravinsky's subsequent excursion into a Chinese theme (Le Chant du Rossignol ). The changes in the titles of the ballet's two sections are relatively slight. 'Adoration of the Earth' becomes 'Adoration of the Sun' — 'a tango with cross-rhythms' (p.404) — while 'The Sacrifice' becomes 'The Sacrifice of the Virgins.' In this 'rite'the maternal earth is not to be adored, but rather the masculine sun. And the sacrifice is not a fructification, but the wanton destruction of innocence by barbarism ('Mongolians') — which is what the coming war will be.
"Other changes may have been made simply for consistency's sake. The principals of the original Paris production undergo varying metamorphoses in the transition to the novel. Though not an ex-bartender like Pynchon's character, the famous impresario Serge Diaghilev provides the model for Itague. Nijinsky, who choreographed but did not perform in the original production, becomes Satin. The designer of the costumes and scenery, finally, was a Russion friend of Stravinsky's with the German-sounding name of Roerich: the designer of Pynchon's automata is referred to simply as 'the German.' Pynchon systematically alters even the minor details: the fictional riot takes place at the end of July, rather than May, 1913, and in the Théâtre Vincent Castor, instead of the Théâtre des Champs Elysèes." [2]


  1. White, Eric Walter, Stravinsky – The Composer and His Works, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966, pp. 176-77
  2. Cowart, David, Thomas Pynchon: The Art of Illusion, Southern Illinois University Press, 1980, pp.74-75
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