Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

The Rite of Spring (1913)

Debussy in a letter to Andre Caplet on the date of the first public performance:

‘The Rite of Spring is an extraordinarily savage affair . . . If you like, it’s primitive music with every modern convenience’;

and talking to Ernest Ansermet shortly after the outbreak of war, he said:

“It seems to me that Stravinsky is trying to make music with non-musical means”

Here are the full versions of the first and second sections of the first part called Adoration of the Earth (L’Adoration de la Terre):

1. Introduction:


2. The Augurs of Spring: Dances of the Young Girls (Les Augures Printaniers: Danses des Adolescentes)


And the last movement of the second part called The Exalted Sacrifice (Seconde Partie: Le Sacrifice):

5. Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One) (Danse Sacrale (L’Élue))



Things to Listen For

A. Tonality, Harmony, Melody

Things to consider while you listen:

Can you hear a Cadence of any kind?

Are the chords he uses consonant or dissonant?

Do you get the sense that you are in a major or minor scale? Do the scales used sound familiar?

Is this an example of chromaticism?

B. Instrumentation

The Rite of Spring asks for an unusually large orchestra.

Look for unusual wind instruments you haven’t heard in protagonist roles so far.

What is the size of the percussion section? What further role does percussion serve?

C. Rhythmic Innovations

The key words are syncopation, constant meter changes, ostinati and polyrhythms.

Here’s an example of syncopation and overlaying of ostinati passages:


Here you can actually see the meter changes:

Listen for: unusual accents, layering of ideas, a sense that two different things are going on at the same time.


Finally, here’s Stravinsky himself:

We also talked about exoticism in the case of Debussy, in the case of Stravinsky, the term is usually primitivism. Does this feel ritual? Primitive?

The decadence of Ballet and a New Dancing style? How does this style differ from traditional ballet? costume designs?


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