No other work of 20th C. music has acquired so much mythology as The Rite of Spring. By mythology I mean not only myth in the sense of fiction, but myth in the sense of cultural symbolic significance. Like Picasso's famous "primitive" painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)- the Rite is seen as a watershed, a breaking point with the past, the beginning of the modern era in art with all that this labeling entails.
Historians now know that much of what people have said about the infamous premiere of the work in Paris on the night of May 29, 1913, is glamourous fiction. People certainly rioted and made a ruckus... but why? Stravinsky always promulgated the idea that it was the music- but more than likely it was the bizarre jumping-up-and-down choreography by Nijinsky and the deliberate mixing of classes through Diagilev's seating arrangements of the audience that got the ball rolling.
Whatever the reason... the music STILL shocks and delights the ears. We are lucky that the Joffery Ballet has recreated the original production and that it has been filmed. If you have the time please watch at least some of it. I have also posted a video of the Rite arranged for four-hand piano. This particularly allows the listener to hear the dazzling shift of tempos and rhythms. Incidentally- the dancers HATED the work- not only because the choreography was so unorthodox, but because constant change of key signatures in the music made it almost impossible to stay in step with the music- and with one another.
For a fascinating interview about the costumes listen in on a talk recently given at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. They own hundreds of costumes of the Ballet Russes, the company that premiered The Rite of Spring. It was interesting to hear that the costumes were made of heavy wool and that the performers were drenched in sweat- and pretty dehydrated by the end of the ballet. No wonder they hated it so much!
The Rite of Spring: part 1
The Rite of Spring: part 2
The Rite of Spring: part 3
Excerpt of The Rite of Spring- arranged for 4 hand piano