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The Intersection of Science, Art, Music & Humanities

Stravinsky's Rite of Spring

Sunday, March 25, 2018

According to a 2011 PBS “Keeping Score” special, “You never know when or where social, political or artistic revolutions will start.  Often, these artistic revolutions in taste—seem to predict other changes in society.

That’s exactly the case with Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 ballet score titled, The Rite of Spring. With it, Stravinsky took himself far into the realm of the unconscious, driven by pure gut feeling and the perfect balance of tonal and atonal music.

The controversial Russian influenced ballet music was composed for the dancers to recreate ancient times of huge untouched landscape, within which a few tribal people gathered every spring to celebrate awaking sexuality, and their relationship to the earth.

The rawness and rhythmic elements made this piece stand apart from anything written before. It would not be nearly as shocking in 2018 as it was at the 1913 premiere. However, more than 100 years later, it still has an edgy, intense, brutal, and almost out-of-control feeling that makes it both as exhilarating and liberating as music and spring can be.

Many reviews of the 1913 opening night suggest that the music and dance of The Rite of Spring seemed to deny human feelings, which for most people is what gives art its meaning. Although, it's reported that the famous poet T.S. Eliot, realized that what made the music of the Rite original was its puzzling combination of the primitive and the modern. He is quoted as saying, “Stravinsky’s music seemed to transform the rhythm of the dance into the scream of the motor horn, the rattle of machinery, the grind of wheels, the beating of iron and steel, the roar of the underground railway, and the other barbaric cries of modern life, and to transform these despairing noises into music.”

Others suggested that its primitivism was disturbing, and that there was something profoundly sightless about this music. Perhaps it represented a sign of disquiet; that too familiar feeling that the world has lost its moorings, and that barbarism is loose in the streets. Given that the First World War would soon break out, those feeling weren't too far off the mark.

In keeping with the ongoing US celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100 birth year, today’s Sunday Morning Stop at the Intersection of Science, Art, Music and Humanities features a1967 video of Lenny conducting a brilliant London Symphony performance of Rite of Spring. 

He gives 100 percent to this amazing performance and you can see musical intoxication in his eyes at the end. It’s considered one of his masterpieces. 


Enjoy and have a lovely Sunday.

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff.