Mar 10, 2015
High school music students, like those in any other discipline, come up with some pretty funny answers to test questions from time to time. One of my personal favorites was the answer given to: “Name Igor Stravinsky’s most famous composition.” A student, giving it his best shot, wrote: “It’s Right for Spring” referring to the composer’s ballet score Le Sacre du Printemps – The Rite of Spring!
Spring has been on my mind a lot lately, owing to the fact that this winter has been so brutal and seemingly unending. Is it any wonder that our prehistoric ancestors felt the need to do something special to celebrate the return of spring, edible plants and game animals to hunt? The only problem with these celebrations, or rites, was that they usually involved the sacrifice of human beings – not to mention other living creatures – to make certain that “the gods” were pleased, satisfied, duly acknowledged or whatever.
One might hope that, as a species, we have spiritually evolved beyond the need for human sacrifices, but daily news broadcasts from around the world inform us otherwise. . .which is another discussion.
Stravinsky’s score, premiered in May of 1913, caused a near riot at the TheÌ¢tre des Champs-Ìälysees in Paris – and the music is still shocking to many first-time listeners 102 years after the fact. Stravinsky’s sounds certainly provide us with a peek into the darker, terrified side of the human personality.
It may seem like a contradiction to my hope expressed above that we have evolved beyond our primitive instincts, but I must say that I find this music incredibly moving. So perhaps I should revise my hope to say that I wish all of us could make use of an artistic expression such as this to purge ourselves of our violent, frightened feelings – see them for what they are – and release them so that we need not act out on them physically or emotionally.
The ballet, with titled sections such as Augurs of Spring, Ritual Abduction, Dance of the Earth, Mystic Circles of the Young Girls, Evocation of the Ancestors and Sacrificial Dance, was originally choreographed by the great Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. The story is not difficult to follow. . .ancient Russian tribal people sacrifice a young girl to ritually celebrate the arrival of spring. In this case the victim must dance herself to death. This is, after all, a ballet.
Thanks to internet technology, we can all now watch a production featuring the original choreography and costume designs – that so shocked Parisian society in 1913 – as performed by the orchestra and ballet company of the Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg, under the direction of Valerie Gergiev. I invite you to take 40 minutes of your time, turn up the volume on you ear buds, set your computer to full screen and experience your own cathartic rite of spring! It won’t be April in Paris, but it just might be a very meaningful experience.