Thinking back to the first
time I heard The Rite as a
13-year-old, I remember being instantly enchanted and terrified by the
piece. I had heard nothing like it before and it quite simply opened up the
world of twentieth century music to me. And even now, a hundred years on from
the première, its force and violent beauty are a thing of wonder.
1913 certainly was an exciting year for Universal Edition. Two and a half months after Schönberg’s “scandal concert” in Vienna – where the issue was not merely a question of how an audience treated the performers, it was about partisanship at a crossroads of musical history – the world première of Stravinsky’s and Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps took place in Paris on 29 May 1913 and sent shock waves through the European art world. A quick search on the internet is enough to get an overview of some of the devastating reviews that the première received, yet opinions differed: UE composer Gian Francesco Malipiero, who attended the performance, would later remember the experience as an awakening “from a long and dangerous lethargy”.
But it’s not only a temporal proximity that connects these two events: Stravinsky was said to have kept a score of Schönberg’s 3 Piano Pieces, Op 11 – where the last piece is free from any tonal or motivic references – with him at the time he was composing The Rite. Stravinsky in return seems to have been of major importance to Béla Bartók, who wrote his pantomime ballet The Miraculous Mandarin partly as a response to his interest in Stravinsky, admiring the composer’s way of making “these chasing motivic complexes fit into each other by balancing the weight ratios with extreme precision.”
The BBC released an article questioning whether The Rite did actually spark a riot, and the conclusion is drawn that even today, “we cannot be quite sure”. Did The Rite lose its edge in the twenty-first century? What is your opinion?