* The Rite of Spring - Igor Stravinsky

The Rite of Spring

Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, premiered in May of 1913 in Paris, created a riot and ushered in a new musical language.  As a major turning point in 20th century classical music, this piece should be a staple in the education of all classical musicians.  For aspiring composers, in-depth knowledge of The Rite of Spring is essential.


Original 1913 set design for Part I: Adoration of the Earth.  The set designer was Nicholas Roerich.

The Rite is divided into two parts with the following scenes.  There are many different English translations of the original titles; the ones given are Stravinsky's preferred wording followed by the original French in parentheses:

First Part: Adoration of the Earth (Première Partie: L'adoration de la Terre)
  • Introduction
  • The Augurs of Spring: Dances of the Young Girls (Les Augures Printaniers: Danses des Adolescentes)
  • Ritual of Abduction (Jeu du Rapt)
  • Spring Rounds (Rondes Printanières)
  • Games of the Two Rival Tribes (Jeux des Cités Rivales)
  • Procession of the Oldest and Wisest One [the Sage] (Cortège du Sage)
  • The Kiss of the Earth (The Oldest and Wisest One) [(The Sage)] (Adoration de la Terre (Le Sage))
  • The Dancing Out of the Earth, OR The Dance Overcoming the Earth (Danse de la Terre)

Second Part: The Exalted Sacrifice (Seconde Partie: Le Sacrifice)

  • Introduction
  • Mystic Circle of the Young Girls (Cercles Mystérieux des Adolescentes)
  • The Naming and Honoring of the Chosen One (Glorification de l'Élue)
  • Evocation of the Ancestors OR Ancestral Spirits (Evocation des Ancêtres)
  • Ritual Action of the Ancestors (Action Rituelle des Ancêtres)
  • Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One) (Danse Sacrale (L'Élue))

Though the melodies draw upon folk-like themes designed to evoke the feeling of songs passed down from ancient time, the only tune Stravinsky acknowledged to be directly drawn from previously existing folk melody is the opening, first heard played by the solo bassoon. 

Recent scholars have discovered that quite a few of the melodies came from Russian folk tunes.  Stravinsky did not acknowledge this "borrowing" in later times, since he was distancing himself from his country which was torn by revolution.

The Rite of Spring is scored for an unusually large orchestra consisting of the following:

Stravinsky scored the instruments of the orchestra in unusual sounding registers in The Rite of Spring, often emulating the strained sounds of untrained village voices. An instance of this is heard in the very opening bassoon solo which reaches the highest notes of the instrument's range. The composer also called for instruments that, before The Rite of Spring, had rarely been scored for in orchestral music, including the alto flute, piccolo trumpet, bass trumpet, Wagner tuba, and güiro. The use of these instruments, combined with the aforementioned manipulation of instrumental registers, gave the piece a distinctive sound.

Stravinsky's music is harmonically adventurous, with prominent use of dissonance for the purposes of color and musical energy. Rhythmically,  it is similarly adventurous, a number of sections having constantly changing time signatures and off-beat accents. Stravinsky used asymmetrical rhythms, percussive dissonance, polyrhythms, polytonality, layering of ostinati (persistently repeated ideas) and melodic fragments to create complex webs of interactive lines. An example of primitivism can be seen below (from the opening of the final section, the "Sacrificial Dance"):

Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, "Sacrificial Dance" About this sound Play

Here is a spectacular performance by the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.   The performance is divided into four videos.  The total performance time is around 34 minutes.  This performance is particularly valuable with its closeups of different instruments and a choreography of filming that is almost a ballet of the orchestra!

Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) MTT/SFS Part 1 of 4

Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) MTT/SFS Part 2 of 4

Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) MTT/SFS Part 3 of 4

Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) MTT/SFS Part 4 of 4

Here is another performance that is all in one video.  Instead of shots of the orchestra, the video is composed of a few still photos.  This one is best to listen to without watching.  Performance time:  33' 17"

And finally, no listening page for The Rite of Spring would be complete without this masterpiece:

Fantasia 1940 - The Rite of Spring - Part 1: Genesis

Fantasia 1940 - The Rite of Spring - Part 2: Evolution

Fantasia 1940 - The Rite of Spring - Part 3: Extinction

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