Shock Performance in the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris!
‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ (The Rite of Spring) - Igor Stravinsky, 1913
Igor Stravinsky: ‘At the performance mild protests against the music could be heard from the beginning. Then, when the curtain opened, a group of knock-kneed and long- braided Lolitas jumping up and down (Danse des adolescents), the storm broke. Cries of “ta gueule” came from behind me. I left the hall in a rage. (I was sitting on the right near the orchestra, and I remember slamming the door.) I have never again been that angry. The music was so familiar to me’, I loved it and I couldn’t understand why people who had not yet heard it wanted to protest in advance. I arrived backstage in a fury. There I saw Diaghilev switching the house lights on and off in the hope that this might quiet the hall. For the rest of the performance I stood in the wings behind Nijinsky holding the tails of his frac, while he stood on a chair shouting numbers to the dancers, like a coxswain.’
‘I was guided by no system whatever in Le Sacre du Printemps. When I think of the music of the other composers of that time who interest me-Berg’s music, which is synthetic (in the best sense) and Webern’s, which is analytic-how much more theoretical it seems than Le Sacre. And these composers belonged to and supported by a great tradition. Very little immediate tradition lies behind Le Sacre du Printemps, however, and not theory. I had only my ear to help me; I heard and wrote what I heard. I am the vessel through which Le Sacre passed...’
Quoted by Stravinsky some years after the first performance in 1913..
“..that the first performance of Le Sacre du Printemps was attended by a scandal must be known to everybody. I was unprepared for the explosion myself. The reactions of the musicians who came to the orchestra rehearsals betrayed no intimation of it. (Debussy, who might well have been upset by Le Sacre, was, in fact, much more upset by the success of it a year later.) Nor did the stage spectacle seem likely to precipitate a riot. The dancers had been rehearsing for months; they new what they were doing, at least even though what they were doing often had nothing to do with the music. (“ I will count to forty while you play,” Nijinsky would say to me, “and we will see where we come out.” He couldn’t understand that though we might at some point “come out” together, this did not mean we had been together on the way. The dancers followed Nijinsky’s count; he spoke Russian, of course, and as Russian numbers above ten are polysyllabic-eighteen, for example, vosemnadsat-is in the fast tempo movement neither he nor they could keep up.)
Below, Leon Bakst costume designs for the performance, Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ is often seen as a ‘sonic’ version of the 1907 painting of Picasso ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ Right. They both certainly created shocking new forms in both music and painting that ushered in the Twentieth Century.
Both works retain a strong erotic charge.
Artists and designers who worked with Diaghilev on other productions are Bakst, Benois, Braque, Gontcharova, Picasso, Dali, Bilibin, Tchelitchev, and Utrillo.