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Stravinsky Fest

Stravinsky Fest: Ballet Riots

by Seth Colter Walls

Stravinsky Fest: Ballet Riots


With the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky's riot-starting 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring now upon us, there's no better time to do a deep dive into the composer's glorious catalog. And so, every day this week we're offering a new playlist highlighting a different aspect of his enduring genius. Enjoy.

When a ballet company approached a young Igor Stravinsky to write a series of new music pieces suitable for dancing, they probably weren't prepared for what would happen. While The Firebird, in 1910, was vibrant and new-sounding, it was still tied to some of the Russian, late-Romantic gestures of Stravinsky's teachers. The next year, though, the composer came with something even more intense: Petrouchka. Listen to the first two minutes or so of the "First Tableau" to get a sense of how rhythms and folk tunes collided into rhythms and folk tunes, with all of them fighting for dominance (and yet sounding so good together).

The big bang, however, came in 1913, with The Rite of Spring, which infamously started a riot at its Paris premiere. Here, the rhythms are so ever-changing and full of jagged surprise that it's somewhat amusing to think of a traditional ballet company dancing to them (riot or no riot going on in the crowd). Today, top orchestras around the world play The Rite (as well as The Firebird and Petrouchka) as symphonic fodder, pure and simple. In the appended playlist, we've included a New York Philharmonic recording of The Rite , slowed down in places and blaringly loud in others. And we leave it to grand modernist Pierre Boulez to take us through the whole of Petrouchka and the suite arrangement of The Firebird. With the 100th Anniversary of The Rite's riotous premiere, there's no better time to get into Stravinsky.