Stravinsky's Rite of Spring -- Conservatory Orchestra -- Christopher Rountree, Conductor




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Published on May 28, 2013

Le Sacre du printemps (1913) -- Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Part I: L'Adoration de la terre (Adoration of the Earth)

Les Augures printaniers (Augers of Spring)
Jeu du rapt (Ritual of Abduction)
Rondes printanières (Spring Rounds)
Jeux des cités rivales (Ritual of the Rival Tribes)
Cortège du sage: Le Sage (Procession of the Sage: The Sage)
Danse de la terre (Dance of the Earth)
Part II: Le Sacrifice (The Sacrifice)

Cercles mystérieux des adolescents (Mystic Circles of the Young Girls)
Glorification de l'élue (Glorification of the Chosen One)
Evocation des ancêtres (Evocation of the Ancestors)
Action rituelle des ancêtres (Ritual Action of the Ancestors)
Danse sacrale (L'élue) (Sacrificial Dance)

Stravinsky -- Le Sacre du printemps
When Sergei Diaghilev, director and impresario of the Ballets Russes, first approached Igor Stravinsky to write for his ballet company, the composer was in his late twenties and virtually unknown. Following the immense success of Stravinsky's first two ballets, the Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911), The Rite of Spring premiered in May of 1913, and was infamously greeted by the Parisian public with a near-riot. The work violated ballet tradition in the eyes of many. Nevertheless, the Rite of Spring had immense success as a concert work in both Moscow and Paris in 1914, and became one of the twentieth century's most popular orchestral works.

The Rite does not tell a story in a linear sense, but portrays a ritual onstage, depicting the primitive spirit by way of a pagan ceremony in prehistoric Russia. Stravinsky worked with Nikolai Roerich, an expert on ancient Slavic peoples, on the sets and costumes for the production. Vaclav Nijinsky, widely considered the greatest male dancer of the twentieth century, choreographed the ballet. Roerich drew on the designs of Russian peasants; Nijinksy invented intentionally awkward movements for his dancers; Stravinsky created a dissonant, anti-Romantic compositional language. The result was a production set in the past yet outside of history, a pulsing portrait of an ancient pagan ceremony greeting the spring.

In the introduction, the sounds of the earth awakening from winter sleep are projected by orchestral rustlings. "Adoration of the Earth" portrays a celebration of pipe players and fortune-tellers. A series of dances ensues ("Ritual of Abduction" and "Spring Rounds") before the entrance of the wise elders and the Sage who halts the celebrations to bless the earth. Part I concludes with the "Dance of the Earth." Part II, "The Sacrifice," begins with games between young girls that lead to the selection of "The Chosen One." The girls dance to summon the ancestors ("Evocation of the Ancestors") and the chosen one is presented to the old wise men. The ballet concludes with the "Sacrificial Dance," the scene depicting the chosen one dancing to her death in the presence of the wise ones.

Stravinsky projects the primitive tone of the ballet through a musical texture built of stripped down cells that tend to be simple and familiar structures. These cells are layered, repeated, interrupted and alternated to produce effects of intense brutality, beauty and complexity. The Rite of Spring is the ultimate craft of the juxtaposed planes.

A good example of this can be found in "The Augurs of Spring" where the superimposition of a dominant seventh chord and a major triad one half step above creates the persistently dissonant chord that defines the harmonic color of the whole movement. Our notions of dissonance are challenged by the establishment of a sonority that in the new context becomes a harmonic center. Furthermore, here Stravinsky uses unpredictably changing meters and abrupt accents to reduce rhythm to its most primitive element: pulse.

Juxtaposed elements can also be found in "Dance of the Earth" where an ostinato in whole tones is complemented by octatonic-based melodic material and where C Major diatonic constructions work as chordal pulsations.

The primitive qualities of the cells themselves can be interpreted as a source of original creation, the creation of nature and its powers. The simplest atomic particles can develop into the most complex structures and organisms. -- Notes by Eric Sandoval and
Nahuel Bronzini

Christopher Rountree conductor -- Twenty-nine year old conductor Christopher Rountree founded the Los Angeles modern music collective wild Up in 2010. . He has conducted orchestras around the U.S. and Europe, including the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonie in the Czech Republic, the Medomak Festival Orchestra in Maine and the Rose City Chamber Orchestra in Portland, Oregon.

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    • The MET Orchestra, James Levine
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    • UMG (on behalf of Deutsche Grammophon (DG))


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