Stravinsky – Rite of Spring premiere on YouTube

Okay, not the actual premiere, but the BBC dramatisation that was shown earlier this year. Alex Ross has spotted four videos on YouTube (1, 2, 3, 4) covering the complete first performance. As you’d expect from the BBC it’s pretty authentic stuff – Nijinsky playing with the house lights, cues and beats being shouted from the wings to dancers who could no longer hear the music over the catcalls, the costumes, etc. I don’t know how much of the dialogue is authentic, informed guesswork (‘go back to Russia’, ‘long live Lenin’), or pure fantasy. Some of it is, unfortunately, clunky BBC sitcom writing. But the thing as a whole is an incredibly powerful experience. As an artistic triumph over adversity it’s second to none, and with the benefit of hindsight and plenty of judicious editing the audience interventions and disruptions only add to the power of the music and the ballet (in which the travails of the dancers and the characters they perform are shown as closely intertwined). Another interesting observation is that in this dramatisation (and again I don’t how authentic this can claim to be) it is the women who enjoy it more – almost all of them shown like it, whereas male opinion is fiercely divided.

Anyway, it’s well worth half an hour of your time to watch this.


7 thoughts on “Stravinsky – Rite of Spring premiere on YouTube

  1. perhaps some digigent soul could start compiling a page of Classical Videos from youTube and Google Video. There are certainly some gems out there, and the ability to play a video direct from you’re page could make it a onestop shop.

    An opening for some some visionary. (pardon the pun)

  2. thank you for this! Great stuff. You’re right about the dialogue, I think, most doubtful they’d have shouted ‘she should see a psychiatrist!’ back in 1913, but even so it’s a powerful recreation of a legendary performance and terrific music. Wow. Don’t you wish you’d been there.

  3. I remember seeing this on TV last year. I remember they put the genius firmly with Nijinksky, Stravinsky was portrayed as something of a baffoon, and certainly more of a hunchback than he was (photos show him to be a small, but not entirely inelegant man).

    Interestingly, Steven Walsh says in his Grove article:
    “The riot which attended the première has been much chronicled. It was a typically Parisian affair, targeted as much at Nizhinsky (whose choreography of Debussy’s Jeux two weeks earlier had been disliked) and even at the theatre’s manager, Gabriel Astruc, as at the music, which in fact was largely inaudible. The open, cinema-like design of the new theatre tended to encourage a certain social fractiousness, as perhaps did the hot weather and the presence of a less-than-committed touristic element in the audience. The open dress rehearsal the previous day had passed off without incident before an audience that was actually more typical for the Ballets Russes: a mixture of society – le tout Paris – and seriously interested musicians, balletomanes, artists and literati.”

    There are so many myths surrounding the Rite; Saint-Saens’ alleged storming-out after the bassoon solo; Stravinsky’s subsequent claims about the intuitive nature of the music (‘I am the vessel through which the Rite passed’); the standard of the orchestral performance etc. We know for certain that the composition was not as intuitive as Stravinsky claimed, given the large amount of Lituanian folk material in the score; and it’s likely that the performance was pretty shambolic, but as Walsh notes, it was probably drowned out. As for Saint-Saens – I don’t think we’ll ever find out.

    I don’t think the BBC drama did very much to dispel any of these myths; if anything it only helped to give the piece even more notoriety; I’m not sure whether this notoriety is deserved or not.

    That said, the re-enacted performance is pretty interesting – there happens to be another one on the tube without any of the audience in it, the Joffrey Ballet from 1987. I think the choreography is pretty revealing, certainly puts the work in its correct context: an accompaniment to dance. [1] [2] [3]


  4. I second the doubt. I believe this has become more legend than fact. Partially due to society’s constant need to make fantasy from the past, and partially from Stravinsky himself painting an image of his “trials and tribulations” for a sympathetic ear (as if he needed one!).

    I’m not sure of the BBC’s research on this but it looks as though they took into account the rumors as much as the music. At any rate, it makes for great TV.

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