A Classical Riot!

One of my favorite stories from music history concerns the audience reaction at the première of Igor Stravinsky‘s ballet Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), which was given in Paris on this day in 1913 by the Ballets Russes. (I mentioned the piece during my May Day Spring Celebration post at the beginning of the month!) There was a primitivism to the music, and to Vaslav Nijinsky‘s choreography as well as the dancers’ costumes, which the audience was not expecting.

The audience members were not shy about expressing their opinions, either, even while the performance was in progress. According to Carl Van Vechten, an American writer who was in attendance, a loud dispute broke out between audience members who immediately disapproved of the work and those who supported it, and the dancers had trouble hearing the orchestra because of all the hubbub in the house!

The best part of Van Vechten’s description is a spontaneous interaction he had with the man seated behind him:

He stood up during the course of the ballet to enable himself to see more clearly. The intense excitement under which he was laboring, thanks to the potent force of the music, betrayed itself presently when he began to beat rhythmically on the top of my head with his fists. My emotion was so great that I did not feel the blows for some time. They were perfectly synchronized with the beat of the music. When I did, I turned around. His apology was sincere. We had both been carried beyond ourselves.” [1]

And you thought classical performances were stolid, boring affairs! 😉

Here’s a recreation of what started all the fuss:


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    [1] Carl Van Vechten, Music After the Great War, (New York: G. Schirmer, 1915), 87-88, excerpted in Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, Piero Weiss and Richard Tarushkin, eds. (New York: Schirmer, 1984), 441-442.

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