STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring / Card Game
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Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971)
The Rite of Spring / Le sacre du printemps
Card Game / Jeu de cartes (Ballet in Three Deals)
Concerto in D Major
Igor Stravinsky was the son of a distinguished bass soloist at the MariinskyTheatre in St. Petersburg, creator of important roles in new operas byTchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. He was born, the third of four sons, atOranienbaum on the Gulf of Finland in the summer of 1882. In childhood hisability in music did not seem exceptional, but he was able to study musicprivately with Rimsky- Korsakov, who became a particularly important influenceafter the death of the composer's imperious father in 1902. He completed adegree in law in 1905, married in the following year and increasingly devotedhimself to music. His first significant success came when the impresarioDyagilev, a distant relative on his mother's side of the family, commissionedfrom him the ballet The Firebird, first performed in Paris in 1910. Thiswas followed by the very Russian Petrushka in 1911 for the Dyagilev BalletsRusses, with which he was now closely associated, leading in 1913 to thenotorious first performance of The Rite of Spring, first staged, like thepreceding ballets, in Paris. Although collaboration with Dyagilev was limitedduring the war, when Stravinsky lived principally in Switzerland, it was resumedwith the ballet PulcineIla, based on music attributed to Pergolesi, andmarking Stravinsky's association with neo-classicism. The end of the associationwith Dyagilev was marked by what the impresario considered a macabre present,the Cocteau collaboration Oedipus Rex.
Stravinsky has been compared to his near contemporary Picasso, the painterwho provided decor for PulcineIla and who through a long career was toshow mastery of a number of contrasting styles. Stravinsky's earlier music wasessentially Russian in inspiration, followed by a style of composition derivedlargely from the 18th century, interspersed with musical excursions in otherdirections. His so-called neo-classicism coincided with the beginning of acareer that was now international. The initial enthusiasm for the Russianrevolution of 1917 that had led even Dyagilev to replace crown and sceptre in TheFirebird with a red flag, was soon succeeded by distaste for the new regimeand the decision not to return to Russia.
In 1939, with war imminent in Europe, Stravinsky moved to the United States,where he had already enjoyed considerable success. The death of his first wifeallowed him to marry a woman with whom he had enjoyed a long earlier associationand the couple settled in Hollywood, where the climate seemed congenial. Incomefrom his compositions was at last safeguarded by his association with Boosey andHawkes in 1945, the year of his naturalisation as an American citizen. The year1951 saw the completion and first performance of the English opera The Rake'sProgress, based on Hogarth engravings with a libretto by W. H. Auden andChester Kallman, a work that came at the final height of the composer'sneo-classicism. The last period of his life brought a change to serialism, thetechnique of composition developed by Arnold Schoenberg, a fellow-exile inCalifornia, with whom he had never chosen to associate. In 1962 he made atriumphant return to Russia for a series of concerts in celebration of his 80thbirthday. Among his final compositions are the Requiem Canticles of1965-6 which follow his Requiem Introitus for the death of the poet T. S.
Eliot, but prefigure his own death, which took place in New York in April, 1971.
He was buried in the cemetery on the island of San Michele in Venice, his gravenear that of Dyagilev, whose percipience had launched his career sixty yearsbefore.
The Rite of Spring, with choreography by Nijinsky was first staged at theTheatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris in May, 1913. The work had already causedconsiderable trouble in Dyagilev's ballet company. Nijinsky, the principal maledancer, in 1912 began to replace Fokin as choreographer, and with The Rite ofSpring he tackled a formidable task, to provide a new kind of dance for aplot of primitive symbolism and energy, coupled with music of a very new kind.
Stravinsky alleged a degree of musical incompetence in Nijinsky, who needed, heonce claimed, to be taught the rudiments of the subject. Nevertheless the dancerwas able to match the music with something equally original and startling.
Neither music nor choreography proved in any way acceptable to the generalpublic on the occasion of the first performance, although all had gone wellenough in a preview before an invited audience of cognoscenti. At the firstpublic performance there was an uproar, as members of the audience took sidesfor or against the piece. In spite of deafening and violent objections frommany, the dancers and musicians continued to the end, although the music wasinaudible. The result was, at least, a succes de scandale. In later years themusic of the ballet was to exercise a strong influence over the course oftwentieth century music, although Nijinsky's original choreography proved lessdurable.
Drawing on pagan Russia as its source of inspiration, The Rite of Spring openswith the Adoration of the Earth, the introduction to which is marked bythe evocative bassoon solo with which it starts and finishes, leading without abreak to the forceful rhythm of the Augurs of Spring, Dances of the YoungGirls (us augures printaniers: Danses des adolescentes). The Ritual ofAbduction (Jeu du rapt) follows, with two groups of girls, dressed in red,pursued in a simulated ritual of abduction, by the young men. The SpringRounds (Rondes printani?¿res) are introduced by trills on flutes, with asimple Russian clarinet melody, the dancers moving in circles. Now the Ritualof the Two Rival Tribes begins (Jeux des cites rivales), interruptedby the Procession of the Sage (Cortege du sage), as the tribal elderslead in their wise old high priest. He lies prone on the ground, in adoration ofthe earth (Adoration de la terre), after which the people celebrate withthe Dance of the Earth (Danse de la terre).
The second part of The Rite of Spring is The Sacrifice (Lesacrifice). The mysterious introduction evokes a twilight scene, desolate,and yet inhabited by strange and primitive creatures. A dark hill-top is markedby sacred stones and totems. From the Mystic Circles of Young Girls (Cerclesmysterieux des adolescentes) one will be chosen as sacrificial victim, asthey circle in rhythmic motion, watched by the tribal elders. Once the victim ischosen, lost in an ecstatic trance, her role is glorified in TheGlorification of the Chosen One (Glorification de l'elue), a dance offierce asymmetrical rhythms. Fanfares herald the Evocation of the Ancestors(Evocation des anctres), and the elders, wearing animal-skins, celebrate theRitual Action of the Ancestors (Action rituelle des anc?¬tres), movingforward to the stark and exotic rhythms of the final Sacrificial Dance (Dansesacrale), as the victim joins in a ritual that must end in her own death.
The ballet Jeu de cartes belongs to another world. Completed in 1937,with libretto and music by Stravinsky, this choreographic Card Game in ThreeDeals was commissioned for Lincoln Kirstein's American Ballet, withchoreography by Balanchine, who explains the aim of the piece - to show that thehighest cards, kings, queens and jacks, the most important peop