Monday, December 7, 2015

BUCKET LIST UPDATE No. 246: Listen to Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”

Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” is one of the world’s most famous and influential works of classical music, and while I’ve known about it for years, I couldn’t honestly say that I’d ever listened to it from start to finish. For this reason, I added it to my “bucket list” a couple of years ago, and I finally took the time to listen to the entire thing on Sunday night. I was not disappointed.

For those of you unfamiliar with “The Rite of Spring,” it’s a musical work for an orchestra and ballet composed by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who was just 30 years old when “The Rite” premiered at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on May 29, 1913. In all, the work is about 35 minutes long.

One reason that I was curious about listening to the complete “Rite of Spring” was because it is supposedly so intense that it actually sparked a riot during its premiere. The work was so unlike what most music lovers of the time were accustomed to that it caused an uproar in the theater. Others claim that the pulsating, primal rhythms of the piece sparked the crowd to violence.

When I got ready to listen to the whole thing for myself, I just went to YouTube and typed in “Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.” This took me to a video of a performance that I highly recommend. Published in July 2013 to mark the 100th anniversary of “The Rite of Spring,” it’s a BBC broadcast of conductor François-Xavier Roth directing the Les Siècles orchestra in a performance that used instruments from the period in which “The Rite” was originally performed. Not only will you see expected instruments like violins, flutes and clarinets, but I also noticed stiff-bristled brushes, tiny cymbals and other instruments so unusual that I’m not even really sure what to call them.

I highly recommend that you watch an orchestral performance of this work for yourself rather than just listening to a recording of the work without video. In the YouTube video mentioned above, you can see the intensity of the musicians and the conductor as he pours with sweat during the performance. You also get a good idea for the complexity and difficulty of the overall work. If you’d like to watch it for yourself, here’s the link:

I really enjoyed watching this video and taking the time to listen to “The Rite of Spring” from start to finish. Having now seen and listened to the entire thing, I can appreciate why it’s so highly regarded and why it is considered so influential. I was also left with the desire to watch the YouTube video all over again, the same feeling that I sometimes get when I watch a really, really good movie. When you consider that I’m talking about a century-old work of classical music, that’s saying a lot.

In the end, how many of you have listened to “The Rite of Spring” from start to finish? How many of you have seen a live performance of this musical work? Let us know in the comments section below.

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