Le Sacre du Printemps: A Critical Analysis of a Twentieth Century Masterpiece
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Political, social, and cultural revolutions heavily plagued the twentieth century. Particularly, these cultural revolutions struck at the core of a people’s identity, and precipitated significant change. One such cultural, and more specifically artistic revolution, in 1913 has continued to live in infamy. The composition of Igor Stravinsky’s landmark ballet Le Sacre du Printemps, The Rite of Spring, left an indelible mark upon the European musical landscape and, consequently, expanded the realm of musical possibility. The collaboration between Stravinsky as composer, Nijinsky as choreographer, and Roerich as artist engendered a unique work of art, the likes of which had not been attempted before. Yet on the night of its premiere, the Parisian audience at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées hissed in disapproval, resulting in one of the most (in)famous riots in musical history. Interestingly enough, the next few performances of the work were greeted with overwhelming applause and admiration. Contemporary composers of Stravinsky accepted the dramatic change brought about by the ballet’s score, and created more modern compositions utilizing the same degree of compositional freedom expressed in Le Sacre. This investigation seeks to examine the nature of the ballet’s transformation from abhorrence to admiration by considering the numerous inspirational and compositional factors surrounding its creation. In essence, the focus of this investigation is to answer: what was so iconoclastic about the work that the audience in 1913 rioted, but even the next few performances of the work resulted in praise?