STRAVINSKY, THE RITE OF SPRING, THE REVOLUTION, AND THE MEANING OF IMAGINATION
APRIL 19,2009. I've had numerous requests to reprint this one. In a relatively few words, it tells the story of imagination unleashed and what that revolution is all about, at its core.
On May 29, 1913, in the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, a riot broke out.
After the curtain went up on the premiere of The Rite of Spring, it took only a few minutes for the tumult to begin.
Boos, hisses, catcalls, people throwing objects at the stage... The roar of the crowd quickly became so loud, the dancers lost their cues.
The music was a whisper, a pounding scream, sheets of brass sound. Cliffs colliding and collapsing in the air.
The police arrived and shut the program down.
Stravinsky, at 28, had arrived on the world scene.
Forget that never again would he compose music so challenging, or that later in his life, after he had taken up a position as a champion of new classicism, he would conduct a recording of Rite that was modulated to a bare shadow of its former self.
The revolution had happened.
Much has been written about the premiere and Rite. A great deal of programmatic explanation has been offered to "make sense" out of the piece of music: after all, it was a ballet with a plot, and the themes had to do with primitive ritual sacrifices in a fanciful pagan world.
This is called watering down the effect. It has been done by linking the music to a tale/myth. The tale, when told is, of course, much more sober and distant.
You can also find scholarly work on the structure of the Rite, indicating a possible borrowed background of several Eastern European folk melodies.
I bring this up because such works are often diluted by referring the audience to "other examples" and periods of time and influences---to explain the incomprehensible.
But the fact is, to absorb a work of imagination, one has to use his own imagination.
Since this is considered unlikely, pundits earnestly help us with step-down contexts, so we can understand the work in pedestrian terms. In other words, so we can reduce it to nothing.
However, the music itself resists such translations. It immediately and finally presents itself as a universe apart from easy references and tie-ins and links.
So when you listen to Rite, you are, gratefully, alone with it. In this regard, I recommend one recording. The 1958 Leonard Bernstein-New York Philharmonic, available as Sony SMK 47629. It's the 1992 Bernstein Royal Edition. Le Sacre Du Printemps.
In 1912 and 1913, Stravinsky had composed Rite in a reckless frame of mind. This did not mean he abandoned all he knew; it meant he wanted to show everyone how dim the perception of music had become. "To hell with all of them."
He took the large orchestra and shredded the conventional relationships between its various sections. Instead, he made it an ocean in a storm. He crossed all lines.
He made something new, something no one could have predicted.
As you listen to it, you may find one part of your mind repeating, this is not music, this is not music. It doesn't matter. Just keep listening. Five times, 50 times, 100 times.
There are artists like Stravinsky, like the Spanish architect Gaudi, like Edgar Varese, like the often-reviled American writer Henry Miller, like Walt Whitman (grotesquely co-opted into a Norman Rockwell-like prefect), like the several great Mexican muralists---all of whom transmit an oceanic quality.
As in, The Flood.
There is a fear that, if such artists were unleashed to produce their work on a grand scale---and if the societal chains of perception were removed---they would take over the world.
This is the real reason there was a riot at the Theatre des Champs Elysees on May 29, 1913. Even though Stravinsky was presenting a universe of his own making, people instinctively felt the music could spill over into the streets of Paris...and after that, where would it go? What would stop it?
Their fear was justified.
When the artist creates a separate and new world, a crossover occurs.
A most natural crossover.
Our world, contrary to all consensus, is meant to be revolutionized by art, by imagination, right down to its core.
That this has not happened for the best is no sign that the process is irrelevant. It is only a testament to the collective resistance.
Who knows how many such revolutions have been shunted aside and rejected, in favor of the shapes and symmetries we now think of as central and eternal?
We are living in a default structure, the one that has been left over after all the prior revolutions have been put to sleep.
We peek between the ancient,fluted, classical columns (our reference point) to see what the future might hold. We speculate, for example, that information itself might be alive and might flow in from our own DNA to bring about a new cyber-brain step in evolution. Information? What further evidence do we need that our society is heading down a slope to the swamp?
If Rite of Spring and other works of that magnitude are information, a wooden duck on a doily is Shakespeare.
From the point of view of art, mere information is the wood scrapings and the stone chips Brancusi swept up in his studio and put out in the alley. Information is the dried flattened tubes of paint Matisse disposed of with the old newspapers. Information is the heap of wires Tesla tossed in the garbage.
Information is the neutral boil-down left over after the artist has made his mark.
Creation is not neutral.
It flows out into the atmosphere with all its subjective force.
That is what happened on May 29, 1913.
And that is what evoked the mass fear.
JON RAPPOPORT www.nomorefakenews.com
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