Rite of Spring

May. 12, 2013
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  The opening passage of The Rite of Spring (La Sacre du Printemps) suggests the parting of morning mist, revealing a clearing in some primeval forest. It’s a calm prelude to a stormy stretch of music, a ballet that triggered the riot between fans and foes captured in the early scenes of Jan Kounen’s film Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (2009). Whether or not the French fashion queen was present, the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s work, written for the Ballet Russes and choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, was an epochal night in music history.

The Sony Classical CD release of Leonard Bernstein’s sterling recording of La Sacre du Printemps with the New York Philharmonic is a reminder of how influential Stravinsky was on the composers who endowed Hollywood movies with music. The Rite of Spring’s slashing fury brings to mind Bernard Herrmann’s unforgettable orchestration of the shower stall murder in Psycho, and the staccato rhythm surely inspired John Williams when he wrote the theme for Jaws. Bernstein’s 1958 recording captures the dangerous discord, the edge-of-seat terror of a ballet whose prima ballerina represents a sacrificial virgin dancing herself to death.

In the new release’s jacket notes, one of classical music’s finest critics, Jonathan Kott, relates Stravinsky’s response to hearing the Bernstein recording when first released: “Wow!”


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