I took this from a newspaper article in the telegraph.

It is often said that The Rite of Spring are what caused the outrage, but pulsating rhythms at least have an appeal at a visceral level (an appeal certainly felt at the Rite’s premiere, where according to one eye witness one excited onlooker beat out the rhythms on the bald pate of the man in front). It’s more likely that the audience was appalled and disbelieving at the level of dissonance, which seemed to many like sheer perversity. “The music always goes to the note next to the one you expect,” wrote one exasperated critic.

It is also mentioned in this radiolab podcast called Musical Language.

They start talking about the Rites of Spring at around the 30th minute. Here is what they say

...... literally that's what the story of the play is. It's a pagan ritual, in the end in which the virgin gets massacred. ....... it's one of the most difficult sounds you have ever heard. It is the stereotype of dissonance. It hurts you..... well, after three minutes they rioted.... they screamed,there was blood,.... and the question is why ? .....Why did they riot ?...

My questions:

Q1. Is there evidence to support the claim that there was a riot ?

Scopes Monkey Choir says that there is no evidence.

A few days after recording we got our hands on the two supplemental volumes of Truman Campbell Bullard’s dissertation The first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps. These contain every written word about the Rite in 1913 from France and the UK: newspaper articles, magazines, reviews, books, everything he could find.

We looked through it all. There is not one mention of a riot, anywhere. There is not one mention of a fistfight. Or a brawl. Or people being whacked by canes. Nothing.

They claimed they read it. I have to take their word for it. Where can I find a copy ? Are there other such dissertation, papers, etc., ?

The New York Times reported the sensational Rite premiere, nine days after the event (source: wiki) (read the edit)

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Q2. If there was a riot, is there any evidence to support that it was because of the reasons stated in the telegraph article and the radiolab podcast ? Or it was just some misunderstanding not related to the play ?

I am not asking here for studies that show how music can induce extremely strong emotions in people (even Michael Jackson concerts do that) but rather is the Rite of Spring one such example.

EDIT: Here is the full New York Times article on the premiere (source: Scopes Monkey Choir)

"The Consecration of Spring" was recieved with a storm of hissing. The manager, M.Astruc, however, has devised a novel method for silencing a demonstration. When hisses are mingled with counter-cheer, as they were the other night, M. Astruc oders the lights turned up. Instantly the booing and hissing stop. Well-known people who are hostile to the ballet do not desire to appear in an undignified role.

Igor Stravinsky, who wrote the music of "The Consecration of Spring." says that the demonstrations are a bitter blow to the amour propre of the Russian ballet dancers, who are sensitive to such displays of feeling and fear they may be unable to continue the performances of the piece.

No mention of a riot

Worth mentioning: The programme for 29 May 1913 also included Les Sylphides, Weber's Le Spectre de la Rose and Borodin's Polovtsian Dances.

Source(as mentioned in Wikipedia): Kelly, Thomas Forrest (2000). First Nights: Five Musical Premieres. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Though I couldn't find a source that is availaible online (a poster, newspaper articles, etc... from that time).

Scopes Monkey Choir claims that "....the Rite was the first half of the program. The second half was another ballet, which the audience stayed for and by all accounts thoroughly enjoyed."

I am having a hard time finding these accounts.

Motivation to ask this question: It is widely considered to be the most influential musical works of the 20th Century and I just want to debunk some of the mythology surrounding it.

UPDATE: Scopes Monkey Choir were kind enough to reply to my query. I'll investigate the statements made in the email myself. I hope it provides anyone, who is looking into this matter, a guideline to follow.

From the email:

A link to their initial podcast episode page. It has further references to their conclusions. (In the podcast, they start talking about it at the 8th minute)

...... Builliard's dissertation, is in my opinion the best primary source. We found the second volume (with all the newspaper/magazine clippings about the Rite from 1913-14) at the NYU library. Many of our claims come from reading through this collection, including our mention of the 2nd half of the program at the concert which continued undisturbed.

Reading every word written about the piece from right after the premiere, I can't over-stress how obvious it is that there wasn't a riot. There is not a single mention of fights, blood, fires, or any of the other fanciful elements that the myth is often embellished with. Perhaps if, at that time, there was stringent policing of the press in France, one could make an argument that details were suppressed; but to my knowledge there is no reason to believe such restrictions existed.

To reiterate some key points that (almost) never get mentioned when people pass along the myth:

  1. Paris was already mad at the choreographer, Najinsky, for a piece of his that had bombed two weeks earlier.
  2. The Rite is, these days, presented as a piece of music. But it was a ballet when it premiered, and in our readings it seemed people were more shocked at the dancing than the music.

If anyone wants to dive in deeper than we did, here's the angle we didn't follow up on: We saw several claims that Stravinsky himself started the "riot" stories when, after WWI, his reputation was flowering into super stardom. The implication was that, like many stars, he wasn't just plying his craft but was also embellishing his own legend. I have no reason to doubt this, but as I say we did not do the research to confirm these claims.

  • I am really busy, so I am not sure I'll manage to write an answer even in a month's time. I hope somebody else does. I also hope that people, after reading this question, are a little more skeptical of the claim. Jul 23, 2014 at 17:22
  • Also mentioned in Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac, in an episode about Stravinsky. Sep 21, 2017 at 22:38
  • Anybody interested in what Jennifer Homans has to say? She claims there was a riot which was deliberately set up by Diaghilev who managed to double ticket prices. Sep 22, 2017 at 17:18

2 Answers 2


A riot in the modern sense of a violent disturbance of the peace by the crowd, no. However, with that said, it is important to remember that the meaning of words do change with time. If we look at the aforementioned Oxford English Dictionary we note the following:

1.3 archaic Uncontrolled revelry; rowdy behavior.

Going back to the 1913 edition we can find the following entry for 'riot':

  1. Wanton or unrestrained behavior; uproar; tumult.

    His headstrong riot hath no curb. Shak.

  2. Excessive and exxpensive[sic] feasting; wild and loose festivity; revelry.

    Venus loveth riot and dispense. Chaucer. The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to- day. Pope.

  3. The tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by an unlawful assembly of three or more persons in the execution of some private object.

    To run riot, to act wantonly or without restraint.

The word riot itself also appears to have an interesting history, again noted by the Oxford English Dictionary,

Riot has been in use in English since the beginning of the 13th century, with the initial meaning of contrariness, and went on to mean the pursuit of an extravagant lifestyle. It wasn’t until the end of the fourteenth century that it took on the meaning of ‘disturbance or civil unrest caused by a crowd’. This sense has stayed with us ever since (possibly because riots themselves have never really gone away), and also given rise to a number of related, riotous words.

There doesn't appear to be any debate that there was rowdy behavior at the premiere of the show as it is well documented on Wikipedia and the full version of the 1913 New York Times article which notes the following:

"The Consecration of Spring" was received with a storm of hissing. The manager M. Astrue however, was devised a novel method of silencing a demonstration. When hisses are mingled with counter-cheers, as they were the other night. M. Astruc orders the lights turned up. Instantly the bowing and hissing stop. Well-known people who are hostile to the ballet do not desire to appear in an undignified role.

In short, while there is no evidence to support a riot in the modern sense of the term; however, as the word was understood at the time, the rowdy behavior of audiences very well could have been called a "riot."

  • Interesting, I never thought about how the meaning of words change over time. Will keep in mind, when doing research. In the case of riot, I don't think rowdy behavior would be called a riot... I will look up other newspaper articles from around that time and see how the word riot is being used. Thanks ! Jul 25, 2014 at 14:19
  • @PandaBear For dictionaries the order of the listings is a hint to the popular usage of a term but the English language is quite mutable once you start looking at history which makes for some interesting reading if you go back to original sources.
    – rjzii
    Jul 25, 2014 at 14:26
  • I am going to the library tomorrow. I'll check up on all on those references in the Wikipedia article, it would be interesting. Jul 27, 2014 at 6:45
  • I'll just award the bounty, I don't want it to go to waste. @IlikeCake I hope you'll write a complete answer in the future, no pressure! Jul 29, 2014 at 3:12
  • @Federico Done.
    – rjzii
    Sep 21, 2017 at 14:12

Here is what Stravinsky has to say

At the performance, mild protests against the music could be heard from the beginning.Then, when the curtain opened on a group of knock-kneed and long braided Lolitas jumping up and down (Danse des adolescentes), the storm broke. Cries of 'Ta guele' came from behind me. I left the hall in a rage; I was sitting on the right near the orchestra, and I remember slamming the door. I have never again been that angry. The music was so familiar to me; I loved it,and I could not understand why people who had not yet heard it wanted to protest in advance.I arrived backstage in a fury; there I saw Diaghilev switching the house lights on and off in the hope that this might quiet the hall. For the rest of performance I stood in the wings behind Ninjinsky and holding his jacket while he stood on a chair shouting numbers to the dancers, like a coxwain.

Source: A transcription of a recording of Stravinsky talking about 'The Rite of Spring' which Thomas Kelly plays in his lecture at around 28:40.

Also, there are numerous videos on YouTube of Stravinsky talking about his works and his life in general.

  • 1
    Caution: Stravinsky's words have to be taken with a grain of salt. It may very well be the case that he is exaggerating certain points. Thomas Kelly mentions this also in his lecture. Watch the whole lecture, it is very interesting. Jul 29, 2014 at 5:00
  • I'll add more details to the answer. I'll also try and find the transcriptions of the YouTube videos but not anytime in the near future.... Jul 29, 2014 at 5:03
  • This is not meant to be an answer to the question. I just wanted to add some extra information, look at what Stravinsky has to say. Jul 29, 2014 at 17:29

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