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 ?...
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)
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:
- Paris was already mad at the choreographer, Najinsky, for a piece of his that had bombed two weeks earlier.
- 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.