What’s in a year? Are there windows in time that allow history to enter? As we approach the 100th anniversary of The Rite of Spring’s premiere, I’ve been thinking about what a time it was, how, as the world teetered on the brink of political and military disaster, revolutionary change was imminent in all the arts and, specifically, how many great composers seemed to be onto something similar, or at least sympathetic all at once.
The Rite may have made the biggest noise, but only a few months before that a Viennese audience became seriously violent during the playing of Alban Berg’s Altenberg Lieder at the legendary “Skandalkonzert.”
Meanwhile, the young Sergei Prokofiev was making brutal, mechanistic sounds in his Toccata and Alexander Scriabin seemed to be losing his mind in his ecstatic Piano Sonata No. 10.
Claude Debussy had just written the dazzling and baffling ballet score Jeux, certainly the most daring dance score this side of Petrouchka, and Maurice Ravel had finished his orgiastic Daphnis and Chloe and the Trois Poemes de Mallarme, which speak with a primordial strangeness that seems to pre-echo Stravinsky’s pagan ritual. Then again, Stravinsky himself had a new and very odd little mini-cantata for male voices, Zvezdoliki (the star-faced one) which, if anything, is weirder than The Rite.
Other composers were also, in their own way, communicating the stresses hidden in their times. Jean Sibelius had just made his big break into the heart of darkness with his Fourth Symphony, and even the relatively staid Sir Edward Elgar was surveying a shattered and lost world in the intriguingly mixed messages of his Second Symphony.
So, in brief, the idea this week is to savor some of whatever it was in the wind around 1911-13, and to place that alongside the music of a hundred years later. Which is right now.
On Wednesday, May 29, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of its infamous premiere, Q2 Music presents Rite of Spring Fever—a 24-hour marathon hosted by Phil Kline of contrasting interpretations of Stravinsky's masterpiece and a complementary web portal of interviews, testimonials and interactive features.