Watch the Rite of Spring Score Brought to Life

Slate's Culture Blog
May 29 2013 5:10 PM

The Rite of Spring at 100


Coverage of riot inNew York Times, June 7, 1913.

In the annals of high-art “scandals,” the small riot sparked by the 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky’s ballet Le Sacre Du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) may be the most famous. Perhaps that’s because music appreciation teachers are desperately attracted to any anecdote that might demonstrate the excitement of classical music to skeptical students—or it could be because the story is just so wonderfully crazy.

The gist is this: From the moment that Stravinsky’s eerie, jagged opening melody wafted into their ears, the Parisian audience in the Théâtre des Champs Elysées was agitated. As the music became more brutal and rhythmically complex and Nijinsky’s provocative choreographing of the sacrifice of a young virgin unfolded, laughter and catcalls devolved into an outright riot, with the audience becoming so loud at points that the orchestra could not even be heard.


Exactly a century later, the blow-by-blow details of that succès de scandale are still debated, but the succès is not—The Rite of Spring is indisputably one of the most important and influential compositions of the 20th century. Over at the Guardian, British composer George Benjamin has an article exploring Stravinsky’s musical legacy, particularly in terms of his foregrounding of rhythm and percussion—a trend that would come to define modern music—as well as his relationship to contemporary musical trends like impressionism and atonality. Meanwhile, New Yorker critic Alex Ross delves deeper into the scandalous evening itself, citing historians who argue that artsy Parisians of the time were basically always on the lookout for a reason to riot.

And for those who can’t read music but nevertheless want to better understand the technical innovations in Stravinsky’s score, check out these new gorgeous graphical representations of both parts of the ballet from composer and software programmer Stephen Malinowski, who was recently interviewed about the project on NPR’s classical music blog, Deceptive Cadence.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.