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In the article “100 years ago today, ‘The Rite of Spring incited a riot in a Paris theater” by Amar Toor, Toor believes that the ballet’s performance was meant to cause chaos. The way he describes it is that Stravinsky knew what he was doing putting in pitches that would sound violent and frenetic. The type of opera that was going to be performed on the night of May 29th, 1913 was not what anyone expected. This was something completely new compared to Stravinsky’s old work. But this opera itself turned into a nightmare when the ballerinas didn’t know what they were doing. The high-pitched bassoons and the pounding percussion caused even more issues. With the loud pitches, the ballerinas weren’t able to hear and follow the orchestra, leading the choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky to shout commands from backstage. This caused anger and the crowd didn’t know who to blame. Was Stravinsky to blame because of the musical choice? or was Nijinsky to blame for creating a violent choreography? No one knew how to feel, but at the time the anger was so strong they chose to go on a riot to express how unhappy they were for an opera show to be like this.

In the article “Did Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring incite a riot at its premiere?” by Linda Shaver-Gleason, the author argues that the famous riot never happened. According to Linda the only evidence that we have from the “riot” came from the people who attended the opera and specifically sat on the balcony. Their seating arrangements, Linda brings up to question if their seating arrangements had anything to do with how intense the music sounded, maybe people sitting on the bottom floor didn’t experience the music at the same intensity as the balcony. It’s a good question that we will never know but should keep in mind. But the term of the riot itself came to light two years after the opera occurred, “The first mention of physical altercations at the premiere came from eyewitness Carl van Vechten, who claimed that a man sitting behind him ‘beat rhythmically on the top of my head with his fists.’ This evocative quote comes from 1915—two years later, as even firsthand accounts were embellished in the retelling.” When Linda mentions this quote it brings out the truth of how much we really know about what happened that night. What happened at the opera then become a game of telephone. Everyone knows the game of telephone and they know how easy it is to mess up a message. But so far this game of “telephone” that’s connected to that night is all we have. But Linda goes on to inform us, “As Levitz puts it, the myth establishes a “false causality…between artistic revolution and bodily revolt.” It tells a version of music history that people want to be true, of Great Art having the power to make people do things. The extreme reaction of the audience reinforces the reputation of The Rite as one of the greatest works of art of the twentieth century. ” If the riot never really happened then why do we talk about it and why is it talked about as the biggest riot in classical music? The only thing we know about the “riot” itself is possibly broken news or opinions coming from people who didn’t like the idea of change in opera coming from Stravinsky whos originally famous for “The Nutcracker”.

The first time I watched the performance of “The Rite of Spring” I was in shock. Personally, I am not a big opera listener but from what we’ve heard in class I’ve developed an understanding of what that type of music is and how it sounds. The second I heard the first few beats of “The Rite of Spring” I knew it was something completely different and it sounded like the type of music you hear in a horror film or in a bad nightmare. I understand why the people in the crowd could’ve acted that way, when you get used to how something is you develop an expectation. If I were a person in the audience in 1913 I would’ve been left shocked and confused because comparing it to “The Nutcracker” this show could be understood as a scene of chaos. I honestly think I would’ve reacted the same as others because back then the way we saw music wasn’t as broad as we see it today. Back then you didn’t have much to compare it to and it’s clear that people weren’t very open-minded. So it’s understandable for the crowd to react in such a way because many can say this opera performance was ahead of its time. Today if this was performed people would’ve simply labeled it as different and edgy and put it in a different category.

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June 2024

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