dirac

Stravinsky and "The Rite of Spring" - article by Robert Craft

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A piece by Craft, with some information that came as news to me.

“The four-hand piano score containing my markings for Nijinsky has recently come to light . . . . Its interim owner, between Diaghilev’s death and my adventitious recovery of it at a London auction, June 13, 1967, was the dancer Anton Dolin.”

This choreographic libretto was written in great haste only two weeks beforehand because Nijinsky had failed to invent any guidelines of his own, but it was not followed at the premiere. The great dancer had taken his corps de ballet to Jacques Dalcroze for help, but nothing came of this effort either, and Diaghilev had feared the Paris premiere would have to be cancelled. The impresario begged Stravinsky, who was still busy composing, to write out in plain longhand his own conception of the scenario under each bar of the entire work, but he did so in a faint lead pencil whose script nearly vanished with time. After glancing at the score again in Hollywood, Stravinsky declared it illegible.

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Can anyone recommend any tapes or dvds of "Rite"?

There are many different versions of the ballet: one way to choose a tape or DVD might be to take a look at excerpts of what's on youtube and see what you think would be worth investing in...I place little historical faith in the Millicent Hodson/Kenneth Archer "reconstruction" of the Nijinsky version, but on youtube you can find it being done by the Joffrey and the Mariinsky.

This is part I of the Mariinsky (w. Gergiev conducting) though the actual performance doesn't begin until 5:43 into it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ViymK-35eU

I have read several critics express the view that Bejart's version is one of the better ones if not the best of those for which we have a living theatrical tradition. (Hodson and Archer were working from very fragmentary evidence.) I have no opinion on about the Bejart (haven't seen it), but when finding the Mariinsky one I noticed youtube also has at least one complete performance of that version. While the so-called Nijinsky version can be found on DVD w. the Mariinsky, I don't know whether one one can find the Bejart on DVD or tape...

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I'm very fond of Paul Taylor's version, to the four hand piano score for his own company. It follows multiple plotlines (a B-grade gangster film, a day-in-the-life of a dance company, and flashes of the original idea where a young woman sacrifices herself), switching back and forth all the way through the big Sacrificial Dance -- you're not sure until the very end which story will be the finale. It's intensely musical, as much of Taylor is.

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Thanks, sandik and Drew.

The Hodson/Archer "reconstruction" isn't very inspiring viewing, either. I can imagine the first audience yawning but not rioting. There's a good article by Joan Acocella on the Hodson/Archer efforts.

Try a hypothetical. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony had its première in 1808 and was performed nine times. Then the theatre burned down and all copies of the score were destroyed. The composer never went back to it. Seventy years later, Beethoven is dead, and everyone laments the loss of this acclaimed composition. You are a music historian, and you decide to try to reconstruct the score. There are many small bits of evidence. You know the keys, the durations. You have some reviews. You have some sketches by Beethoven—for example, a four-note theme, three G's and an E-flat. You track down a few people who attended the première. They are very old, but they tell you whatever they can remember. You go back to your room, sit down at the piano, and try to piece the symphony together. The composition you produce—how close would it be to Beethoven's Fifth?

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I was intrigued by the Hodson reconstruction that the Joffrey did and thought Beatriz Rodriguez was wonderful as "The Chosen One." Considering that the riot had less to do with the music and more to do with rival fan factions at the ballet, I wouldn't expect the reconstruction to be rife with scandal.

I don't think it's every been released commercially, but everyone who can watch YouTube can judge for themselves.

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Thanks, dirac, for the link to the article by Robert Craft. How sad that Stravinsky's "markings for Nijinsky" -- rewritten in longhand at the request of Diaghilev -- were written in faint lead pencil, which became illegible.

I remember the Joffrey reconstruction and its impact. That's the template for visualizing this work, I think. However, the score lends itself to a variety of versions and dance styles, and I've seen several that served the music and the intent of the composer very well.

The most powerful and troubling that I've seen is Mauricio Wainrot's, as performed by Ballet Florida in the early 2000's.. Though visually quite unlike the Joffrey reconstruction, Wainrot interpretation seems quite consistent with Stravinsky's intention quoted below, with a single exception: it does not look "Russian." To quote Stravinsky, from the Craft article:

The Rite is essentially a pictorial history in music from the beginning to end. The image of God, as experienced in primitive pagan Russia, as at the core. of the vision.

Tina Martin's Chosen One is a tour de force of energy, desperation, and -- ultimately -- despair.. Wainrot selected Martin to dance a portion of this choreography on the Bolshoi stage during the Benois de la Danse competition.

An 8-minute clip of the Chosen One's final dance --

Martin's Partner is Markus Schaffer. The woman who appears to be a leader of the tribe is Maria-Angeles Llamas. This was most likely filmed at a performance at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

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I was intrigued by the Hodson reconstruction that the Joffrey did and thought Beatriz Rodriguez was wonderful as "The Chosen One." Considering that the riot had less to do with the music and more to do with rival fan factions at the ballet, I wouldn't expect the reconstruction to be rife with scandal.

I don't think it's every been released commercially, but everyone who can watch YouTube can judge for themselves.

It was featured in an excellent Dance in America program, that included heaps of interviews with the reconstructors and lots of background. It's not commercially available, more's the pity, but I have seen chunks of the whole program on You Tube -- it's well worth looking for. Here's a link to libraries that hold copies. I imagine most of us have seen this little clip of Rambert talking about it, but I'm linking just in case

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Considering that the riot had less to do with the music and more to do with rival fan factions at the ballet, I wouldn't expect the reconstruction to be rife with scandal.

The reference was intended facetiously. I guess I have to start using emoticons. :)

That's a stunning piece of video, bart. Thanks.

As Craft notes, Stravinsky's intentions as written would have been very difficult to carry out:

....Stravinsky illustrates his words with musical notation, remarking to me, “I have no idea how I expected Nijinsky to bring out this difficult emphasis”. At [42], “the women begin to jump, eight measures, and you can count the next six bars in 6/4”. At six bars before [44], the text directs the dancers to “Count as 2/4 bars”. Stravinsky adds brackets to clarify the section, then changes his mind and cancels the whole instruction, replacing it by a simplification: “From here, trampling with each eighth-note. Do not try to count the bars”.

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I was wondering what to do when NYCB and ABT Spring seasons ended. You have reminded me to go to the NYPL. (I have been spoiled by some local library tapes and YT.)

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Has anyone seen Salvatore Aiello's version of the ballet, which he made for North Carolina Dance Theater? Richmond Ballet will dance it in November (on a program with Serenade and Fancy Free - now there's a wild combination).

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I skimmed Craft's article and now it's no longer linkable, but it was interesting to read that Balanchine said it would be impossible to set dance (to find appropriate images?) to the music. It is awfully ferocious and full of crazy rhythmic passages... Also that Craft took a swipe at Schoenberg at this late date.

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Has anyone seen Salvatore Aiello's version of the ballet, which he made for North Carolina Dance Theater? Richmond Ballet will dance it in November (on a program with Serenade and Fancy Free - now there's a wild combination).

If anyone goes, please post your observations here. (I have a personal list of Rites-of-Spring-I've-Seen, and am always curious about others)

And if you find a copy of Shelley Berg's "Le sacre du printemps: Seven productions from Nijinsky to Martha Graham," take a look -- she discusses various approaches to the work.

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I skimmed Craft's article and now it's no longer linkable, but it was interesting to read that Balanchine said it would be impossible to set dance (to find appropriate images?) to the music. It is awfully ferocious and full of crazy rhythmic passages... Also that Craft took a swipe at Schoenberg at this late date.

I'm sorry you're having trouble, Quiggin. I was able to open it myself just now. I had read elsewhere that Balanchine deliberately steered clear of Rite. (Possibly he found the subject matter unappealing as well.) Here's the quote re Schoenberg:

The dissonant harmonies are not more euphonic over time; indeed, they have outlived “the emancipation of the dissonance” by Arnold Schoenberg. The emancipation has in fact become a deprivation, since the inability to distinguish consonance and dissonance has become a disadvantage of the twelve-tone system.

I wonder if Craft really means this as a swipe ( in the sense of taking a shot at Schoenberg for personal reasons)? Craft recorded Schoenberg's music, was on good terms with him when Stravinsky wasn't, even dated his daughter for awhile, I think.

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Thanks dirac, it wasn't opening for me this morning – I will reread it. I was sort of interested in how dissonance has "aged," and what it means now – is it shocking any more. Also I have been just reading reading Rosalind Krauss's A Penny for Picasso, discussing Gide, Picasso and Stravinsky as pastiche artists – in comparison to the authenticity of Schoenberg.

I do think it's interesting that Balanchine couldn't choreography Rite, and Mravinsky didn't record it though he did Petrouska, Fariy's Kiss, Agon and Apollo.

Anyway in skimming the article I jumped to a harder conclusion than the material warranted. However I do believe in Hollywood, and before, there was a riff between Stravinsky and Schoenberg (also Stravinsky and Jean Renoir), but eventually there was a reconciliation. Regarding a conjectured affair between Robert Craft and Vera Stravinsky, Stravinsky is supposed to have said something like, "well maybe I'm the one who's really having the affair with Robert Craft."

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Thanks for posting the link, dirac. I'm glad to see Robert Craft is still going at 90 and as interesting as ever, even for one like me who's not quite got all the technical chops to get everything out of what he lays out, like Stravinsky's choreographic blueprints. Maybe the composer's own reminiscences, forty-six years later, of the time of Le Sacre's composition would be interesting companion reading. The only online version of the text of his essay, "Apropos Le Sacre du Printemps" I could find today is buried in this long page:

http://www02.us.archive.org/stream/bostonsymphonytr5960bost/bostonsymphonytr5960bost_djvu.txt

Once on the page, search it on the word "apropos", and you have it:

... I was guided by no system whatever in "Le Sacre du Printemps."

When I think of the music of the other composers of that time who

interest me — Berg's music, which is synthetic (in the best sense), and

Webern's, which is analytic — how much more theoretical it seems than

"Le Sacre." And these composers belonged to and were supported by

a great tradition. Very little immediate tradition lies behind "Le

Sacre du Printemps," however, and no theory. I had only my ear to

help me; I heard and I wrote what I heard. I am the vessel through

which "Le Sacre" passed.

And IIRC, Balanchine's response to being asked what he thought of Bejart's Sacre was, "You can't do it, but it's the best one." He didn't think all music was capable of choreography.

Anyway, having read that comment before one of my visits to New York, I took advantage of the opportunity to see Bejart's company perform it, and I agree with those who admire it. I'm sure that was well before Taylor's staging appeared in 1980, a few years before Balanchine's final decline. I don't know whether he commented on that, but it's the other staging I enjoy. The Hodson/Archer effort, the only other one I've seen, looks to me like just that, too desiccated to be rewarding, I'm afraid, an effect reinforced by reading the material contemporaneous to Sacre's origin in Robert Gottlieb's great anthology, Reading Dance.

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You're very welcome, and thank you for that link. It does appear, however, that Craft's account and interpretation are being questioned, and not only about the gay affairs business:

None of this strongly suggests sexual consummation. The tone and content intimate instead the kind of close yet platonic male friendships that Stravinsky had throughout his life (including with Mr. Craft).

Other bits of substantiation are even less plausible. In the book Mr. Craft says that Stravinsky sent a nude photograph of himself with an erection to Delage. (“I think he’s making that up,” Ms. Levitz told me. “I’ll believe it when he reproduces it.”)

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Great find, Jack, thanks. It looks like it's from a 1959 Saturday Review.

I thought it was interesting what Stravinsky said about Monteux's conducting, that "he never cheapened Le Sacre ... he was always scrupulously faithful to the music," since Monteux sometimes is cited as saying he didn't like the piece.

And while in Memories and Commentaries Stravinsky says that Massine's choreography for the 1921 revival was "excellent, incomparable clearer than Nijinsky's," here he says,

Music and dancing were better coordinated this time than in 1913 — they could hardly have been otherwise — but the choreography (by Massine) was still too gymnastic and Dalcrozian to please me. I decided then that I prefer "Le Sacre" as a concert piece.

Also interesting that Stravinsky pointedly says that doesn't need the constraints of musical theory to compose. And yet Berg does do a pretty decent violin concerto – and doesn't Agon stand in a cage of artificial rules.

*

Regarding Stravinsky's proposed bisexuality, why are people taken aback rather than finding it charming that he had a brief affair with Ravel? Support of gay rights only goes so far – doesn't seem to extend to one's artistic heroes. There it's still a stigma.

And what was Glenn Gould's remark?

At a book signing last week in New York, Craft deflected a question about the chapter on Stravinsky’s sexuality, directing a reporter to his wife, Alva Craft. She said that some of this material had been familiar to the couple in piecemeal fashion, but only now does it start to give a complete picture. She recalled one meeting in which her husband introduced Stravinsky to Glenn Gould and the composer made a sly remark about the pianist's appearance.

from WQXR:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2013/jun/25/was-stravinsky-bisexual-if-he-was-so-what/

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Regarding Stravinsky's proposed bisexuality, why are people taken aback rather than finding it charming that he had a brief affair with Ravel? Support of gay rights only goes so far – doesn't seem to extend to one's artistic heroes. There it's still a stigma.

I honestly don't think that would bother the critical observers quoted in the NYT article unduly. They're questioning the evidence, and so far Craft hasn't produced much in the way of it, as the WQXR piece acknowledges. These are pretty big claims. The questions aren't limited to private lives:

He misrepresents aspects of Nijinsky’s dancing. He writes that “nothing came of” a Ballets Russes visit to the educator Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, but in fact Marie Rambert then left Dalcroze to become Nijinsky’s assistant in teaching the “Rite” to the dancers.

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