On 29 May 1913, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, a new ballet by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, received its premiere. Many of the cultural big names of Paris were there, or were rumoured to have been there: Debussy, Ravel, Proust, Gertrude Stein, Picasso. When the curtain rose on a cast of frenziedly stamping dancers, a near-riot ensued, ensuring the evening would enter the folklore of modernism. While it was the dancing that triggered the mayhem, Stravinsky’s score contained shocks enough, with its innovations in form, rhythm, dissonance and its sheer sonic power. The Rite of Spring would achieve recognition in its own right as a concert piece, and is now seen as one of the most influential works of the 20th century.
The Director of Music at London’s Southbank Centre Gillian Moore discusses the explosive events with her former colleague Graham Sheffield, explores the cultural climate that created The Rite, and shows how a scandalous novelty of 1913 became a 21st-century concert staple. She also probes The Rite’s impact on film music (including scores for Star Wars and Jaws); its extensive influence on jazz musicians and by artists as diverse as Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa and The Pet Shop Boys.
Graham Sheffield was Director Arts for the British Council until July 2018. He was previously Artistic Director of the Barbican Centre and Music Projects Director at London’s South Bank Centre.
Gillian Moore (photo: Sarah Hickson)