As we work our way through our musical time travel journey, our next stop will be into the land of ritualistic primitivism. While music has always had a strong relationship with ritualistic practices (i.e. pagan or tribal chants), the more modern version of the concept and discipline was best exemplified by Igor Stravinsky’s Right of Spring in 1913.
Our previous music time travel expedition have shown us the beauty and grace of the Romantic Era, in which self-introspection and yearning for nature were intertwined to compositions by the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Berlioz, and Schuman’s. When Stravinsky first introduced the world to his Right of Spring, it came as such a shock and quickly polarized musical society. Some found the piece loud and unpleasant, such as Adolphe Boschot, who stated in his 1913 review that the music was “disconcerting and disagreeable.” While others found the composition to be a “masterpiece” such as Jean Cocteau, who wrote such in a review from 1918.
While music from the Romantic Era contained intricate melodies that evoked the audience into introspection much like the sound of a light winter rain, Stravinksy’s Right of Passage, hit the musical world like roaring thunder from an offshore storm. The piece was written as a score for a ballet, that itself was revolution for the time.
For all intents and purposes, Starvinsky’s piece was aimed to create a militaristic shock and awe feeling amongst the audience. It was loud, it was shocking and as stated earlier, it was received with mixed reviews. Ironically, the debut of the performance was on the eve of World War I in Paris. Not to make light of war, but Stravinsky, in a sense, was about to attack the normal musical audience musical taste with a composition that was armed with a new emphasis: rhythm. Rhythm was the weapon of choice for Stravinsky’s attack! In an article written by George Benjamin for the Guardian Online in May of 2013 (http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/may/29/stravinsky-rite-of-spring), Benjamin describes that the piece and “its savage violence confronted head on the aesthetics of impressionism.”
For well over a hundred years, Stravinsky’s piece has stood the test of time, and in my opinion has paved the way for music to be more spectacle than substance (to a certain degree). Take for example, the Kendrick Lamar performance at the Grammys. It was just loud words spoken over a tribal raw beat. Not much substance musically (again my opinion), but nonetheless powerful.