In 2013, New York’s most popular classical music station WQXR celebrated the centennial of Igor Stravinksy’s The Rite of Spring, with a series of events that culminated in Rite of Spring Fever, 24 hours of different performances of the work and a live solo interpretation by Bang on a Can pianist Vicky Chow.
As a promotional posting, WQXR also created this mashup of 46 recordings in 3 minutes, showing the varying approaches to Stravinsky’s score, and the wildly different dynamics of interpretation.
Sixteen years after the work’s tumultuous live premiere in 1913, both Stravinsky and conductor Pierre Monteux competed to record the first version in 1929 in Paris. That was followed in 1930 by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose re-recorded version would become the most famous when it appeared in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. That film did more to bring Stravinsky to wide swathes of society, from kids to grandparents, than any other performance. Plus it had frickin’ dinosaurs:
Phil Kline, the composer and curator of WQXR’s event, notes that it was high-fidelity LPs, not 78s, that really brought the dynamics of Rites into its own. “Few other classics so desperately need to be heard with a wide dynamic range, especially on that big bottom end,” he writes.
This mashup is pretty schizoid, but shows the personalities and influences of each conductor: Leonard Bernstein creates a colorful and sparkling Rite; Pierre Boulez is like a machine; Karajan is thunderous. The various piano interpretations lose none of their bite after being resigned to the keyboard. And Stravinsky’s 1960 recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (aka the New York Philharmonic, renamed for contractual reasons) is also here, sounding just that little bit sweeter than the rest.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.