Hear Igor Stravinsky’s Symphonies & Ballets in a Complete, 32-Hour, Chronological Playlist

Those who know the work of Igor Stravin­sky will be famil­iar with the recep­tion the Russ­ian composer’s The Rite of Spring received dur­ing its first per­for­mance in Paris in 1913. The typ­i­cal descrip­tion for what hap­pened is that the bal­let caused a “riot,” though giv­en our usu­al asso­ci­a­tions with that word, it hard­ly seems like the appro­pri­ate term. As The Telegraph’s Ivan Hewett notes, the respons­es, though bemused and irate, were gen­teel by most stan­dards of civ­il unrest. But there was vio­lence and the threat of vio­lence.

Accord­ing to a mem­ber of the orches­tra, “many a gentleman’s shiny top hat or soft fedo­ra was igno­min­ious­ly pulled down by an oppo­nent over his eyes and ears, and canes were bran­dished like men­ac­ing imple­ments of com­bat all over the the­atre.” What could cause such a scan­dal? Hear­ing the piece, above, it’s per­haps not obvi­ous why “peo­ple start­ed to whis­per and joke almost imme­di­ate­ly.” Both Stravin­sky and Russ­ian bal­let impre­sario Sergei Diaghilev sought to pro­voke the audi­ence, but both were tak­en aback by the vehe­mence of the reac­tions. As audi­ence mem­bers began to shout, “I left the hall in a rage,” Stravin­sky lat­er wrote. “I have nev­er again been that angry.”

Of course, the music alone, with­out Vaslav Nijinsky’s chore­og­ra­phy, only gives us half the sto­ry. Onstage, writes Hewitt, “there’s no sign that any of the crea­tures in the Rite of Spring has a soul, and there’s cer­tain­ly no sense of a rec­og­niz­able human cul­ture. The dancers are like automa­ta.” And yet, Stravin­sky seems to have intend­ed his music to alien­ate lis­ten­ers as well: “there are sim­ply no regions for soul-search­ing,” he said, “in The Rite of Spring.” It’s a com­ment that suc­cinct­ly sums up the composer’s icon­o­clasm and defi­ance of sacred musi­cal norms.

Stravinsky’s first bal­let, 1910’s The Fire­bird, fol­lowed Debussy in recu­per­at­ing the so-called “Devil’s Inter­val,” a tonal fig­ure avoid­ed for hun­dreds of years in reli­gious music for its sin­is­ter sound. But The Fire­bird’s exot­ic beau­ty charmed audi­ences, as did his next bal­let Petrush­ka.  And despite the Rite of Spring con­tro­ver­sy, many of Stravinsky’s sym­phonies are quite tra­di­tion­al next to the avant-gardism of his peers. His ten­den­cies of “regres­sion and restau­ra­tion,” writes clas­si­cal site CMUSE, “an amal­gam of the archa­ic and the mod­ern,” caused Theodor Adorno to describe Stravin­sky as schiz­o­phrenic in Phi­los­o­phy of Mod­ern Music.

Unlike his mod­ernist rival Arnold Schoen­berg, Stravin­sky is “in the same cat­e­go­ry as T.S. Eliot, as both were well-versed in literary/musical tra­di­tion and well aware of the cur­rent avant-garde move­ments, but main­tained quite a con­ser­v­a­tive approach to nov­el­ty.” Stravinsky’s con­ser­v­a­tive mod­ernism had a pro­found effect on anoth­er form of 20th cen­tu­ry music that looked both back­ward and for­ward: jazz. Artists like Char­lie Park­er paid trib­ute to him, and the com­pos­er very much appre­ci­at­ed it. “This cat,” said Park­er, “he’s kind of cool, you know.”

In the chrono­log­i­cal playlist above from Ulysses Clas­si­cal, hear the ear­ly sym­phonies and sonatas that inspired Diaghilev to hire him as the Bal­lets Russ­es first com­pos­er, and many of the bal­lets that enraged the Parisian elite, delight­ed Char­lie Park­er, and repelled Adorno. And find out why, as CMUSE argues, Stravin­sky may be “the great­est com­pos­er of the 20th cen­tu­ry.”

The playlist runs 32 hours. If you need Spo­ti­fy’s soft­ware, down­load it here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Night When Char­lie Park­er Played for Igor Stravin­sky (1951)

Watch 82-Year-Old Igor Stravin­sky Con­duct The Fire­bird, the Bal­let Mas­ter­piece That First Made Him Famous (1965)

Stravinsky’s “Ille­gal” Arrange­ment of “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” (1944)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.