The Rite

This morning on the way to work I listened to the Rite of Spring and heard it again as I heard it that first time in a music appreciation class when I was seventeen.

Up until then music had passed me by neither my father's jazz nor my brother's pop (though I expect he would wish for a more sophisticated labeling) had made any impression on me. This was different from the haunting lyrical opening to the harsh rhythms of dancing into death, I was captured.  I bought the record and, when my brother was absent, sat in his room playing it over and over (and if truth be told being lured into dancing it out too). After a week of this obsessional engagement, my father came upstairs handed me a £5 note and told me to buy another record!

Last week at the Diaghilev show at the V&A, it was this association that drew me in and held my attention; and, it is for this extraordinary production of three complementary talents - two lasting (Roerich whose scenario it was and Stravinsky) and one (Nijinsky) perilously fragile (and passing) that is for me the central event of the Ballet Russes that defines and justifies it.

The show itself was surprisingly unilluminating about Diaghilev himself - his central motivations, ways of working and ability to identify and manipulate talent (Matisse vowed never to work with him again). You were presented with surface, alluring, fascinating, at times magical but strangely lacking in depth.

What you did see was that genius is rarely solitary - Diaghilev shaped Stravinsky by providing him the opportunities to create a series of pieces that defined him both in his creating of them and in his subsequent argument with, moving away from them into his late neo-classical style. Stravinsky did not create alone and the hidden power of impresario and editor in Diaghilev was essential to the process of making. We are made in and out of conversation.

To return to the 'Rite', why did it appeal so? I can only imagine that it gave permission to unfold into a rhythm of music (and of life) that was wholly 'other' and deeply attractive. It played to my childhood 'myth' of Russian origins (the name, the fascination with Russia's history). It played to my sense of the 'primitive' being fed by my reading on indigenous people, of shamanism, of the lure of the 'collective unconscious' (I was precociously reading Jung). It is savage yet strangely controlled (Stravinsky was nothing if not contained, containing).

Here is the Joffrey Ballet's re-creation of the original production.

The second record was Holst's 'The Planets' - the mythological and magical theme continued...

The third was the Deller Consort singing plain song...the pattern was set!!!


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