On Music: Le Sacre du printemps


For those who don't yet know Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), I envy you because you're about to be introduced to one of the most stupendous, complicated, arousing pieces of music ever penned. If you're like me, you might just spend the next 10 years of your life listening to as many different recordings as you can get your hands on and reading everything there is to read about this seriously complex score.

What you absolutely must know about the work:

  • It was commissioned by Diaghilev's Ballet Russe and premiered in 1913.
  • Nijinsky did the choreography.
  • A combination of the primal, earthshaking music and primitive choreography caused something of a riot at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées where the piece was premiered. Some laughed, some hissed, others whistled. Debussy, who was in the audience, said it was "an extraordinary, ferocious thing."
  • It is the most famous, often-played piece by Stravinsky, and one of the most often performed pieces written in the 20th century.
  • Much of the piece was later used in Disney's Fantasia.

Rather than post different snippets, I thought I'd use Le Sacre as a way to show off one of classical music's most unique attributes: the variety of interpretations that can, and should exist. With classical music, it's as if every orchestra in the world is a cover band, with each conductor doing their own version. Listen to these soundbites, which are from five of my favorites recordings, all taken from approximately the same 30-seconds of Le Sacre.

This first clip is one of Leonard Bernstein's many recordings of the piece, this time with the Israel Philharmonic. Lenny liked to emphasize the weight of the instruments and, as a result, played it heavy and slower than most. But you really get to hear the space between the beats, which is super interesting.

In this one, Zubin Mehta takes the Los Angeles Philharmonic on a tight, syncopated trip at first, but then lets it all hang out toward the end.

This one is by Valery Gergiev and the Kirov in Russia. Nice, crisp, punchy brass!

Here's one by Stravinsky himself. Igor was always quick to emphasize the staccato in his own pieces, for better and worse. Yes, it's dry and mechanical at times, but I like how Stravinsky's personality comes out in it.

Lastly, here's the Chicago Symphony and Seiji Ozawa. Talk about a conductor on Ritalin!

I'm curious to know which you like best and why?????