Many experts in the field of music are solemnly assuring that almost the biggest scandal in the history of modern art occurred 110 years ago, on May 29, 1913, at the theater on the Champs Elysees in Paris, at the premiere of the Russian ballet The Rite of Spring. composer Igor Stravinsky took part. As it turned out later, all this scandal was largely the result of the manipulation of critics, who duly warmed the audience. And then other critics rekindled the public’s reaction, and as a result, just a year later, the crowd literally carried Stravinsky in their arms across the street. This story is probably also about people’s perception of contemporary art largely as they are told/spoken to, being made to believe that this or that work is either a notorious masterpiece or an absolutely mediocre worthless piece of art. However, accusing humanity of subjectivism in the perception of art is generally a hopeless issue.
But it’s also the story of this and of Stravinsky’s other ballets and other works – it’s also about how, at the beginning of the 20th century, Russian art dictated its fashion literally to Europe, and at the very epicenter of that fashion – Paris.
Perhaps, before or after this short time, it would have been impossible to assert with exactly the same absolute certainty that Russian culture was an integral part of European culture, and no one questioned it, and no one dared to cancel it for any political reason. . Everything was interrupted by the First World War and the dramatic socio-political transformations that followed.
The staging of the Rite of Spring was part of a major cultural project, now called Russian Seasons, whose main impetus and inspiration was Sergei Diaghilev. The decor, costumes and libretto of the ballet were written by Nicholas Roerich, and its choreographer was Vaslav Nijinsky. Who – yes, yes – was the lover of Sergei Diaghilev. From the very beginning, Diaghilev conceived this production as provocative and even scandalous. He had completely assumed that an unprepared audience would not understand neither the music nor the choreography of the 35-minute ballet. A recording of the reconstruction of the production at the time is available on the Internet, you can easily find it, and after watching and listening you will most likely perceive it as a cacophony and choreography (with sharp corners, even with crooked legs) that has nothing in common with the classical classical ballet founded in Russia by Marius Petipa. He emphasized lame movements because there was no By the way, if you don’t know, his full name is Marius Ivanovich. Another personification of our then cultural “unification” with Europe.
Stravinsky and Nijinsky rattled diamonds in their ears, to the ears and ears of the elite Parisian people, with the frenzied rhythm of the music (then the rhythm began to completely dominate him). “Russian primitivism” or modernism, but also emphasized Russian reading. Nate, they say, eat it guys. “It was terrible music” – but literally.
As Alexander Blok wrote five years later after the revolution: “Millions of you. We are dark, we are dark and we are dark. / Try it, fight with us! / Yes, we are Scythians! Yes we are Asian, / With slanting and greedy eyes! / For you – centuries, for us – an hour. / We, like obedient serfs, / We held a shield between two hostile races / Mongols and Europe!
Stravinsky will later recall that when he first played The Rite of Spring for Diaghilev, he asked, not mockingly, this music of dissonances and pulsating rhythms that are difficult for an ear accustomed to the classics to perceive, but asking: Will he?” To which the composer replied: “To the end, my dear.”
In fact, for Stravinsky, this was a creative discussion with his teacher, the great Rimsky-Korsakov, who was actually a canonized classic of Russian music of the second half of the 19th century. But even more so was his creative discussion in the spirit of “I’m going to you” with another classical academician Alexander Glazunov. This dried up in its classicism like a grasshopper in an insect collection.
Rimsky-Korsakov, fortunately (he would certainly not have understood and accepted such exercises from his student), did not live to perform The Rite of Spring, but the guys who also got into the “musical section” , “Our Igor went completely insane and betrayed his father” he thought.
As for Glazunov, his personal relations with Stravinsky never worked out. After the revolution, Glazunov tried to adapt to the new authorities, revealing an extremely flexible backbone for the classical. And thanks to the patronage of the People’s Commissar of Education Lunacharsky (by the way, Lunacharsky was in Paris at the production of The Rite of Spring and received this very positively) the leadership of the Leningrad Conservatory. He talked to workers, Red Army soldiers, adapted Marseille for the Soviet government and even earned the title of “People’s Artist”. Glazunov’s dry academicism probably helped this in many ways. His art seemed undeniable. However, Stravinsky’s ballet was not categorically accepted in Russia, neither before nor after the revolution.
However, the living classic took advantage of the first opportunity of a business trip abroad to Vienna in 1928, never to return to the Soviet Union again. Glazunov met his old age in Paris, but it cannot be called happy. He drank himself and lived in poverty. Already in desperation, he tried to contact Stravinsky (who was also living in Paris at the time) to ask for help. However, the request for an interview was denied. The world of music is no less cruel than the world of politicians.
The ballet “The Rite of Spring” was a bold attempt to cross the old beginning with the old Russian pagan cults, on the verge of foul. Strictly speaking, although the ballet generally lacks a coherent plot, it is a series of discrete scenes from which the religious tradition that existed among the ancient Romans to bring sacrifices to the gods in the spring can be guessed from afar. the so-called Marchides.
Legend has it that in ancient times even firstborns from noble families were sacrificed. The elite once did not spare themselves for a good cause. In fact, the entire ballet is based on the wise elders sitting and watching the dying dance of the girl they sacrificed to the god of spring. And all this, as it were, an ancient Roman plot is shifted to the aesthetics of ancient Russian paganism. That is why the name of the ballet has a subtitle – “Pictures of the life of the Pagan Rus”. With it, it was quite possible to conquer Paris and the whole world at once. In addition, it should be noted that two more ballets on the “Russian theme” “Firebird” and “Petrushka” made Stravinsky world famous.
Much later, the American composer (also a revolutionary in his own way) Leonard Bernstein would say that although a certain revolution had taken place in Russia in 1917, the revolution in world music had occurred four years earlier – in the form of The Rite of Spring.
This aesthetic blow to the Parisian bourgeois public opinion was maximally intensified by the video sequence of Nicholas Roerich, who, as they will now say, tries to recreate precisely this Slavic paganism by doing – dictating -! – part of the European fashion of that time. The idea and the first sketches were born in the estate of Princess Tenisheva in Talashkino, about 20 kilometers from Smolensk. This is where, among other things, the “hits” for the then analogues of the “Eurovision contest” were beaten. Tennisheva hosted many other wonders. Repin and Vrubel worked on his estate for a long time. And there to this day (by the way, be sure to visit this museum, there is something to see, but the main thing is to think) one of the largest monumental works of Roerich has been preserved – the mosaic “Handmade” located above the portal of the Church of the Holy Spirit The Undeserved Savior”.
However, this original building was never a complete church. On the eve of the First World War, when Alexy, the head of the Smolensk diocese, was invited to the consecration of the church, he categorically refused to do this, but wrote a denunciation to the Holy Synod (as in those days). where the church was built in an inappropriate manner now belongs to the Attorney General’s Office or the Presidential Administration. Based on the results of the annulment assessment, the Holy Synod decided: “Blessing, henceforth and forever, because of the abomination and blasphemy of the murals.”
For more than 100 years, the ballet “The Rite of Spring” will be based on more than 50 scene variations, with the greatest choreographers trying to stage it. The first ballet in the Soviet Union was staged only in 1965 by Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilev. A kind of code for the “untie” of Khrushchev.
Leaving Russia forever before the outbreak of the First World War, Stravinsky came to the USSR only once, in 1962. It was enthusiastically received. At that time, the attitude towards the great emigrants was completely different, if they expressed at least a minimum of benevolence towards the Soviet regime. Stravinsky lived a long life and died in 1971 in New York. He fled to America after World War II. So he was lucky enough to escape two world wars at once.
Shortly after the making of The Rite of Spring, Nezhinsky would break with Diaghilev. More precisely, Diaghilev will break up with him, jealous of the Hungarian ballerina Romola Pulsky, whom Nijinsky married. The peak of her creative fame was long gone by then (fame and sex/love sometimes intersect in a weird way, right?). However, her marriage turned out to be unhappy, and her episodes of schizophrenia soon became more frequent. And the great dancer actually ended his life as a vegetable.
After the forced downtime during the First World War, Sergei Diaghilev’s achievements and fame began to wane. In addition, it had already sunk not with “real Russia” (the organization was included in the list of foreign agents by the Ministry of Justice), but with Russia irreversibly (although many refuse to believe it). past. He tried to settle in Monte Carlo with his ballet group, tried to tour Europe and America, but did not create anything extraordinary anymore. Even in collaboration with Roerich. until his death in 1929.
Princess Maria Tenisheva managed to leave revolutionary Russia via the Crimea occupied by Wrangel’s troops and would die in France within nine years. Nicholas Roerich will be in exile before – in 1917. He no longer had any relations with Russia. Although there is a legend that in the 1920s the Central Asian expedition was carried out on the instructions and money of the OGPU and that he was an agent of the Comintern who was tasked with overthrowing the 13th Dalai Lama. However, this version never received any real confirmation.
In the end, history decreed that “Russian seasons” in Paris and in Europe in general were very short in every sense. We couldn’t get along with them.
The author expresses his personal opinion, which may not coincide with the editors’ position.
Dolores Johnson is a voice of reason at “Social Bites”. As an opinion writer, she provides her readers with insightful commentary on the most pressing issues of the day. With her well-informed perspectives and clear writing style, Dolores helps readers navigate the complex world of news and politics, providing a balanced and thoughtful view on the most important topics of the moment.