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Point of Order

Here we are in a little difficulty, because the upholders of the "Sacre" tell us that it is to be judged on its musical merits exclusively, and on the other hand that it is conditioned by the story of the ballet for which it was originally written. This form of mental gymnastics seems a little difficult to the uninitiated, especially as some of the brutalities of the music, and the strong, relentless reiterated rhythms, seem to have no reason apart from the story in question.
Alfred Kalisch, "London Concerts," The Musical Times , July 1, 1921

The latest catchword of the partisans is that the "Sacre" is abstract music. We do not take that too seriously, however. We know how dependent Stravinsky's music has hitherto been upon the action it was designed to accompany.
Ernest Newman, "The End of a Chapter," The Sunday Times , July 3, 1921

For the greater part of this century our knowledge and appreciation of The Rite of Spring have come from the concert hall and from recordings. The facts surrounding its conception as a ballet have of course always been known. Commissioned, following the extraordinary success of The Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911), by Sergei Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes, The Rite's premiere in Paris on May 29, 1913, precipitated a celebrated riot. (Stravinsky later claimed to have been taken unawares, the rehearsals having been without intimation of a disturbance.[1] To


what extent members of the audience might actually have been predisposed toward riotous behavior would be a question difficult to assess. We do not hereby minimize the novel or "revolutionary" character of the music or the choreography.) Other credits have routinely been acknowledged: Nicolas Roerich collaborated on the scenario and was responsible for the decor, Vaslav Nijinsky composed the choreography, and Pierre Monteux conducted the rehearsals and the premiere.

But the scenario itself, the choreography, and, above all, the close "interdisciplinary" conditions of coordination under which the music is now known to have been composed—these are matters which, after the 1913 premiere, quickly passed from consciousness. Like pieces of a scaffolding, they were abandoned in favor of the edifice itself and relegated to the "extra-musical." They became history, as opposed to living art. Even the title, with its clear suggestion of pagan rites or "primitivism," lost its specific ties to the subject matter and became almost exclusively a musically descriptive label: The Rite of Spring is a translation from the French, Le Sacre du printemps, under which heading the work largely became known; the French in turn is a translation from the 1911 Russian title Vesna sviashchennaia, "Holy Spring"; this was preceded by the still earlier (1910) conception whose title, Velikaia zhertva, the "Great Sacrifice," became Part II in the final version; and this latter was itself inspired by a dream or "vision" that occurred to the composer in the spring of 1910. Similarly, the titles of the individual dances, preserved in Russian and in French translation in the first 1921 edition of the score and in most subsequent editions, became increasingly obscure and pretentious: L'Adoration de la terre or "Adoration of the Earth," Cercles mystérieux des adolescentes or "Mystic Circles of the Young Girls," Glorification de l'élue or "Glorification of the Chosen One." In what capacity could this verbiage serve a musical substance that, in logic and continuity, had become so utterly self-sufficient? (The early French translations, as Stravinsky later remarked, were by someone "with a special taste in titles."[2] English titles were added to the 1967 edition, which retained the French translations but deleted the Russian originals. The phony, "shamanistic" origin of the original Russian titles has been noted by a number of scholars familiar with Russian cultural trends at the time of The Rite .)[3]

Whether The Rite should be heard and understood as ballet rather than as concert music is not an appropriate question. We can doubtless have it both ways, even if there is little tradition behind the work as dance music, while its hold as a relatively autonomous piece of music has been virtually indestructible. Nijinsky's original choreography was quickly forgotten after the 1913 performances; it was ignored by the Diaghilev revival of 1920 and by nearly all subsequent productions. The music has, in contrast, remained a permanent fixture, even given the extensive revisions in instrumentation and barring. This is not to question the aesthetic incli-


nations of those for whom some contact with the ballet, in whatever form, remains an indispensable part of their appreciation, but only to point out that, in the absence of a tradition with accompanying terms of reference, it is not easy to assess the conditions or, indeed, the nature of these inclinations.

The really curious element in this story is that it was Stravinsky himself who initiated and then encouraged the music's dissociation from its scenic and choreographic ties. The first signs of a move in this direction were apparent directly after the premiere, and their roots can be traced back to the inception itself. Unlike The Firebird and, especially, Petrushka, whose illustrious "chord" so spectacularly complements, like an idée fixe in the second, third, and fourth tableaux, the quirky antics of the maligned puppet—The Rite never accompanied an actual plot. The scenario was conceived as a loosely aligned succession of imagined prehistoric rites, to which the music was in turn composed as a succession of dance movements. The idea had been presentational and had sought, in episodic fashion, to depict a series of primitive ceremonies, not to describe such rites in the form of narration or story.

Similar intentions obviously lie at the heart of many of Stravinsky's subsequent works for the theater, from Les Noces (1914–23) to Agon (1953–57). His observations on Les Noces are applicable more broadly:

As my conception developed, I began to see that it did not indicate the dramatization of a wedding or the accompaniment of a staged wedding spectacle with descriptive music. My wish was, instead, to present actual wedding material through direct quotations of popular—i.e., non-literary—verse. . . .

As a collection of clichés and quotations of typical wedding sayings, [Les Noces ] might be compared to one of those scenes in Ulysses in which the reader seems to be overhearing scraps of conversation without the connecting thread of discourse. But Les Noces might also be compared to Ulysses in the larger sense that both works are trying to present rather than to describe .[4]

And later he recalled his impatience with the naive story element in The Firebird, those portions of the scenario that had corresponded with the more strictly narrative, pantomime sections of the dance. After the 1919 concert suite he preferred this abridged version to the original ballet.[5]

All of which is not to deny, in the case of The Rite or, indeed, any of the ballets, the intimacy of Stravinsky's contact with the scenario and its stage action, both before and during actual composition. In a letter to Roerich dated September 26, 1911, apparently written just after he had begun to compose, Stravinsky writes about a passage from the "Augurs of Spring": "The music is coming out very fresh and new. The picture of the old woman in a squirrel fur sticks in my mind. She is constantly before my eyes as I compose the 'Divination with Twigs': I see her run-


ning in front of the group, stopping sometimes and interrupting the rhythmic flow."[6] There are cues for "the old woman" at rehearsal nos. 15, 19, and 21 in the composer's four-hand piano score with choreographic notation,[7] and the syncopated, offbeat figure signaling the women's arrival at no. 15 is the first entry in the sketchbook of The Rite dating from 1911 to 1913.[8] (This initial sketch is shown in Example 58, Chapter 6.) But these sources are equally explicit about the ban on pantomime. In the same letter to Roerich, Stravinsky wrote: "I am convinced that the action must be danced and not pantomimed." And following the completion of the score, a synopsis of the scenario, sent to N. F. Findeizen, editor of the Russian Musical Gazette, is framed by the admonition that "the whole thing must be danced from beginning to end; I give not a single bar for pantomime."[9]

Still, the real change of heart began with what has been described by Robert Craft as "the Montjoie! affair."[10] Just prior to the premiere, Stravinsky granted an interview to Ricciotto Canudo, an author and founder of the Parisian arts journal Montjoie! Publication of this interview followed on the morning of the premiere, under the now infamous title "Ce que j'ai voulu exprimer dans Le Sacre du Printemps ."[11] For reasons that are still not altogether clear, the essay sparked an angry reply from Stravinsky, who claimed that his ideas had been misrepresented. Yet the article contains many passages that now seem typical of the composer. Apropos of the Introduction or Prelude to Part I, Stravinsky is quoted as remarking that the principal melodic line was given "not to the strings, which are too symbolic and representative of the human voice," but to the wind instruments, "which have a drier tone, and which are more precise and less endowed with facile expression."[12] And the description of the scenario is relatively straightforward, consistent not only with the synopsis sent to Findeizen (and with other apparently authorized accounts at this time), but also with what we now know, from letters, documents, and sketches, of the initial collaborative effort. Compare the following excerpts from the interview with the description Stravinsky prepared for Sergei Koussevitsky's concert performances of The Rite in Moscow in February, 1914. (The latter is given in full in Chapter 2, pp. 26–27.) Note the initial references here to the


"old woman," an image which, as already mentioned, accompanied some of the composer's earliest sketches for the "Augurs of Spring."

In the first scene [Part I], some adolescent boys appear with a very old woman, whose age and even whose century is unknown, who knows the secrets of nature, and teaches her sons Prediction ["Divination with Twigs"]. She runs, bent over the earth, half-woman, half-beast. The adolescents at her side are Augurs of Spring, who mark in their steps the rhythm of Spring. . . . During this time the adolescent girls come from the river. They form a circle which mingles with the boys' circle. . . . The groups separate and compete, messengers come from one side to the other and they quarrel.

It is the defining of forces through struggle, that is to say through games ["Ritual of the Rival Tribes"]. But a procession arrives ["Procession of the Sage"]. It is the Saint, the Sage, the Pontifex, the oldest of the clan. All are seized with terror. The Sage gives a benediction to the Earth, stretched flat, his arms and legs stretched out, becoming one with the soil. His benediction ["The Sage"] is as a signal for an eruption of rhythm ["Dance of the Earth"]. Each, covering his head, runs in spirals, pouring forth in numbers, like the new energies of nature.[13]

On the other hand, the interview's opening paragraphs may now seem extravagant in tone and imagery. "In the Prelude, before the curtain rises, I have confided to my orchestra the great fear which weighs on every sensitive soul confronted with the potentialities, the "being in one's self," which may increase and develop infinitely."[14]

The Moscow journal Muzyka published a Russian translation of the Montjoie! interview in August, 1913, which prompted another indignant reply.[15] In a letter to Muzyka 's editor, Stravinsky claimed that the interview had been given "practically on the run," that the Russian translation was inadequate (the French version had been more "coherent"), that the information on the scenario was "inaccurate," and that the "style" of the essay was misleading; he requested that a revised version be published.[16] But Stravinsky's revised text, translated in the first volume of the recently published Selected Correspondence, does not substantially alter the original content.[17] The opening paragraphs are tamed somewhat, but his corrections are for the most part grammatical.

The final episode of this "affair" came some fifty-seven years later, in a communication to The Nation . Responding to a review of three publications on his music, Stravinsky claimed once again that the Montjoie! interview had been "con-


cocted by a French journalist" and that he had "disavowed the essay not only at the time . . . but on later occasions as well."[18]

The signals here are contradictory. Yet behind the quibbling about accuracy, style, and translation seems to lie an early uneasiness with some of the aesthetic assumptions underlying the original production. Stravinsky is not explicit; he was perhaps unable to pinpoint the nature of his reservations. Possibly he felt that the claims of "primitivism," advanced with such insistence by the critics following the premiere, were too vehement and would distract the listener, inhibiting a thoughtful hearing and understanding of the music. Or Nijinsky's choreography may have seemed less than convincing, once memory of the very first performance, the only one attended by the composer himself in 1913, had dimmed.[19] But whatever the nature of Stravinsky's reservations, the extraordinary success of The Rite in the concert hall, crowned nearly a year later in Paris with Pierre Monteux once again at the podium, sealed its destiny. In a complete reversal of the riot that had accompanied its production as a ballet, The Rite became an overnight success on April 5, 1914; the composer, hoisted to the shoulders of a few bystanders, was led triumphantly from the hall of the Casino de Paris by an exuberant crowd of admirers. ("Our little Igor," Diaghilev mused, "now requires police escorts out of his concerts, like a prize fighter.")[20] Indeed, Petrushka underwent a similar transformation at this time, and one by no means fostered by the composer alone. Concerning his concert performances of Petrushka in March of 1914, Pierre Monteux wrote enthusiastically to the composer, "How much this music gains in concert performances; every detail is heard throughout the hall."[21] Stravinsky underscored these lines in red pencil.

Diaghilev's revival of the ballet in December, 1920, seven years after the premiere—after Stravinsky's traumatic break with Russia, and, perhaps above all, after Pulcinella (1919–20), his first fully developed neoclassical venture—was something quite different from the original. Léonide Massine composed the choreography, and apparently in accord with the composer's revised (or revisionist) wishes as expressed in another important interview at the time, "Les Deux Sacre du Printemps " in the journal Comoedia .[22] Stravinsky's comment that The Rite was neither "anecdotal" nor "descriptive" in character is consistent with earlier apparent objectives. Yet he went much farther than this, disavowing much of the pagan symbolism that had so obviously lain behind the original conception. His first idea, he now said, had been musical rather than visionary, and it was this idea that had


spawned the image of a sacrifice in prehistoric Russia. In what appears to be an obvious allusion to the celebrated "Augurs of Spring" chord at no. 13 of the score, he announced that his first idea had been conceived "in a strong and brutal manner."[23] These claims are contradicted by all other available sources, which invariably cite the dream or "vision" as the trigger and as having been unaccompanied by musical ideas.[24]

Equally misleading in the Comoedia interview are statements describing The Rite as an "objective construction," claiming that its conception had proceeded as "a work of pure musical construction."[25] For although, as already noted, we have for some time now been able to appreciate The Rite both ways, as ballet and as "pure musical construction" (even if the "purity" on the formalist side of this equation will always remain something of an aesthetic puzzle), letters and sketches at the time leave no doubt as to the extraordinarily intimate terms of the collaboration, the degree to which the scenario and its stage action provoked and at times guided the musical invention. Roerich, Stravinsky's earliest collaborator on the scenario, is not mentioned in the Comoedia interview. Massine's choreography is preferred to that of Nijinsky because it ignored the "heavy-coated symbolism" of the earlier production and, more importantly, because it did not "follow the music note by note, or even measure by measure"; it "battled against the bar line" in realizing "a pure choreographic construction" to complement the "pure musical construction."[26] Many years later, in Memories and Commentaries (1960), Stravinsky's comments were much the same:

[Nijinsky] believed that the choreography should re-emphasize the musical beat and pattern through constant coordination. In effect, this restricted the dance to rhythmic duplication of the music and made of it an imitation. Choreography, as I conceive it, must realize its own form, one independent of the musical form though measured to the musical unit. Its construction will be based on whatever correspondences the choreographer may invent, but it must not seek merely to duplicate the line and beat of the music. . . . I thought [Massine's choreography] excellent—incomparably clearer than Nijinsky's.[27]

And so The Rite 's career as an object of "pure musical delight" had begun. Henceforth all pronouncements by the composer and his adjuncts would up-


hold the new doctrine of "objective construction." Performances of the Diaghilev revival in London in June, 1921, were duly launched with revisionist bulletins, an assignment performed in advance by Edwin Evans, who, seven years earlier, had lectured London audiences on the intricacies of the symbolic representation.[28] The critics reacted harshly. Those who had originally expressed mild support had tended to excuse the "hideousness" of the music by pointing to its "primitive" subject matter; in 1921 they merely ridiculed the aesthetic turnabout.[29] Stravinsky was a "faddist," a panderer to whims, an "abstract" cosmopolitan who had betrayed the spiritual origins of his work (cold, heartless, soulless, "abstract," mechanical Stravinsky—the beginnings of the image with which we have grown so familiar). But to no considerable avail. For the protests were by now reactionary and too clearly on the losing side; the autonomy of the music had taken hold too securely. (That the abstract, mechanical quality of The Rite might be linked to matters critical to the rhythmic organization was an issue left untouched, although it is one to which we shall be directing our attention in Chapters 3 and 4.) The peculiarly Russian features in the melodic, instrumental, and pitch construction were forgotten, as was, of course, the original scenic effect. As for Nijinsky as a choreographer, Stravinsky wrote in 1935: "What struck me then, and still strikes me most, about the choreography, was and is Nijinsky's lack of consciousness of what he was doing in creating it. . . . What the choreography expressed was a very labored and barren effort rather than a plastic realization flowing simply and naturally free from what the music demanded."[30] His remarks in 1960 were more explicit:

My own disappointment with Nijinsky was due to the fact that he did not know the musical alphabet. He never understood musical meters and he had no very certain sense of tempo. You may imagine from this the rhythmic chaos that was Le Sacre du Printemps, and especially the chaos of the last dance where poor Mlle Piltz, the sacrificial maiden, was not even aware of the changing bars. Nor did Nijinsky make any attempt to understand my own choreographic ideas for Le Sacre . In the Danses des Adolescentes ["Augurs of Spring"], for example, I had imagined a row of almost motionless dancers. Nijinsky made of this piece a big jumping match.[31]


The true high point of the revisionist spirit came in the early 1950s with the lengthy and superbly drawn studies by Pierre Boulez.[32] In both Boulez's celebrated critique of Stravinsky's music and his analysis of rhythm, there occurs not a single reference to The Rite 's scenic or choreographic design. And one suspects that the composer, flattered by the technically imaginative attention of so young, promising, and fanatical a serialist, must have felt supremely vindicated. In Boulez's new pantheon, the "Russian"-period works, stretching roughly from the very beginning to Histoire du soldat (1918), are still favored over the "decadent" neoclassical ones. But this is now because of their advanced craftsmanship, their superiority as musical (i.e., "technical") structures, and, above all, their rhythmic innovations, not because of their soulful ties to "Mother Russia," as earlier in the century.

In the wake of a series of remarkable developments in the past two decades, there has now been a shift in the opposite direction. Musicians, scholars, and critics have taken a renewed interest in the circumstances of the conception of The Rite . The developments sparking this reaction have been the appearance, after nearly half a century, of the long-lost sketchbook cited already above, published in facsimile with a commentary by Robert Craft (1969); the recovery, in 1967, of the four-hand piano score with choreographic annotations by the composer; the publication of numerous letters, documents, and photographs pertaining to the initial conception and production;[33] the publication of selected reviews of the 1913 premiere and of the 1920–21 revival in Paris and London, and of reviews of subsequent performances throughout Europe during the 1920s;[34] and, most recently, the publication of a Selected Correspondence in three volumes, edited by Robert Craft.[35] Most prominent of the recoveries is undoubtedly the sketchbook, a "find" which has already given students of Stravinsky's music a new look at The Rite and the intricacies of its creation. According to a dedication signed by the composer on the first page, the sketchbook was given to Diaghilev in October of 1920. It then passed to Diaghilev's heir, Boris Kochno, who retained it for some thirty years. André Meyer acquired it in 1961 and made it available for facsimile re-


production several years later. The quality of the reproduction is stunning. The composer's red and blue markings are preserved in full color, and the impression it gives is very nearly that of the manuscript itself.[36]

Startling revelations have been accumulating. In a study dating from 1979, Lawrence Morton returned to the initial dream and claimed as its probable source a poem composed by the Russian modernist poet Sergei Gorodetsky.[37] This is not farfetched. There are no accounts of pagan sacrifice in standard Russian historical or anthropological literature, and Stravinsky's earlier "Two Melodies of Gorodetsky" (1907–08), opus 6, were composed to lyrics by this poet. Staviat Iarilu, "They Are Building Iarila, " the title of the poem cited by Morton, contains images of pagan ritual, wise elders, and the sacrifice of a virgin maiden. Staviat Iarilu appears in the same Gorodetsky volume as the two poems used in the earlier Stravinsky opus.[38]

More significantly, Morton examined the massive Juszkiewicz anthology of 1,785 Lithuanian folk songs known to have been in Stravinsky's possession at the time of The Rite —a formidable task, inasmuch as these melodies appear tediously in succession without title or harmonic realization.[39] Apart from no. 157 in this collection as the source of The Rite 's opening bassoon melody (the only borrowing previously acknowledged by Stravinsky), Morton unearthed three additional melodies with obvious ties to subsequent material in The Rite . These "source melodies," four in all, are listed in Examples 1–3, along with entries from the sketchbook and score that most closely approximate their contours.[40] Nos. 249 and 271, Examples 2a and b, are probable double sources for the tranquillo melody that frames the "Spring Rounds." Yet it should be noted that none of these "source melodies" is directly quoted in the sketchbook. Thus the melody at no. 46 in the "Ritual of Abduction" first appears on page 7 in the sketchbook with the shifting meter clearly in place (as shown in Example 3b); its source as no. 142 in the anthology, Example 3a, with the regular  image meter and E image-major key signature, does not appear. Doubtless following a tip from the composer, André Schaeffner first published the information on the opening bassoon melody in his 1931 biography.[41] Much later


Example 1

Example 2


Example 3

Stravinsky continued to insist that this had in fact been the only direct borrowing in The Rite : "If any of these ["Russian"-period] pieces sounds like aboriginal folk music, it may be because my powers of fabrication were able to tap some unconscious 'folk' memory."[42]

Study of the sketchbook itself led to further discoveries of this kind. In a seminal study of recent years, Richard Taruskin identified the melody at the top of page 8 in the sketchbook (Example 4a) as a transposition of no. 50 in Rimsky-Korsakov's One Hundred Russian National Songs (1877), opus 24.[43] At first glance, the melody appears wholly unrelated to the material it prefaces on page 8 (the principal section of the "Spring Rounds"), or, indeed, any other material of The Rite . However, the F-C-F-G fragment at m. 4 anticipates the


Example 4

motive of the Vivo section in "Spring Rounds" (as shown above in Example 4b), and hence also the motive at nos. 37 and 46 in the "Ritual of Abduction," the latter in turn linking to no. 142 in the Juszkiewicz anthology. (In accord with the original order of the dance movements of The Rite, "Spring Rounds" and its concluding Vivo section were sketched before the "Ritual of Abduction." The "Ritual of Abduction" melody at no. 46, with its shifting meter, appears as a relatively isolated entry on page 7, which is otherwise devoted principally to "Spring Rounds.")

The additional sources cited by Taruskin are more tenuous, with their links to the score based on folk-derived prototypes rather than on individual, specific outlines. In fact, Taruskin's thesis is that Stravinsky was at this time alert not only to the authenticity of his folk-song borrowings but to their ethnological character as well; Stravinsky deliberately sought out material that, in seasonal and ceremonial character, seemed appropriate to the implications of the scenario. And there can in fact be little doubt that during and after his composition of The Rite, Stravinsky's preoccupation with genuine Russian folk sources was a good deal more intense and conscientious than his


published—revisionist—statements suggest.[44] In one of the most striking pieces of evidence to date, a letter to his mother dated February 23, 1916, Stravinsky specifically requests that publications of the most recent, and hence most authentic, phonographically transcribed material be forwarded to his address in Switzerland:

Send me please, and as quickly as possible (you'll find them at Jurgenson's), the folk songs of the Caucasian peoples that have been phonographically transcribed. Others, non-phonographic, you needn't pick up. And while you're at it, if Jurgenson has any other phonographically transcribed songs, get them as well. Keep in mind that I already have the first installment of "Great Russian Songs in Folk Harmonization" (as transcribed phonographically by Linyova). Have there been any further installments?[45]

It is not known whether the second volume of Linyova's anthology was forwarded. The first volume of twenty-three folk songs (evidently in Stravinsky's possession at this time) includes in its Introduction a highly revealing discussion of the irregular rhythmic-metric patterns in Russian folk songs and of the relationship of this irregularity to sung folk verse. The twenty-three folk songs are harmonized according to authentic polyphonic practice, not, as in the anthologies compiled by Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and others, in the Westernized harmonic style. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to discover any of the specific outlines of these songs in the melodic material of Stravinsky's "Russian"-period works.

In a related study, Taruskin identified possible sources of the scenario, histories, and anthologies likely to have been known and consulted by Roerich.[46] They include a monumental study of peasant folklore and pagan prehistory by Alexander Afanasiev; a twelfth-century chronicle of early pagan customs entitled The Primary Chronicle ; a description of the Scyths in The Persian Wars, book IV, by Herodotus; and a book of sixty lyric and epic poems by Sergei


Gorodetsky. The latter is the book cited already as having inspired Stravinsky's original dream of ritual sacrifice and as the source of the two poems employed earlier by the composer in his "Two Melodies of Gorodetsky."

Remarkably, too, Stravinsky took an interest in the resurfacing of his original sources. In preparing the last 1967 edition of the score, he and Craft seem to have enjoyed the task of finding suitable English equivalents to the original Russian titles of the individual dance movements, a task that, for the composer, must inevitably have conjured up long-forgotten memories of the 1911–13 collaboration. In addition to the sketchbook, Stravinsky and Craft examined the newly recovered four-hand piano score with choreographic notation. The composer reported at length that, contrary to his earlier criticisms in Comoedia (1920) and Memories and Commentaries (1960), his annotations revealed choreographic accents and phrase units that were "seldom coterminous with the accents and phrases of the music"; the dance was "almost always in counterpoint to the music."[47] Thus, in the first climactic block of the "Augurs of Spring," at no. 28, the first eight measures,  image in the score, were to be counted "as if in  image ."[48] And in the concluding climactic block of this dance, the choreographic accents occur on the first beat of the  image measures at nos. 34–35, and on the second beat at nos. 35–36.[49]

Indeed, in his communication to The Nation cited above, Stravinsky urged that a revival be staged of the original Nijinsky realization, re-created from the recovered ballet score. Craft in turn proposed the New York City Ballet as the ideal company.[50] Although long at the forefront in the commission and production of Stravinsky's ballets, the company had never mounted a production of The Rite .

And so we arrive, in near full circle, at a brief moment of truth. Can these recoveries and the historical research they have already spawned lead to a revival of sorts, granting us the occasional luxury of actually experiencing The Rite both ways? Or, short of a revival, can the documentation newly illuminate the music and possibly transform our revisionist bent, our long-held perception of the work as indeed one of "pure musical construction"?

Clearly one problem is that the dynamics of revival, though intrinsically dependent on an historical record, are ultimately an aesthetic and hence supremely practical matter. Leaving aside the pull of sheer nostalgia (and there can surely be very little of this at the present time), an account of the symbolic origins of The Rite, however rigorously determined, can hardly be expected to govern contemporary matters of taste, fashion, or aesthetic appeal. One


hopes that The Rite will continue to survive not as an historical document but as an artistic achievement that must work here and now. And surely no one, however much he may have distorted the record from time to time, could have been more acutely sensitive to these issues than Stravinsky himself. Indeed, the very distortions we have traced were symptoms of personally evolving aesthetic impulses and are as such no less genuinely legitimate than the assumptions that now appear to have governed the 1911–1913 conception and collaboration.

To take only one example: for listeners versed in Russian folk ways and folk songs, Les Noces has always seemed about as authentically Russian as could reasonably be imagined for a piece of this kind—indeed, in its folkish accent, far more Russian in spirit than the music of the so-called Mighty Five or of the more academically inclined post-Kuchkist tradition. Yet Les Noces contains far fewer direct musical borrowings than The Firebird, Petrushka, or The Rite . Stravinsky's insistence on his own uniquely devised "powers of fabrication" seems very much to the point here. For the libretto of Les Noces he borrowed extensively from Russian anthologies, but he reserved for himself the right to use this material "with absolute freedom."[51]

A restoration of Nijinsky's choreography of The Rite may well be in order, and few could remain indifferent to the prospect of a truly convincing dance complement to the music, one that could in addition stimulate the beginnings of a tradition in choreographic design which has for so long been lacking. However, visions of prehistoric Russia, at least as they appear to have been drawn in the original 1913 production, would almost certainly offer greater difficulty. Nor did the composer ever suggest a resurrection of this kind. His final argument was merely that Nijinsky's original composition had been dealt an "injustice."[52] There is no indication that he favored an abandonment of The Rite 's career in the concert hall or that his preference for the work as concert music was in any way affected. (The long-standing preference may well have been owing to the fact that The Rite was already very overtly "dance music" and that choreographic interpretations tended therefore to be redundant even when "in counterpoint to the music" and hence to degenerate into spectacle.)

Much of the criticism directed by present-day scholars at Stravinsky's revisionist stance during the neoclassical era is reminiscent of the criticism, sixty years earlier, of Massine's 1920 revival of the ballet. Critics of this effort had complained that the composer had forsaken the original scenic and choreographic trappings, components which for them had rendered the original production at least halfway intelligible. In a similar vein, Richard Taruskin, the


most astute and knowledgeable of current scholars in the field of nineteenth-century Russian music and early Stravinsky generally, has chided Stravinsky for "busily revising his past" to suit his neoclassical preoccupations, his "fealty to the values of 'pure music.'"[53] He even construes André Schaeffner's revelation about The Rite 's opening bassoon melody as an attempt by the composer to conceal the increasingly unfashionable folkloristic origin of The Rite : "The clear implication," Taruskin writes, "was that this citation was the unique instance of its kind in the ballet."[54] Similarly, Truman Bullard has accused the composer of "attempting to rewrite the history of the work on the basis of its later success as a concert piece."[55]

There is no doubt that in Comoedia (1920), the Autobiography (1935), and Memories and Commentaries (1960), the composer forgot or sought deliberately to revise the circumstances of The Rite 's conception. (That he may have forgotten a great deal on each of these occasions should not be summarily dismissed. The 1920 revival came, as indicated already, seven years after the premiere, and Stravinsky attended only one of the 1913 performances. Moreover, his intense preoccupation with the here-and-now of his compositions, with his immediate artistic inclinations and objectives, is well documented.) But what is surprising is that his disenchantment with the 1913 production should have commenced not after the neoclassical shift, which began in earnest with Pulcinella in 1919–20, but almost immediately after the premiere. He encouraged and was undoubtedly greatly influenced by Monteux's concert performances in 1914. And his reasoning at the time could not have been entirely aesthetic. Surely he recognized the financial advantages of the concert option, respecting not only The Rite and Petrushka but, later in 1919, The Firebird as well.

But even on aesthetic grounds, were the composer's judgments necessarily "wrong"? Might he not have sensed that, by sidestepping its explicit symbolic confines, The Rite could attain, as music, the kind of universal appeal it has now for so long enjoyed? Furthermore, can the aesthetics of "musical abstraction," of "absolute" or "pure music," be isolated and depicted as a peculiarly Stravinskian inclination? These ideas have been with us for some time, at the very least since the late eighteenth century when there arose, as a defense against the stolid, virtuous tradition of "melody" and "the word," an attempt to fashion a new philosophical and critical basis on which to support the growing popularity and prestige of the new instrumental forms.[56] Taruskin and others might argue that this is precisely the point, that these ideas were


alien to the Russian symbolic climate in which The Rite was conceived and were adopted only later by the composer as part of his neoclassical volte-face. Yet here too one could argue quite differently. Considering the fate of much ballet, incidental, and program music during the past century, the concerthall career of The Rite can hardly be deemed exceptional. For better or worse, the reality in modern times has been stubbornly one-sided: with opera as the exception, music has succeeded as musical structure (i.e., as "music") or it has barely succeeded at all. Indeed, so integrally a part of our musical consciousness have such concepts as "absolute" and "autonomous" music become that they have of late been seen as a threat to the authority of historical inquiry: giving "musical autonomy" free rein, of what use is the study of historical origins and contexts?[57]

For all the complexity of its implications, Stravinsky's formalist attitude was relatively straightforward. The notorious dictum that music was "powerless to express anything at all"[58] became, in Expositions and Developments, "music expresses itself"; music, being both "supra-personal and super-real," was "beyond verbal meanings and verbal descriptions."[59] The works of a composer might well embody his feelings, might express or symbolize these feelings. But "consciousness of this step does not concern the composer."[60] Stravinsky stressed the distinction between thinking in music ("perceptual") and thinking about music ("conceptual"). Modern-day thinkers to the contrary, the perceptual-conceptual, practice-theory, innate-learned, and doerthinker dichotomies remained for him meaningful distinctions.

(We do certainly love talking conceptually.) But the composer works through a perceptual, not a conceptual, process. He perceives, he selects, he combines, and is not in the least aware at what point meanings of a different sort and significance grow into his works. All he knows or cares about is the apprehension of the contours of form, for form is everything.[61]

Of course, these formalist convictions were closely aligned to aspects of musical structure, in particular to features of the rhythmic organization that required, for their proper apprehension, a clean, metronomic, "mechanical" approach, features entirely at odds with the Romantic and post-Romantic traditions. In succeeding chapters we shall be endeavoring to clarify the nature of these relationships. Suffice it to say here that these Stravinskian dicta are ones with which the present writer, on even a more general plane, can find no seri-


ous disagreement. One need merely substitute listener for composer in the above quotations and the reasoning becomes impregnable.

Perhaps the second of the two possibilities mentioned above offers greater advantage for the immediate future: namely, that a study of the scenario and of the newly recovered source materials can in some fashion augment our understanding of the music. In the sketchbook itself, most of the individual movements are prefaced by Roerich's headings, and some of these include subheadings to cover the details of the stage action. On page 29, for example, a sketch for the material at no. 38 in the "Ritual of Abduction" is accompanied by an inscription identifying this as the moment at which, on stage, the tribal bride is "seized." Just below is Robert Craft's brief description of the "Ritual of the Rival Tribes" and the succeeding "Procession of the Sage," derived from a survey of the sketchbook and from the composer's later recollections of the original stage action.

The ritual is a tribal war-game, a contest of strength as determined, for example, in a tug of war. Two sharply contrasted groups are identified, the first by heavy, comparatively slow figures in bass register (the first two measures at No. 57 and the brass chords before No. 59), the second by fast figures in treble register (the third measure of No. 57). The clash occurs (the fifth measure of No. 57) where the music of both is superimposed. The next event, the Procession of the Oldest and Wisest One, is heralded by the entrance of the tubas at No. 64. A clearing is prepared at the center of the stage and the Sage's arrival there, with the women of the tribe in his train, coincides with the first beat of No. 70, the orchestral tutti which signifies the gathering of all the people.[62]

All of this fits the musical discourse. The "Rival Tribes" at nos. 57–64 is in fact composed of three contrasting blocks of material which, shuffled and varied in length, are placed in repeated and abrupt juxtaposition. The first two of these blocks, at nos. 57 and 57 + 2, are highly dissimilar, and as such complement the individual movements of the two competing tribes; the third block, at no. 57 + 4, with its material borrowed from the two preceding blocks, is both musically and scenically a "clash." Finally, the music at no. 70 in the "Procession of the Sage" signifies the arrival of the Sage and "the gathering of all the people." And it is precisely here that the conflicting rhythmic-metric periods defined by the reiterating tuba and horn fragments at nos. 64–71 are brought within a stable synchronization, that the rhythmic-metric conflict of this section is resolved.


As indicated earlier in this chapter, much of The Rite was composed with images of the particular rites and ceremonies clearly in mind. Working now in the opposite direction, these same images can often clarify or at least confirm our perception of musical form. Whether, on the other hand, a study of the handful of individual Lithuanian and Russian "source melodies" can provide similar illumination seems more open to question. The lines of contact are here more remote, the bits and pieces of melody obscured by the reality of all that is indeed profoundly new. Stravinsky's extractions from the Lithuanian collection are no doubt of considerable interest, since they document an initial reliance which had earlier been thought nonexistent and in this way tie the piece to the two earlier ballets, placing it in the broader tradition of borrowing inherited from Stravinsky's immediate Russian predecessors. These extractions also point to fundamentals of the compositional process, to the composer's frequent dependence on borrowed, melodic "stuff" and his instinct for recomposing, simulating, "making his own" objects of practical or aesthetic appeal, all of which would eventually become as much a part of the neoclassical orientation as it was earlier of the "Russian." Yet there are fundamental differences between the use of folk songs in The Rite and the use of such material in The Firebird and Petrushka . In Petrushka it is revealing to compare Stravinsky's version of the Easter song at no. 5 in the first tableau to Rimsky-Korsakov's tonal adaption of the same melody, or to acknowledge how the instrumentation and harmony of "Elle avait un'jambe en bois" at nos. 13 and 15 ingeniously project the street flavor of this French chanson.[63] But there is nothing comparable to this in The Rite . The Lithuanian sources are without titles or harmony, and Stravinsky himself could scarcely have known all that much about their authentic character or function. The borrowings are of documentary interest only; musically, they are curiosities. Richard Taruskin has endeavored to pinpoint some of the ethnological implications of a number of melodic "prototypes," and with these possible Russian sources there is perhaps a greater certainty of the composer's familiarity. Yet even here, character, function, and outline are radically transformed, and in the end one is tempted to accept Stravinsky's plea of forgetfulness or indifference to the whole matter of borrowing. (On several occasions he confessed that the question of originality, of "fabrication or ethnological authenticity," was of no interest to him.)[64] What there is musically of a peculiarly Russian stamp in The Rite can better be pursued within the broader context of pitch structure, where many features, however much transformed by new techniques and rhythmic procedures, relate conspicuously to the preoccupations of Stravinsky's teacher Rimsky-Korsakov.


Then, too, even given the intimacy of Stravinsky's initial contact with Roerich's titles and ceremonies, it cannot be imagined that in the process of composition these materials were merely "set to music." Far more significantly, the detailed scenic action, once visualized, functioned as an ignition—as, earlier, the initial dream or vision had. It worked like a trigger that set the musical imagination in motion, performing much the same role as the syllables and words of the texts of Stravinsky's vocal works.[65] From this point on, the logic of the musical discourse inevitably took hold. (Stravinsky later recalled that the detailed stage picture did in fact often vanish "as soon as it had served its adjuvant purpose.")[66] Thus while images of "the old woman" in the "Augurs of Spring," of the seizing of the tribal bride in the "Ritual of Abduction," and of the two contending tribes in the "Rival Tribes" served as points of departure, the synchronization that eventually emerged between music and stage action is as likely to have sprung from the subsequent musical invention as from the initial picture itself.

The present inquiry sets off from the following propositions:

1. The "interdisciplinary" conception of The Rite was soon forgotten after the 1913 production, abandoned in favor of the "musical construction."

2. Recent recoveries of source materials have renewed an appreciation of the conditions attending The Rite 's conception as a ballet.

3. These sources, however enlightening as commentary, in no way undermine the integrity of The Rite as "musical construction."

In other words, merely by virtue of historical precedence, these recovered source materials in no way reveal a privileged conception of The Rite . Stravinsky's post-premiere attitudes are today no less valid than the assumptions that shaped the origin of this piece. And without in the least negating The Rite 's inception or continuing potential as ballet, it is with an ear and eye toward its musical significance that this discourse stakes its course. The music itself is the focus, and what may be examined of the initial collaboration, the choreography, and the scenario is weighed and acknowledged accordingly.


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