In 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring premiered to such a hostile reception that forty members of the audience were ejected for first fighting with one another and then flinging things at the orchestra. Radiolab did a nice program on this famous performance, if you’d like to learn more about it.
What was all the fuss about? Some say it was Nijinsky’s bizarro choreography, and some say that bad luck happened to bring in an especially belligerent crowd. But most say it was the music. The shockingly dissonant music. Music that was a violent assault on the unready ears of an earlier age. Just how bad was this music? It sure seems tame enough now. But this animation by Stephen Malinowski can give you a heightened sense of the wild and rich tapestry Stravinsky assembled.
There’s a great story about how Diaghilev, the ballet’s producer, was first listening to Stravinsky play the pounding chords that ultimately sparked the tumult on opening night. Stravinsky recalled:
He was a little bit surprised to see this repetition of the chord so many times. He asked me only one thing: Will it last a very long time? And I said: till the end, my dear.
This towering chord (an E-flat dominant seventh on top and an F-flat triad on the bottom) makes its first appearance at 3:16 in Malinowksi’s animation. It shows up quite a lot after that. You can follow the score on this excellent San Francisco Symphony site. It’s too bad we can’t hear it with 1913 ears.
That would make a good app: iTunes with the 1913 Ears edition. But make sure you don’t have any weapons or heavy objects nearby when you listen.