Reportedly, the inspiration for Stravinsky’s most famous work came when the composer unexpectedly received a vision. I don’t know if it was opium-induced, like the demon-ridden icehouse that drove Coleridge. But whether he was sober or not, in his mind’s eye Stravinsky witnessed an ancient pagan ritual that culminated in the sacrifice of a young virgin who danced herself to death. Stravinsky then wrote a soundtrack for this infernal vision. The result was The Rite of Spring.
Staged as a ballet (choreographed by Nijinsky), Stravinsky’s masterpiece was so revolutionary that it started a riot at its 1913 Paris premiere. Now that, my friends, is true rock and roll. In fact, I’d call it heavy metal, scored for orchestra. Except nothing like that has ever come close to happening at even the best or heaviest rock concerts I’ve been to. Not even Megadeth! Stravinsky’s masterwork has been so influential that someone once called all 20th-century music the “Re-write of Spring.” After 20 years of obsessing over this piece, I’m still dumbfounded at how its creator invoked primal chaos so deliberately and intellectually, resulting in an unparalleled work of jarring dissonance and transcendent beauty.
On a side note, though, I’m not too jazzed anymore about Stravinsky’s storyline, which I think reveals the composer’s Old World mentality. I think romanticizing a young girl’s death as some exciting and glorious event is an archaic and dangerous point of view. I started thinking this way after having a conversation years ago with culture critic Mark Dery. We were discussing Beat and post-Beat writers that I liked, when Mark said that he thought a lot of those guys (and they were mostly guys) were misogynists who saw redemption in killing women. William Burroughs, for instance, claimed that, had he not killed his wife, Joan, he couldn’t have become a writer. I agree with Mark that preying on vulnerable women isn’t cool. I also agree with Carl Jung that glorifying violence against what is feminine and maternal constitutes a war against life itself and has created a massive, collective psychic imbalance. I think it’s a holdover from caveman days, and has caused some of humanity’s direst problems, from war to global pollution. I’m not a militant feminist; I just believe in love and life. Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox and merely say that I love The Rite of Spring, despite its flaws. Here are Youtube pages where you can watch a recreation of its original staging; it’s pretty trippy: