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372 The Twentieth Century

E, F, G, A-flat. These were probably the six notes with which the composition began, in the following order: C-sharp, D, F, E, A-flat, G. When I built the main themes from these six tones I did not bind myself to the order of their first appearance. I was still at this time far away from the methodical application of a set. Still I believe that also this idea offered the promise of unity to a certain degree. Of course, in order to build up a work of the length of [the opera] Moses und Aron from one single set, a technique had to be developed, or rather the fear that this would not succeed had to be conquered. That took several years. Before I wrote my first strict composition with twelve tones—in 1921—1 had still to pass through several stages. This can be noticed in two works which 1 had partly written preceding the Piano Suite, op. 25—partly even in 1919, the Five Piano Pieces, op. 23, and the Serenade, op. 24. In both these works there are parts composed in 1922 and 1923 which are strict twelve-tone compositions. But the rest represent the afore­ mentioned stages. In my workshop language, when I talked to myself, 1 called this procedure “work­ ing with tones of the motif.” This was obviously an exercise indispensable for the acquisition of a technique to conquer the obstacles which a set of twelve tones opposes to a free production of fluent writing. Similarly, as in the case of Die Jakobsleiter, here also all main themes had to be transformations of the first phrase. Already here the basic motif was not only productive in furnishing new motif-forms through developing variations, but also in producing more remote formulations based on the unifying effect of one common factor: the repetition of tonal and intervallic relationships. It is quite easy to repeat a basic set in one or more voices over and over again. There is no merit in writing canons of two or more voices; even the writing of whole fugues is a little too easy under these circumstances. Composing of these forms in which the highest achievement has already been reached by composers whose form of expression was that of contrapuntal combinations should only be undertaken, for instance, if a composer feels he must calm down a sort of nostalgic longing for old-time beauty, or because in the course of a huge work one of the parts must be in old style.

Arnold Schoenberg, Style and Idea, ed. Leonard Stein (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975), 245-49. Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber Ltd., London.


The Rite of Spring

Quite the most spectacular "event" in the history of the early twentieth-century musical avant-garde was the premiere of the ballet The Rite of Spring {Le Sacre du Printemps) by the young Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), who was then a staff composer for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. A musical evocation of the fertility rites of ancient, pagan Russia, this was a work calculated to set the musical world on its ear. Its freedom of dissonance, the crashing force of its "barbaric" orchestration, and above all its hugely resourceful innovations in asymmetrical rhythm, made the work at once bewildering and irresistibly exciting to its early audiences. The result was a historic near-riot at the first performance, which took place in Paris on 29 May 1913.

The Rite of Spring


The Rite of Spring. In this brilliant caricature made by Jean Cocteau in the year of the premiere, Stravinsky bangs out his ballet at the keyboard and conjures up the ancient elders, youths, and virgins that people it, including the sacrificial dancer at the top. All are rendered with a “cubist” angularity that conveys something of the brusque

primitivism of the music. © 2007 Estate of Jean Cocteau / Artists Rights


(ARS), NT.

Below, we give a quartet of readings on this extraordinary work, beginning with an article that appeared over Stravinsky's name in a Paris art magazine on the day of the premiere. Stravinsky attempted on numerous subsequent occasions to disavow the piece, but letters exist that confirm his authorship beyond doubt. It conveys vividly

Stravinsky's own attitude towards his greatest work at the time of its composition.

What I Wished to Express in "The Rite of Spring"

Some years ago the Parisian public was kind enough to receive favorably my Firebird and Petrushka. My friends have noted the evolution of the underlying idea, which passes from the fantastic fable of one of these works to the purely human generalization of the other. I fear that “The Rite of Spring,” in which I appeal neither to the spirit of fairy tales nor to human joy and grief, but in which I strive towards a somewhat greater abstraction, may confuse those who have until now manifested a precious sympathy

towards me. In “The Rite of Spring” I wished to express the sublime uprising of Nature

renewing herself—the whole pantheistic uprising of the universal harvest.

374 The Twentieth Century

In the Prelude, before the curtain rises, I have confided to my orchestra the great fear which weighs on every sensitive soul confronted with potentialities, the “thing in one’s self,” which may increase and develop infinitely. A feeble flute tone may contain potentiality, spreading throughout the orchestra. It is the obscure and immense sensa­ tion of which all things are conscious when Nature renews its forms; it is the vague and profound uneasiness of a universal puberty. Even in my orchestration and my melodic development I have sought to define it. The whole IJrelude is based upon a continuous “mezzo forte.” The melody devel­ ops in a horizontal line that only masses of instruments (the intense dynamic power of the orchestra and not the melodic line itself) increase or diminish. In consequence, I have not given this melody to the strings, which are too symbolic and representative of the human voice; with the crescendi and diminuendi, I have brought forward the wind instruments which have a drier tone, which are more precise, less endowed with facile expression, and on this account more suitable for my purpose. In short, I have tried to express in this Prelude the fear of nature before the arising of beauty, a sacred terror at the midday sun, a sort of pagan cry. The musical material itselfswells, enlarges, expands. Each instrument is like a bud which grows on the bark of an aged tree; it becomes part of an imposing whole. And the whole orchestra, all this massing of instruments, should have the significance of the Birth of Spring. In the first scene, 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 Divination. 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, the pulse-beat of spring. During this time the adolescent girls come from the river. They form a circle which mingles with the boys’ circle. They are not entirely formed beings; their sex is single and double like that of the tree. The groups mingle, but in their rhythms one feels the cataclysm of groups about to form. In fact they divide right and left. It is the realization of form, the synthesis of rhythms, and the thing formed produces a new rhythm. The groups separate and compete, messengers come from one to the other and they quarrel. It is the defining of forces through struggle, that is to say through games. But a Procession arrives. 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 is as a signal for an eruption of rhythm. Each, covering his head, runs in spirals, pouring forth in numbers, like the new energies of nature. It is the Dance of the Earth. The second scene begins with an obscure game of the adolescent girls. At the beginning, a musical picture is based upon a song which accompanies the young girls’ dances. The latter mark in their dance the place where the Elect will be confined, and whence she cannot move. The Elect is she whom the Spring is to consecrate, and who will give back to Spring the force that youth has taken from it. The young girls dance about the Elect, a sort of glorification. Then comes the purification of the soil and the Evocation of the Ancestors. The Ancestors gather around the Elect, who begins the “Dance of Consecration.” When she is on the point of falling exhausted, the Ancestors recognize it and glide toward her like rapacious monsters in order that she may not touch the ground; they pick her up and raise her toward heaven. The annual cycle of forces which are born again, and which fall again into the bosom of nature, is accomplished in its essential rhythms.

The Rite of Spring


I am happy to have found in [Vaslav] Nijinsky the ideal choreographic collaborator, and in [Nicholas] Roerich the creator of the decorative atmosphere for this work of faith.

Boston Evening Transcript, 12 February 1916. Trans. Edward Burlingame Hill.

As for the premiere, an eyewitness account by the American writer Carl Van Vechten

can hardly be bettered for its immediacy and atmosphere.

My personal impressions of Stravinsky’s music and its effect on me are very strong. I attended the first performance in Paris ofhis anarchistic (against the canons of academic art) ballet. The Sacrifice to the Spring, in which primitive emotions are both depicted and aroused by a dependence on barbarous rhythm, in which melody and harmony, as even so late a composer as Richard Strauss understands them, do not enter. A certain part of the audience, thrilled by what it considered a blasphemous attempt to destroy music as an art, and swept away with wrath, began very soon after the rise of the curtain to whistle, to make cat-calls, and to offer audible suggestions as to how the performance should proceed. Others of us, who liked the music and felt that the principles of free speech were at stake, bellowed defiance. It was war over art for the rest of the evening and the orchestra played on unheard, except occasionally when a slight lull occurred. The figures on stage danced in time to music they had to imagine they heard and beautifully out of rhythm with the uproar in the auditorium. I was sitting in a box in which I had rented one seat. Three ladies sat in front of me and a young man occupied the place behind me. He stood up during the course ofthe ballet to enable himselfto see more clearly. The intense excitement under which he was laboring, thanks to the potent force of the music, betrayed itself presently when he began to beat rhythmically on the top of my head with his fists. My emotion was so great that I did not feel the blows for some time. They were perfectly synchronized with the beat of the music. When I did, I turned around. His apology was sincere. We had both been carried beyond ourselves.

Carl Van Vechten, Music After the Great War (New York: G. Schirmer, 1915), 87-88.

Although it is easy now to place The Rite of Spring in the context of its Russian "nation­ alist" heritage, particularly the colorful scores of Stravinsky's teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, at first the reaction of the older generation of Russian composers was no different from that of conservative musicians everywhere. Especially interesting is the response of Cesar Cui (1835-1918), the last survivor of the New Russian School (see p. 333). The view of Stravinsky as a kind of musical anarchist or saboteur was widespread.

Recentiy Sergei Koussevitzky has performed Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which has broken all records for cacophony and hideousness. It is a treasure chest in which Stravinsky has lovingly collected all sorts of musical filth and refuse. This Rite has been booed everywhere abroad, but among us it found some applauders proof that we are ahead of Europe on the path of musical progress.

Letter to M. S. Kerzina, 16 February (1 March, New Style) 1914, in Cesar Cui, Izbrannyepis’ma (Leningrad:

Muzgiz, 1955), 446. Trans. R. T.

But Stravinsky did not see himself as a monger of filth. And later developments in his career eEable us to credit completely the sincerity of his protest at his masterpiece's reception, as reported in the French press shortly after The Rite's premiere.

376 The Twentieth Century

Igor Stravinsky is displeased. The audience of the Ballets Russes reacted to his new work Le Sacre du Printemps with discordant outcries and laughter, interrupted by the ap­ plause of a few initiates. But in all fairness I must say that the composer was not very much upset and did not fulminate too violently against his detractors when we inter­ viewed him yesterday. Stravinsky is small in stature, but looks tall because he holds his forehead high, so that he dominates his interlocutor; he speaks from an elevation, and his eyes rove over objects and people with a mobility that engulfs them like a sudden shower. “That my music could not be immediately accepted, I quite understand,” he declared backstage at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. “What is unjustifiable, however, is the lack of good will on the part of the audience. It seems to me that they should have waited for the end of the performance to express their disapproval. This would have been courteous and honest. I gave them something new, and I fully expected that those who had applauded Petrushka and The Firebird [presented in previous seasons] would be somewhat dismayed, but I also expected an understanding attitude. I have acted in good faith; my previous works which have been well received were a guarantee of my sincerity, and should have proved that I had no intention whatsoever of making fun of the public. During the premiere, when the commotion made it impossible for the dancers to hear the music, we all were quite unhappy, not only because of our own pride, but because we feared that we would not be able to go on with the show. And this was the reward for 130 rehearsals and a year of work!”

Henri Postel du Mas in Gil Bias (Paris, 4 June 1913), quoted in Nicolas Slonimsky (ed.). Music Since 1900, 4th ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971), 224. Trans. Nicolas Slonimsky. Copyright © 1971 Nicolas Slonimsky. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner’s Sons.


A Futurist Manifesto

If Stravinsky (see the previous selection) was no musical anarchist, the times certainly did not lack for them. Many of these wild-eyed radicals came from Italy, where they were known as Futurists. Although it is difficult today to suppress a smile when reading manifestos like Luigi Russolo's of 1913, the Futurists did prefigure a serious musical movement of the immediate post-World War II period— that of musique concrete, in which the sounds of the everyday world were pressed into musical service through the agency of the tape recorder. This device being unavailable to the earlier Futurists, their "music of noises" remained for the most part an imaginative fantasy. It is worth noting, perhaps, that the author of this fiery condemnation of all musical traditions was no

musician himself, but a painter.

Life in ancient times was silent. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of ma­ chines, Noise was born. Today Noise is triumphant, and reigns supreme over the senses of men. The art of music at first sought and achieved purity and sweetness of sound; later, it blended diverse sounds, but always with intent to caress the ear with suave harmonies. Today, growing ever more complicated, it seeks those combinations of

A Futurist Manifesto


sounds that fall most dissonantly, strangely, and harshly upon the ear. We thus approach nearer and nearer to the music of noise. We must break out of this narrow circle of pure musical sounds, and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds. Everyone will recognize that every musical sound carries with it an incrustation of familiar and stale sense associations, which predispose the hearer to boredom, despite all the efforts of innovating musicians. We futurists have all deeply loved the music of the great composers. Beethoven and Wagner for many years wrung our hearts. But now we are sated with them and derive much greater pleasure from ideally combining the noises of streetcars, internal-combustion engines, automobiles, and busy crowds than from re-hearing, for example, the “Eroica” or the “Pastorale. We cannot see the immense apparatus of the modern orchestra without being profoundly disappointed by its feeble acoustic achievements. Is there anything more absurd than to see twenty men breaking their necks to multiply the meowling of a violin? All this will naturally infuriate the musicomaniacs and perhaps disturb the som­ nolent atmosphere of our concert halls. Let us enter, as futurists, into one of these institutions for musical anemia. The first measure assails your ear with the boredom of the already-heard and causes you to anticipate the boredom of the measure to come. Thus we sip, from measure to measure, two or three different sorts of boredom, while we await an unusual emotion that never arrives. Meanwhile we are revolted by the monotony of the sensations experienced, combined with the idiotic religious excite­ ment of the listeners, Buddhistically intoxicated by the thousandth repetition of their hypocritical and artificial ecstasy. Away! Let us be gone, since we shall not much lonpr succeed in restraining a desire to create a new musical realism by a generous distribution of sonorous blows and slaps, leaping nimbly over violins, pianofortes, contrabasses, and

groaning organs. Away! Let us wander through a great modern city with our ears more attentive than our eyes, and distinguish the sounds of water, air, or gas in metal pipes, the purring of motors (which breathe and pulsate with an indubitable animalism), the throbbing of valves, the pounding ofpistons, the screeching of gears, the clatter of streetcars on their rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of awnings and flags. We shall amuse ourselves by orchestrating in our minds the noise of the metal shutters of store windows, the slamming of doors, the bustle and shuffle of crowds, the multitudinous uproar of railroad stations, forges, mills, printing presses, power stations, and underground rail­ ways. Nor should the new noises of modern warfare be forgotten. We must frx the pitch and regulate the harmonies and rhythms of these extraordi­ narily varied sounds. To fix the pitch of noises does not mean to take away from them all the irregularity of tempo and intensity that characterizes their vibrations, but rather to give definite gradation or pitch to the stronger and more predominant of these vibra­ tions. Indeed, noise is differentiated from musical sound merely in that the vibrations that produce it are confused and irregular, both in tempo and in intensity. Every manifestation of life is accompanied by noise. Noise is therefore familiar to our ears and has the power to remind us immediately of life itself Musical sound, a thing extraneous to life and independent of it, an occasional and unnecessary adjunct, has become for our ears what a too familiar face is to our eyes. Noise, on the other hand, which comes to us confused and irregular as life itself, never reveals itself wholly but reserves for us innumerable surprises. We are convinced, therefore, that by selecting, co-ordinating, and controlling noises we shall enrich mankind with a new and unsuspected source of pleasure. Despite the fact that it is characteristic of sound