Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Rhythm is everything": how Stravinsky himself choreographed the Rite

Before you ditch the Rite of Spring centenary for overkill, please read this utterly fascinating essay by Robert Craft from the Times Literary Supplement.

"Rhythm is everything," Stravinsky wrote on his score. "Where there is rhythm, there is music..." His descriptions of exactly how he wants the dancers to count would probably cause some crossed pointe shoes, though.

Craft, the composer's amanuensis, records the inception of the ballet and its Lithuanian influences, especially the work of Ciurlionis; the vital input of the artist Nicholas Roerich; and Stravinsky's own plans for its choreography, in minute detail. (It also sheds some intriguing light on the great Russian's sexuality, which in turn casts unexpected illumination on his relationship with Diaghilev, and may possibly disillusion fans of Igor and Coco...)
'Moving to his piano, Stravinsky opened a copy of The Rite and played a few passages. Suddenly, in the “Augurs of Spring”, he stopped playing to criticize the music, remarking that “the really innovative element is the accents”, and “the upper parts are good enough and the bass is acceptable, but I could have found something more interesting in the middle”. His final remark, as he flicked through the rest of the score, is unforgettable: “There are good things in this, but also many pages that do not interest me at all”. This is the man who on the first day I met him said, “Music is the greatest means we have of digesting time”.'
Read the whole thing here.  Craft's new book, Stravinksy: Discoveries and Memories, was published last month.