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Celebrating 100 years of "The Rite"

Today marks 100 years to the day since the infamous first performance of Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) at the Théâtre des Champs‐Elysées in Paris on 29 May 1913. The 31-year-old composer's two-part ballet score, coupled with 24-year-old Vaclav Nijinsky's choreography, provoked a riot on the opening night that according to most accounts rendered the music inaudible for most of the performance. The protests were so loud that Ballet Russes Director, Serge Diaghilev, was supposedly forced to shout instructions to his dancers onstage while flashing the auditorium's house lights in an attempt to quell the enraged audience. 

Despite the reaction on the opening night, the Rite of Spring is generally regarded as one of Stravinsky's finest compositions and one of the most important musical works ever written. 

As one might expect, "The Rite", as it is often affectionately referred to, has been recorded many times, with numerous opinions around as to which best captures Stravinsky's intentions. My personal favorite is Riccardo Muti's recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra, available via Naxos Music Library, or on CD at the Music Library.

However, before the first gramophone recordings of the Rite of Spring were released in 1929, on the Columbia Label, Stravinsky himself performed an arrangement of the work on piano in 1921, for the player-piano company Pleyel. As Philip Stuart notes in his 1991 Stravinsky Discography entitled Igor Stravinsky - The Composer in the Recorded Studio, before the advent of microphone based electrical recording in 1925, the gramophone was not able to successfully capture a full symphony orchestra, leaving composers with the option to either re-orchestrate their works for smaller forces or create piano reductions to be transcribed onto piano rolls and played back via player pianos. Many composers, including Stravinsky, chose this later option. 

Stravinsky continued to create piano rolls until 1929, including a series for the three movements of his 1924 Sonata for Piano for the Duo-Art roll company, copies of which can be found within the collections of the Archive of Recorded Sound (see image above).        

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