Le Sacre du Printemps
Rarely was a work of art more designed to shock than Stravinsky’s and Diaghilev’s ballet The Rite of Spring, whose 1913 première triggered one of the most famous riots in the history of classical music. Furious whistling and cat-calls shot forth from the opening bars and soon degenerated into arguments and fist fights. The police was called in but failed to restore order, to the utter delight of Stravinsky and his friends, who had precisely hoped for this kind of reaction. What had so deeply nettled the Belle-Epoque Parisian audience wasn’t so much the work’s subject matter – a pagan ritual in which a young girl dances herself to death – as its savage depiction through grating dissonances, jagged rhythms and chaotic dance moves. Here was a work that turned us inwards to our earthy, animal selves, when the purpose of art was still seen as to elevate. Two young Flemish pianists (Katrijn Simoens and John Gevaert, who go by the name of Pianoduo Mephisto) perform the work in an arrangement for four hands that Stravinsky penned himself and actually published before the orchestral version. Two other controversial works from the period, Debussy’s La Mer and Ravel’s La Valse (both composers, incidentally, were among Stravinsky’s early admirers) frame the programme.