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Running head: RITE OF SPRING

Rite of Spring Critical Thinking Paper


Valerie R. Martinez
University of La Verne

RITE OF SPRING

Abstract
The purpose of this paper is to discuss the history of Igor Stravinskys Rite of Spring. First, it
will be discussing the original storyline in which Stravinsky wrote his music piece to and how it
was received by the public. Second, an in depth analysis will be discussed to identify the musical
elements which were used to express the original story of virgin sacrifice. This includes the
instruments, rhythms, and melodies that were used to evoke the pagan ritual. Disneys adaption
of Rite of Spring will also be critiqued as to why the original storyline was changed and
whether or not the 1940 film Fantasias storyline works well with the elements of the music.
Finally, the importance of understanding the composers intent when listening to a piece of music
will also be argued for the conclusion of the paper.

RITE OF SPRING

Rite of Spring Critical Thinking Paper


The original idea for Rite of Spring began when costume artist Nicolas Roerich
proposed the idea to Igor Stravinsky in 1910. The storyline involved a pagan ritual in which a
young girl is sacrificed as an offering to the god of spring by dancing herself to death (A Riotous
Premiere (Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring)). To accompany this idea Stravinsky composed a
complexity of jarring music that of which had never been heard, or created, before. The work
premiered in 1913, in Paris, at Le Theatre des Champs-Elysees and was met with opposing
reactions between the older and younger audience members. The stark primitiveness and loud
ruckus caused a scandal from the moment the first notes of the bassoon were heard. The older
audience members were so appalled by this new radical music that their outbursts of anger
actually became louder than the music itself. On the other hand the younger audience members
met this new avant-garde music with intrigue and yelled at the others to be silent. In the end a
riot broke out within the aisles in which the police had to get involved to try to maintain some
order (A Riotous Premiere (Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring)). Despite the chaos and
negative reviews it was first met with, the course of music from that single night would change
forever.
Rite of Spring would not have come to be one of the most influential musical works if
not for the arrangement of the musical elements involved. From the very beginning the bassoon,
with its strained earthy tones, sets the premise by awakening the world to spring. When the
ancient tribes gather to celebrate spring rites it is accompanied with terrifying chords, a pounding
of patterns shifting, and erratic accents made from tones that had never before been heard
together. The bassoon is heard again when an old witch uses twigs to predict the future and the
momentum builds once the tribeswomen come in to dance the traditional spring dances. Two

RITE OF SPRING

clarinets purposefully placed as far away from each other in the orchestra create a solemn and
sacred mood as they are then played (http://www.keepingscore.org/sites/default/files/swf/stravinsky/full).
Once the ritual begins, it is insinuated by the pulsating of on-beats until it breaks into off-beat
chords. The full orchestra then comes in with powerful excruciating chords to demonstrate
mans deep relationship with the earth.
In some instances, aggressive tones are interrupted by the softer tones of the winds
section to juxtapose the women from the men of the tribes. When a pivotal moment happens in
the storyline, such as when the old sage is brought in from the village, tension is built by an everthickening mass of instrumental layers. Other times, the orchestra comes to a complete halt to
heighten a moment right before the silence is broken by the thunderous explosions of the bass
drums and the whole orchestra coming together in a frenzied collaboration. As the story line
continues along as one of the maiden is chosen to be sacrificed, the tune of music makes a shift
into eerie harmonies and becomes increasingly violent. Right as it is made clear that she is the
chosen one, the moment is accompanied with the repetition of the same loud frightening chord
eleven times. Low English horns and a tambourine are heard as spirits that are supposed to
represent the ancestors take the place of the other maidens and begin to circle around the chosen
maiden. The percussion and low brass press on relentlessly until she throws herself to ground in
exhaustion. In the final moments, the timpani and bass drum come together in an irregular
pattern meant to represent the maidens heart beat until it comes to halt and she finally dies,
ending the sacrificial ritual.
The dark nature of Stravinskys Rite of Spring can be one of the reasons Disney later
decided to change the original storyline when he used the same background music in his 1940
film Fantasia. The classical music is accompanied by a series of animated images in Fantasia as

RITE OF SPRING

is it tells the story of the evolution of life on Earth. The storyline opens with a view into outer
space then progresses into the formation of Earth itself and a look at its first simple life forms
(http://www.cornel1801.com/disney/Fantasia-1940/film4.html ). As time progresses, more
complex organisms come into existence, such as the dinosaurs, and their cycle of life is also
depicted within the film until they ultimately become extinct. Disneys storyline works well with
the elements of the music because throughout the action of the film, such as the lava coming out
of the volcanoes, the images are paralleled to the up-beats of the composition. Such as the
choosing of the maiden to sacrifice was a pivotal moment and is heightened by the mood
conveyed in the music of Spring of Rite, the pivotal moment between the Tyrannosaurus Rex
fighting the Stegosaurus is accompanied by the same cacophony of violent sounds. The only
difference, aside from the storylines, between these two works of art is that Part I of the original
work had to be shortened in Fantasia and the bassoon solo was repeated at the end of the film to
convey a somber mood for the extinction of the dinosaurs.
I believe it is important for the audience to understand the composers intent when
listening to a piece of music, because it allows the listener to form a deeper connection and feel
more deeply what the music is trying to convey. Knowing the storyline and utilizing it as a basis
for Rite of Spring allows one to make sense of what they are listening to and form pictures in
their mind that will likely stick with them long after the performance is over. Certain sounds
bring about certain moods and by having a story already in mind, it only heightens the
combination of all the instruments. In the end, having a background of each sound is supposed to
represent during a musical arrangement makes ultimately gives the instruments real-life
characteristics and makes them take on a life of their own.

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Works Cited
A Riotous Premiere (Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring). (2006, November 1). Retrieved April
10, 2015, from http://www.keepingscore.org/sites/default/files/swf/stravinsky/full
The Rite of Spring. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2015, from
http://www.cornel1801.com/disney/Fantasia-1940/film4.html