It may not be entirely a coincidence that the centennial of the Rite of Spring scandal, which arrives on Wednesday, follows closely upon the Wagner bicentennial. At last fall's "Reassessing the Rite" conference, which I covered for The New Yorker, Annegret Fauser brought up the Wagner-Rite relationship, noting that in the weeks leading up to the première the French papers had been full of Wagneriana, including accounts of the legendary Tannhäuser riot at the Opéra in 1861. In a way, Fauser suggested, Paris audiences may have been primed to restage that affair: Stravinsky would be the new Wagner, the foreign musician of the future. It's a fascinating speculation — although, of course, Parisian audiences needed little historical prompting to go into culture-riot mode. Nijinsky's suggestive dancing in Prelude to "The Afternoon of a Faun" had set off a brouhaha the previous year. (Incidentally, Fauser's new book Sounds of War makes a major contribution to our understanding of music during the World War II period.)
Suffering somewhat from anniversary fatigue, I'll let others carry the Rite baton this week. Will Robin is completing his season-long immersion at Reflections on the Rite; WQXR is hosting Rite Fever, with a twenty-four marathon scheduled for Wednesday; and NPR's Deceptive Cadence has had a string of interesting posts. Note this excellent overview of the Rite and jazz; it includes a link to Charlie Parker's Stravinsky homage at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1949. (Go all the way to the bottom of this page.) Note also the rise of the Zany Rite Video meme; Will has a collection of them, and has contributed his own striking kitty choreographies. The Bad Plus have added a node to the Rite-jazz nexus with their vivid arrangement of the score; in June, Mark Morris will make of it a dance called Spring, Spring, Spring, to be introduced at Ojai North. (The Bad Plus will also play the piece at Ojai proper, sans danse.) The Théâtre des Champs-Elysées will mark the anniversary by presenting Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky in two back-to-back Rite performances: the first of Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer's re-creation of the original Nijinsky choreography, the second of Sasha Waltz's new Rite staging. [More: you can watch the Arte broadcast here.] In New York, of course, nothing is happening, although Stravinsky will be the focus of this summer's Bard Music Festival.
We're being bombarded by reissues of Rite recordings: Decca has released a twenty-disc box set, and Sony has remastered Bernstein's feisty NY Phil version, with extremely detailed notes by Jonathan Cott. I'd like to draw attention to Pristine Classical's superb new transfer of Stravinsky's own 1929 account, with the Walther Straram orchestra. As Richard Taruskin has pointed out in his centenary lecture, modern renditions of the Rite, vivacious and showily perfect, have robbed the work of some of its ominous energy; this recording, while full of mistakes and messy moments, has a raw, spooky power all its own. Back on the Wagner front, Pristine has done wonders for Furtwängler's La Scala Ring.