Saturday, August 1, 2015

Rite of Spring

Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, which we will perform at Britt Festivals in Jacksonville, Oregon tonight, is probably the most thoroughly Modern piece of music that I really like. By that I do not mean the most recent, for it is now 102 years old and there are many more recent compositions that I like. But even if innovative in their own way (as for example I think the music of Benjamin Britten--who was not even born yet in May 1913--certainly was), they tend to be the sort that can be considered relatively "conservative" (problematic as that term is when applied to music), not at the forefront of the most avant-garde currents of their time. It is Rite of Spring that in my opinion is the last major work to both speak with the full force of shattering existing convention, as composers like Beethoven and Wagner did before it, and yet constitute a satisfying artistic experience for those of us who do not value "Progress" for its own sake, a work that has unquestionably stood up to the test of time and as early as 1940, only 27 years later, was considered "accessible" enough to be appropriated by popular culture in Disney's Fantasia.

It is probably not a coincidence that it was in the following few years that European Civilisation by my monarchist standards fell apart, never to recover acceptably; perhaps there was nowhere else positive it could go. The Rite of Spring premiered in a France whose republicanism was still very much the exception, with the rest of Europe save Switzerland and (since 1910) Portugal still ruled by monarchies whose reigning dynasties traced their lineages back a thousand years or more to early Medieval times. Here then is a snapshot of Europe as it was in May 1913, a vibrant and restless yet outwardly still traditional society. Remember that in order for pushing the boundaries as free-spirited artists are wont to do to be interesting, there must be some decent boundaries still standing.