Numerous important musical anniversaries are being celebrated in 2013, including the 200th birthdays of two of the most influential opera composers of the 19th-century–Giuseppe Verdi (1813-2901) and Richard Wagner (1813-1883). No less noteworthy is the 100th anniversary of the premiere on 29 May 2013 of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet the Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps), presented by the Ballets Russes under Serge Diaghilev at the newly opened Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, less than two weeks after the first performance of Claude Debussy’s ballet Jeux on May 15. The riot that ensued at this performance has become the stuff of legends, and the ballet was only rarely performed for decades until several revivals in the 1980s brought the work into the performing repertory of some companies, albeit tenuously. But the music and the genius of the composer’s conception, which after a hundred years still can deliver “shock and awe” to its audience, quickly became a staple of the modernist orchestral repertoire after its concert premiere under Serge Koussevitzky in St. Petersburg on 18 February 1914. As such, it became one of the seminal works of 20th-century music. (Authorized Princeton users can click here to listen to a recording of the work conducted by Stravinsky.)
To commemorate this anniversary year of the Rite of Spring, the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel has issued two remarkable facsimile editions of manuscripts housed in its Stravinsky archive, published by Boosey & Hawkes: an annotated facsimile of the autograph full score and another of the composer’s version for piano four-hands. These are truly magnificent manuscripts that copiously document the composer’s remarkably expressive calligraphy, making them works of art in themselves. Both of these facsimiles were recently acquired by Princeton’s Arthur Mendel Music Library, and they form the centerpiece for an exhibit celebrating this “epochal moment in the history of both music and ballet [that] signaled he breakthrough into Modernism” (publisher brochure). The exhibit, displayed in three cases on the first floor of the library, focuses on three aspects of the work: composer, conception, and the 1913 premiere; the score from sketches to publication; and the cast of remarkable characters involved with the earliest productions of the work: Serge Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballet Russes; Vaslav Nijinsky, who choreographed the work and had just danced the lead in Jeux; Nicholas Roerich, designer of the sets and costumes; Marie Rambert, one of the maidens in the first performance; the dancer Léonide Massine, who choreographed a new production in 1920; and, of course, the composer himself. Interspersed among numerous photographic reproductions are commentaries on various aspects of the work and its genesis, including Stravinsky’s own words, testimonies from the time, and observations by many authorities on the composer and the work.
Come by the Mendel Library and enjoy these time capsules that capture the essence one of the most important musical commemorations of 2013!