A World Rearranged

CD 17 of 24

If, as the quote goes, “music has charms to soothe the savage breast”, those charms were lost amongst the throngs in front of the Theatre des Champs-Élysée on the night of 29 May 1913. Au contraire, the music had incited the savagery it was intended to soothe. Profanities were flung, fists were flying and an all-out Parisian mélée was in full-flight all caused by the première of a piece of music!

That piece was Le sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971).

The Rite of Spring (its English title), was written to accompany the new ballet by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe.  Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography was revolutionary and the music matched the writhing movements with a dissonant, alien and barbaric sound. It was “a sacred terror in the noonday sun``, as described by Stravinsky himself, the terror dominating the section Danse des Adolescentes (Track 2). With an intense throbbing chord underpinning a series of cascading accents landing pell-mell, the audience was on edge, their stirrings eventually spilling into the street. The riot was on. To one critic, the evening had descended into “Le Massacre du printemps”.

Stravinsky’s notoriety and fame was ensured, leading to international stardom, widespread media appearances, Presidential dinners and hob-knobbing with Hollywood’s elite.

The American Charles Ives (1874 – 1954) was a part-time composer whose day-job was that of running the family insurance business. His composing philosophy can perhaps be best summed up in his own words, “Why tonality as such should be thrown out for good, I can’t see. Why it should always be present I can’t see”. His Central Park After Dark, written for a divided orchestra and two conductors, includes moments of cacophony amongst the nocturnal calm.

Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976) was responsible for the revival of English opera. His masterpiece Peter Grimes, débuting one month after the end of World War II in 1945, was an instant success and to this day remains the most popular of his many works for the stage. One week after the opera’s première, Britten was conducting the Four Sea Interludes from the opera at a London Philharmonic Orchestra concert.

At the other end of the sonic spectrum, away from the barbarism, the cacophony and the absent tonality is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written, and to judge by a BBC Today poll taken in 2004, it is the “world’s saddest music”. That piece is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Barber (1910 – 1981) wrote the Adagio in 1936 as the slow movement to his string quartet, arranging it for string orchestra shortly thereafter. In 1938 the Adagio for Strings was premièred in a radio broadcast by Arturo Toscanini, the leading conductor of the day. The piece catapulted to iconic status when, upon the death of President Roosevelt in 1945, it was broadcast repeatedly, its association with loss and suffering fixed forever. The work was again heard repeatedly after 9/11, the music expressing what we were unable to put into words.


Recommended Tracks

Recommended Tracks

Samuel Barber (1910 - 1981):
Adagio For Strings, Op.11
Charles Edward Ives (1874 - 1954):
Central Park In The Dark
Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971):
Le Sacre du Printemps | 6. Danse sacrale: l'élue


(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)

      1. Samuel Barber (1910 - 1981)
      2. 1.
        Adagio For Strings, Op.11
        Los Angeles Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein
      3. Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976)
        Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes", Op.33a
        1. 2.
          1. Dawn
        2. 3.
          2. Sunday Morning
        3. 4.
          3. Moonlight
        4. 5.
          4. Storm
          Boston Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein
      4. Charles Edward Ives (1874 - 1954)
      5. 6.
        Central Park In The Dark
        New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein
      6. Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971)
        Le Sacre du Printemps
        1. Part 1: L'Adoration de la Terre
          1. 7.
            1. Introduction
          2. 8.
            2. Les augures printaniers - Danses des adolescentes
          3. 9.
            3. Jeu du rapt
          4. 10.
            4. Rondes printanières
          5. 11.
            5. Jeux des cités
          6. 12.
            6. Cortège du sage - Le sage
          7. 13.
            7b. Dance of the Earth
          8. 14.
            7. Danse de la terre
        2. Part 2: Le Sacrifice
          1. 15.
            1. Introduction
          2. 16.
            2. Cercles mysteriéux des adolescentes
          3. 17.
            3. Glorification d'élue
          4. 18.
            4. Évocation des ancêtres
          5. 19.
            5. Action rituelle des ancêtres
          6. 20.
            6. Danse sacrale: l'élue
            Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein
    Playing Time 01:12:23