The 100th anniversary of the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, May 29 1913, is fast approaching, with performances worldwide to mark it. The ballet was first performed in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which also premiered Stravinsky’s Firebird and Petrushka. Pictured together are Diaghilev and Stravinsky. Perhaps not surprisingly, given their collaborative work, they are buried in the same cemetery. Surprisingly, though, that cemetery is in Venice, on the island of San Michele. A vaporetto will take you there, then a map will guide you to the Orthodox area.
Diaghilev’s grave is quite strikingly unusual, and it is adorned not only with flowers, but with offerings of ballet shoes. To the right in the photograph are the dancers Serge Lifar and Bronislava Nijinska beside the grave in 1970 (photograph from the Library of Congress); to the left is a more recent view.
An excerpt from a 1913 review of The Rite of Spring in The Observer made me smile:
‘… If there is a redeeming feature, it is an amazing exposition of the possibilities of rhythm, without which, of course, the dancers would have been hopelessly entangled … Beyond this there is nothing in the music that might not have been better obtained by placing several German street bands together and bidding them do their worst with the juxtaposition of any old tunes they liked. The score is not even cleverly descriptive. It is sheerly and wilfully impertinent…’
Here is Stravinsky talking about the Rite –
Stravinsky’s tombstone lies flat on the ground, next to that of Vera, his second wife, and again there are flowers on it, but also pebbles, stones, pine cones, gravel – anything to hand which can be placed as a mark of respect, a token of appreciation, of wonder, of overwhelming, incredulous amazement at being in the presence of the mortal remains of one of music’s towering figures. Well anyway, that’s how I felt, as I stood alone before that grave on a chilly, grey November morning last year.
Stravinsky had a special relationship with Venice; his Piano Sonata had been performed there in 1925, his Cappricio was performed there in 1934, and he conducted the premiere of The Rake’s Progress at La Fenice in 1951. The Canticum Sacrum was commissioned by the Venice Biennale, and dedicated to Venice’s patron saint, St Mark; its first performance was in 1955 in St Mark’s Cathedral.
I’ll let Bernstein, pictured right with Stravinsky, have the final word about The Rite of Spring:
‘ …it’s also got the best dissonances anyone ever thought up, and the best asymmetries and polytonalities and polyrhythms and whatever else you care to name.”
And here is Bernstein in rehearsal –