Examining three prominent sections of the Rite of Spring

Examining three prominent sections of the Rite of Spring



The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps) is nearly one hundred years old and is often still performed, both as a ballet and as a symphonic performance.  Composed by Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by the famous dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, the piece is deceptively simple and primitive, but its subtle complexities seems to be what makes it relevant today. The ballet is divided into two parts, with eight movements in the first half and six in the second.  I will delve into three of the most important movements in the ballet.

Two of the most famous movements are the Dance of the Young Girls (Les Augures Printaniers: Danses des Adolescentes) and the Mystic Circle of the Young Girls (Cercles Mystérieux des Adolescentes).  The choreography of these movements works in a way to illustrate how girls develop and men start to notice them sexually. Stravinsky isn’t really a sound effect composer, but he still uses a lot of sounds which depict the action being portrayed onstage. Stravinsky uses musical methods to illustrate how the men start to view the young girls. He scores the bassoons and trombone, representing the lustful men, to play along in rhythm with the constant string eighth notes, representing the girls. The bassoon and trombone have different articulation than the string section part and Stravinsky uses less aggressive and thinner texture and articulation than in the beginning of the piece. This section seems to represent how the men try and relate to the young girls—who seem to be represented throughout the piece with the fluttering strings to communicate fear—and on some level to win them over, but don’t succeed. The movement also illustrates the men and the girls have different motivations in their interaction. By using instruments with deep timbres, Stravinsky seems to illustrate that these men have the darkest and most malicious intentions in mind. A young girl seems to be swayed by a man early in the piece with a light and lilting flute part, complete with grace notes to illustrate her youth, innocence and playfulness, along with the malicious intentions of the bassoon and trombone.

In the Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One), or (Danse Sacrale (L'Élue)), Stravinsky effectively portrays the savagery, but also comments on the pointlessness of tribal rituals, and rituals in general. At the movement’s climax, Stravinsky scores a huge texture complete with savage sounding percussion—achieved with his use of unusual instruments such as the tam-tam, his use of off beats, and the building throughout this section of the percussion part. This section definitely seems to be building up to something. However, following the huge build-up, there is only a return to the beginning of the section. The same rhythmic motives return again and again, but none of the build-up is ever resolved. The unsatisfying conclusion of this work include a quick flute, piccolo, and strings glissando and a final, heavily articulated note—implying only more of the same endless repetition as in the heavily articulated beginning. All of these techniques illustrate a repetitious cycle of rituals which seem to have no purpose and achieve no goal, but simply cycle and cycle. Although rituals have a lot of pomp and circumstance, Stravinsky seems to comment, they really have no substance. Following the larger theme of the ballet, Stravinsky uses a technique of cyclicality in this movement, the final movement of the entire ballet.