Le Sacre du Printemps

It’s over three years old now, but I missed it at the time: a significant anniversary noticed in The Verge:

100 years ago today, ‘The Rite of Spring’ incited a riot in a Paris theater

It began with a bassoon and ended in a brawl.

One hundred years ago today, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky debuted The Rite of Spring before a packed theater in Paris, with a ballet performance that would go down as one of the most important — and violent — in modern history.

Today, The Rite is widely regarded as a seminal work of modernism — a frenetic, jagged orchestral ballet that boldly rejected the ordered harmonies and comfort of traditional composition. The piece would go on to leave an indelible mark on jazz, minimalism, and other contemporary movements, but to many who saw it on that balmy evening a century ago, it was nothing short of scandalous.

Details surrounding the events of May 29th, 1913 remain hazy. Official records are scarce, and most of what is known is based on eyewitness accounts or newspaper reports. To this day, experts debate over what exactly sparked the incident — was it music or dance? publicity stunt or social warfare? — though most agree on at least one thing: Stravinsky’s grand debut ended in mayhem and chaos.

The tumult began not long after the ballet’s opening notes — a meandering and eerily high-pitched bassoon solo that elicited laughter and derision from many in the audience. The jeers became louder as the orchestra progressed into more cacophonous territory, with its pounding percussion and jarring rhythms escalating in tandem with the tensions inside the recently opened Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Things reached a near-fever pitch by the time the dancers took the stage, under the direction of famed choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky of the Ballets Russes. Dressed in whimsical costumes, the dancers performed bizarre and violent moves, eschewing grace and fluidity for convulsive jerks that mirrored the work’s strange narrative of pagan sacrifice. Onstage in Paris, the crowd’s catcalls became so loud that the ballerinas could no longer hear the orchestra, forcing Nijinsky to shout out commands from backstage.

A scuffle eventually broke out between two factions in the audience, and the orchestra soon found itself under siege, as angry Parisians hurled vegetables and other objects toward the stage. It’s not clear whether the police were ever dispatched to the theater, though 40 people were reportedly ejected. Remarkably, the performance continued to completion, though the fallout was swift and brutal.

More at the link and, if you’re interested, in Modris Eksteins’s wonderful book Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (1989).

From Lake Geneva to the Finland Station

From the Financial Times, an interesting review of four books dealing with Russia’s October Revolution, whose centennial will be observed next year:

Next April will mark the 100th anniversary of what was surely the most consequential train journey in history. Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik revolutionary and future founder of the Soviet state, travelled from Zurich through Germany to Petrograd, the Russian capital, on a journey that the government in Berlin set up in a bid to destabilise Russia and win the first world war. In Winston Churchill’s inimitable words: “They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia.”

From Lenin’s train ride, and from the Bolshevik seizure of power to which it led in October 1917 (November 1917 by the western calendar that Russia adopted in 1918), flowed the 20th century’s most important military and political events. “The Revolution put in power the totalitarian communism that eventually ruled one third of the human race, stimulated the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, and thus the Second World War, and created the great antagonist the West faced for the forty years Cold War balance of terror,” Tony Brenton says in his introduction to Historically Inevitable?

More at the link. (Title is a lyrical reference.)

Happy St. George’s Day

In honor of this auspicious day, a gallery of images of St. George from my collection. Apologies for the poor quality of some of them.

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A statue of St. George by Alexander Scott Carter, in St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, Huron St., Toronto (photo by my friend Bruce Patterson).

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From my graduate school colleague, Lieutenant Colonel Lachlan Mead of the Australian army.

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Family friend Laine Rosin took this photo on a trip to Ethiopia.

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Allen and Unwin printer’s mark.

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This is from the spine of a volume in the great Victoria County History series.

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My five-year-old found this Russian fifty kopek coin last summer. “Look daddy,” she said. “St. George!” That’s my girl!

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Bruce Patterson took this photo in a Catholic church in London.

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My colleague Pam Wilson took this photo in Barcelona.

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This sculpture of St. George is carved on the facade of the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. I took this photo in 2006.

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A war memorial in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, taken by Dr. Anne Good.

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I acquired this label on an airplane once. I like it especially because dragons are associated with water. 

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If there is Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey, then why shouldn’t there be English whisky too? And what better a character to represent it than St. George?

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One of my favorite representations of St. George comes from shortly after the Russian Revolution, when Christian saints had not been entirely eradicated, but could be repurposed for Communist ends. Here St. Trotsky kills the Counter-Revolutionary dragon, complete with top hat. From Wikipedia.

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From my friend Chris Berard, via Facebook. Happy St. George’s Day!