Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Rite of Spring at 100

Seeing as today is the 100th anniversary of the debut of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" I thought it was appropriate to post on the subject.

Over the past week I have found a fair bit floating around on the subject - NPR's "Why Jazz Musicians Love 'The Rite Of Spring' is just one example. Other examples include; jazz ensembles and trio's tackling the work - some coinciding with the centenary and others from the past. The only one that I have had time to track down and listen to is WBGO's live recording of The Bad Plus performing 'The Rite' back in 2011 is still online for streaming. Every so often I pop by Ethan Iverson's blog "Do The Math", I missed this performance at the time so I gave this a couple of listens this week - It didn't grab me.

As you would expect, a Stravinsky/Jazz search brings up plenty on 'Ebony Concerto'  too - a quick search of YouTube provides a few of versions for those of you unfamiliar with this piece (likewise with Rite of Spring). During those searches I stumbled across "Keeping Score: Stravinsky's Rite of Spring"- a six part video (1 hour). Turns out it's from part of an educational series San Francisco Symphony & Michael Tilson Thomas did for PBS - Keeping Score.

My interest in 'The Rite Of Spring' was sparked when I heard that Charlie Parker was into Stravinsky. It was at either the city or school library that I first listened to it. Some time after that I went out and found a copy (along with Bartok's string quartets) in a record store bargain bin. For a while these were the the only classical discs I owned and they got plenty of air-time. Often I would put it on when I wanted a break from class related listening and it did the job.

Dancers Backstage 1913
Here's a link to Bird playing "Repetition" with Neal Hefti's band. Bird quotes 'Rite Of Spring' as he opens his solo. The quote appears again in a live recording from Paris in 1949 - this time a break-neck "Salt Peanuts" gets the treatment (around 1.33). If you know any other examples of Bird quoting 'Rite of Spring' please pass them on.

Over the years 'Rite of Spring' has taken a lapse from my listening (I can't remember the last time I listened to it). When I heard the 100th anniversary was coming up I decided it was the perfect time for us to get reacquainted. Over the last week, I have given it a listen each day. Where's the appeal for jazz musicians? Answers will vary, but I feel the rhythmic & poly-rhythmic elements and overall urgency of the piece have something to do with it.  The rhythmic side had stayed in my mind but I forgotten how much I enjoyed the bold melodies that leap out as well as the quieter sections. I've had fun revisiting it and doubt the breaks between future listens will be as long as they have been in the past.

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