The Rite of Spring Typifies a Stylistic Trait of Modernism Known of Primitivism. Discuss.

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  • Topic: The Rite of Spring, Folk music, Igor Stravinsky
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  • Published : October 30, 2010
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The Rite of Spring by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) had been composed in 1913 and is considered a masterpiece of the twentieth century. Despite being considered such a prolific piece, it serves as quite paradoxical when it comes to its rather contradictory and ambivalent background. The composition process had been approached in a different style to much of his other works, involving myth, folklore and traditionalism and all of which surround this rather haunting yet admirable piece with great controversy. Primitivism is an obvious and quite prominent influence upon the Rite of Spring but what were these features and how do they relate to the ambiguous, diverse genre of Modernism? To realise, the internal cogs that turn this devise must first of all be analysed and recognised. Modernism is regarded as a phenomenon of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that is supposedly pioneered in a sense by the likes of Claude Debussy. The roots of the Russian Avant Garde scene began with a group of artists who dubbed themselves ‘The Wanderers’, they used native Russian materials, focusing mainly on Scythian civilisation, medieval icons and national peasant art and costume. This formed the ‘private opera’ in Moscow reflecting the taste of the Wanderers. This is evident in works such as Rimsky Korsakov’s (1844-1907) The Snow Maiden (Watkins, 1988, p.196). It lacks the boundaries once adhered to by composers of the strict eras gone by. A typical characteristic is displayed by the fact it does not have to rely on key, as diatonic tonality is used much more freely (Griffiths, Modern Music, p.7). The main idea behind Modernism is to delineate a strong sense of rejection towards the ‘outdated’ music of the past and bring in a new ‘contemporary’ approach to musical expression. Stravinsky was well aware that the term ‘neo-classical’, a form of modernism, is used in a rather naive sense and applied freely to many composers of the twentieth century (Donald Mitchell, 1976, p.98). Of course, with a ‘modern’ way of approaching music, the idea can and did become quite multifaceted to say the least. There are so many ways in which to express ones-self if the possibilities are endless. And the results have given birth to many styles including the likes of Serialism, Expressionism and Futurism. But Stravinsky created the Rite of Spring with an approach of nationalism towards these primitive ideals. According to Taruskin, the Rite of Spring had been composed deliberately against the German symphonic tradition, such as the likes of Wagner, which had influenced so many of his Russian contemporaries and predecessors, so much so, it is almost totally an ‘anti-symphony’ (Hill, 1948, p.141). Although, this may seem slightly contradictory as Wagner’s work was highly rooted in nationalism and folklore, like that of ‘The Ring Cycle’, therefore technically displays a high level of primitivism. Thus, as Stravinsky is surely agreeing with primitivism, he must be agreeing with the Wagnerian form. Although on the other hand, Stravinsky’s nationalistic background lay closely related to Russia rather than Germany. The concept behind the Rite of Spring uses the idea of a sacrificial virgin dancing herself to death. Although, the idea of this pagan practice was regarded by Stravinsky as lower than the musical idea (Hill, 1948, p.3). And this gives reason for the accused heresy closely associated with the Rite of Spring which proved riot-worthy at its premier in Paris, 1913. “I heard, and I wrote what I heard. I am the vessel through which the Rite has passed” seems as if it were said in a free-thinking, almost heathenistic fashion. Almost dabbling with an occultist point of view, in which one would take a great belief in nature and the ability of a form other than solid fact to pass through the body. This quote from Stravinsky seems almost ritualistic in itself! (Hill, 1948, p.145). It is also well documented that the concept for the Rite...
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