Leon Botstein: 'Rite Of Spring' A Quantum Leap Forward

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Yesterday on the show we heard about the controversy that met Stravinsky’s 'The Rite of Spring' when it premiered 100 years, on May 29th, 1913. As we gear up to mark the anniversary of the piece with a live performance in the Greene Space on this May 29th, we continue to hear about the story behind the Rite. Leon Botstein, Music Director of the American Symphony Orchestra and President of Bard College, explains how 'The Rite of Spring' took classical music into the modern world.

Leon Botstein, on whether the music of The Rite of Spring was the source of all the controversy:

It certainly took people aback, but there are people that recognized it immediately as a work of genius. Its success as a piece of music was very quick. It was really the dancing and perhaps the costumes [that caused the controversy]. I think the scandal was less musical than it was theatrical.

On how The Rite of Spring breaks with traditional form of classical pieces:

It’s a quantum leap in the use of time and doesn’t rely on sequential memory. It doesn’t have a recapitulation. It doesn’t bring stuff back [to] the beginning. It’s a different attitude to the way one makes music. It forces you to confront the moment of time as it’s happening. It’s tremendously immediate.

On why The Rite of Spring works as a solo piano piece:

What’s interesting is that the power of the music, the eloquence of the music, still stays with us. The piano version is actually proof of how good a piece [it is]. Many pieces that are so colorful — as Rite of Spring is — and so dependent on the orchestra and its sound don’t translate well to the piano. The Rite of Spring does.