May 29: The Rite Of Spring

StravinskyIt was on this day in 1913 that Igor Stravinsky’s (at right) landmark ballet and orchestral work The Rite Of Spring debuted at Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The Rite Of Spring is now viewed as a essential piece of classical music, but when it premiered it was met with a decidedly negative reaction. How negative? Well, it caused an actual riot!

How did a night at the ballet turn into a riot? Well, first we must look at the crowd that gathered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées that evening: There was the wealthy who wanted to witness nothing more than traditional ballet with traditional music, and then there were the Bohemians who according to Jean Cocteau, would “acclaim, right or wrong, anything that is new because of their hatred of the boxes”. Stravinsky’s Rite was distinctly primitive with heavy rhythms. The accompanying ballet depicted a primal pagan celebration that ended with the sacrifice of a virgin who dances herself to death. Obviously, there was no way that the older, richer crowd in the boxes would enjoy this.

On the evening of May 29, 1913, the theater was packed. The trouble started almost as soon as The Rite began. According to Stravinsky, derisive laughter began during the first bars of the introduction. As the performance went on, the laughter from the wealthy box seats rose, which led to calls for silence from the Bohemian contingent. Eventually, the two sides began to fight, with some people even attacking the orchestra! According to conductor Pierre Monteux, “Everything available was tossed in our direction, but we continued to play on”. Eventually order was restored when the police kicked out 40 of the more egregious troublemakers. Shockingly, despite all the action in the audience, the orchestra played on and the performance continued without interruption.

As we toast The Rite Of Spring and the last month of spring, let’s drink a Spring Sling. This cocktail was invented by T.J. Palmieri for Tito’s Vodka and is a refreshing springtime cocktail.

Spring Sling

  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka
  • 3/4 ounce cucumber water
  • 3/4 ounce St. Germain
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Bitterman’s Hopped Grapefruit Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice filled highball glass and top with a splash of ginger beer. Garnish with a thin cucumber slice.

Tomorrow: An old west bandit.


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