excerpt from 'Memories and Commentaries' pp. 90-91 (424 words)

excerpt from 'Memories and Commentaries' pp. 90-91 (424 words)

part of

Memories and Commentaries

original language

urn:iso:std:iso:639:ed-3:eng

in pages

90-91

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text excerpt

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Everyone knows that the first performance of The Rite of Spring was attended by a scandal but, strange as it may seem, I had no intimation of it. The musicians who heard the orchestra rehearsals seemed intrigued by the work, and the stage spectacle did not appear likely to provoke a riot. Debussy, in spite of his later, ambivalent attitude (‘C’est une musique négre’), was enthusiastic at the rehearsals. Indeed, he might well have been pleased, for The Rite of Spring owes more to him than to any other composer, the best music (the Prelude) as well as the weakest (the music of Part Two between the first entrance of the muted-trumpet duos and The Celebration of the Chosen One). After rehearsing for months, the dancers knew what they were doing, even though this often had nothing to do with the music. ‘I will count to forty while you play,’ Nijinsky would say to me, ‘and we will see where we come out.’ He could not understand that though we might at some point come out together, this did not mean that we had been together on the way. The dancers followed Nijinsky’s beat, rather than the musical beat. Nijinsky counted in Russian, of course, and since Russian numbers above ten are polysyllabic –eighteen, for example, is vosemnádsat – in fast tempos neither he nor they could keep pace with the music. / At the performance mild protests could be heard from the very beginning. When the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down, the storm broke. Cries of ‘Ta gueule’ came from behind me. I heard Florent Schmitt shout, ‘Taisez-vous grues du seiziéme’, the ‘grues’ of the sixteenth arrondissement being the most elegant ladies in Paris. But the uproar continued, and I left the hall in a fury; I was sitting on the right near the orchestra, and I remember slamming the door. I have never again been that angry. The music was so familiar to me, I loved it, and I could not understand why people who had not yet heard it wanted to protest in advance. Backstage I saw Diaghilev flickering the house lights in an effort to quiet the hall, and for the rest of the performance I stood in the wings behind Nijinsky holding the tails of his frac, while he stood on a chair shouting numbers to the dancers, like a coxswain.

Everyone knows that the first performance of The Rite of Spring was attended by a scandal but, strange as it may seem, I had no intimation of it. The musicians who heard the orchestra rehearsals seemed intrigued by the work, and the stage spectacle did not appear likely to provoke a riot. Debussy, in spite of his later, ambivalent attitude (‘C’est une musique négre’), was enthusiastic at the rehearsals. Indeed, he might well have been pleased, for The Rite of Spring owes more to him than to any other composer, the best music (the Prelude) as well as the weakest (the music of Part Two between the first entrance of the muted-trumpet duos and The Celebration of the Chosen One). After rehearsing for months, the dancers knew what they were doing, even though this often had nothing to do with the music. ‘I will count to forty while you play,’ Nijinsky would say to me, ‘and we will see where we come out.’ He could not understand that though we might at some point come out together, this did not mean that we had been together on the way. The dancers followed Nijinsky’s beat, rather than the musical beat. Nijinsky counted in Russian, of course, and since Russian numbers above ten are polysyllabic –eighteen, for example, is vosemnádsat – in fast tempos neither he nor they could keep pace with the music. / At the performance mild protests could be heard from the very beginning. When the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down, the storm broke. Cries of ‘Ta gueule’ came from behind me. I heard Florent Schmitt shout, ‘Taisez-vous grues du seiziéme’, the ‘grues’ of the sixteenth arrondissement being the most elegant ladies in Paris. But the uproar continued, and I left the hall in a fury; I was sitting on the right near the orchestra, and I remember slamming the door. I have never again been that angry. The music was so familiar to me, I loved it, and I could not understand why people who had not yet heard it wanted to protest in advance. Backstage I saw Diaghilev flickering the house lights in an effort to quiet the hall, and for the rest of the performance I stood in the wings behind Nijinsky holding the tails of his frac, while he stood on a chair shouting numbers to the dancers, like a coxswain.

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excerpt from 'Memories and Commentaries' pp. 90-91 (424 words)

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