South Broad, North Broad, And The Rite Of Spring

 

1930 Victor Records Advertisement for Stokowski/Philadelphia Orchestra recording of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps)

1930 Victor Records Advertisement for Stokowski/Philadelphia Orchestra recording of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps)

Tomorrow night, the Philadelphia Orchestra performs Igor Stravinsky’s landmark “The Rite of Spring” (Le Sacre du Printemps) in a new stage interpretation featuring dancers, video projection, and theatrical lighting. Such an adventurous production is very much in keeping with the innovative spirit of the Orchestra’s visionary early twentieth-century conductor Leopold Stokowski, who gave the American premieres of the concert and staged versions of “The Rite of Spring” with The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1922 and 1930, respectively. This year is the centennial of both the world premiere of The Rite of Spring and Stokowski’s first season as Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra. Watch the orchestra’s music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin discuss the production HERE.

“The Rite of Spring” was originally a ballet production. Its world premiere in Paris on May 29, 1913 was an epochal event in the history of the performing arts. Audience reaction to the groundbreaking piece was tumultuous, with a near riot breaking out in response to the challenging music and provocative dancing. Igor Stravinsky’s musical score to the ballet eventually came to be regarded as a masterpiece, one of the most influential compositions of the twentieth century. “The Rite of Spring” is now most often performed as a concert piece and as such has become a staple of the orchestral repertoire.

Leopold Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra gave the American premiere of the concert version of “The Rite of Spring” on March 3, 1922 at the Academy of Music. Stokowski gave an introductory talk from the stage prior to the performance, explaining that the music was meant to be accompanied by dancing and stage sets depicting Russian peasants celebrating the arrival of spring, culminating in the sacrifice of a young maiden. He said that he did not expect everyone to like or be comfortable with the challenging music, but that it was important that they experience this significant modern work. Critical reaction in the press was varied, with some reviewers recognizing “The Rite of Spring” as an important new form of musical expression and others denouncing it as so much primitive noise. Most critics agreed that the music suffered from not having the dancing and stage design elements that it was meant to accompany.

Coverage of US premieres of The Rite of Spring and Die glückliche Hand in Musical America, April 1930 Philadelphia Orchestra Archives

Leopold Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra recorded “The Rite of Spring” for Victor Records in 1929, a recording made in the Academy of Music. On April 11, 1930, they gave the US premiere of the full staged ballet version of the piece. Produced in collaboration with the League of Composers, a New York-based organization, the program also included the American premiere of another modern musical theater work, Arnold Schoenberg’s “Die glückliche Hand” (The Hand of Fate). The Academy of Music, the Orchestra’s home venue, was not well suited for such a large-scale production so performances were given in Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Opera House at Broad and Poplar Streets, with subsequent performances in New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House.

Stokowski was intimately involved in “The Rite of Spring” 1930 stage production, from discussing aspects of the work with its composer Igor Stravinsky to helping choose the young, then relatively unknown dancer Martha Graham for the central role of the sacrificial maiden. The performances in Philadelphia and New York drew nationwide attention and critical reaction was almost uniformly positive. It was a triumph for Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra, one of many during his 1912-1941 tenure.

New York Times, April 12, 1930

New York Times, April 12, 1930

Leopold Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra gave the American premieres of other musical theater pieces by Stravinsky and Schoenberg in the 1930s, as well as those by Alban Berg, Sergei Prokofiev, and others. Most of these performances were in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House, making this monumental building on North Broad Street an important center for new music in the early twentieth century.

About the author

Jack McCarthy is a certified archivist and longtime Philadelphia area archival/historical consultant. He is currently directing a project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the archival collections of the region’s many small historical institutions. He recently concluded work as consulting archivist and researcher for Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio, an audio documentary on the history of Philadelphia Black radio, and served as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra's 2012-2013 Leopold Stokowski centennial celebration. Jack has a master’s degree in music history from West Chester University and is particularly interested in the history of Philadelphia music. He is also involved in Northeast Philadelphia history. He is co-founder of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network, founding director of the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame, and president of Friends of Northeast Philadelphia History.

Send a message!



Comments are closed.

Recent Posts
Developer Plans For Living & Making In Bok

Developer Plans For Living & Making In Bok

November 21, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Preliminary visions for a reused Bok Technical High revealed, wayfinding system in store for the Northwest, and anticipating the demise of the PGW sale > more

Our Elected Officials & The Cheapening Of Public Space

Our Elected Officials & The Cheapening Of Public Space

November 20, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Selling our visual landscape short with urban experiential displays, local government attitudes on display at the "City Hall Parking Lot", a nocturnal urban arts tour, and envisioning a high-speed line through Philly > more

12th Street Gym Is Great But It Used To Be The <em>Shvitz</em>

12th Street Gym Is Great But It Used To Be The Shvitz

November 19, 2014  |  Vantage

Nothing says healthy living like a corned beef sandwich, a lit cigar, and the sauna. Ron Avery gives us an old-world tour of Camac Baths, the former Jewish bathhouse at 12th Street Gym > more

Blatstein Discusses Plans For Southern “Gateway To Center City”

Blatstein Discusses Plans For Southern “Gateway To Center City”

November 19, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Broad & Washington lot discussed at community meeting, development angst in Upper Roxborough, the pragmatism of the Live! Hotel & Casino selection, and The Bourse to cater to N3rd Street > more

Reconsidering The Modern Urban Library

Reconsidering The Modern Urban Library

November 18, 2014  |  Morning Blend

The FLP “builds inspiration,” a rocky revitalization for West Girard, how much stimulus Pope Francis will bring to town, and regarding the legions of sweepers from yesteryear > more

On Spot Zoning

On Spot Zoning

November 17, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Why selective re-zoning is here to stay, Wells Fargo finishes removal of PNB letters, and vandals cause five figures in damages to newly unveiled Manayunk public space > more