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
Peering Ahead To A New Festival Pier

Peering Ahead To A New Festival Pier

March 4, 2015  |  Morning Blend

What the DRWC’s redevelopment of Festival Pier would entail, Streets Commission considers ways to fund rebuilding of 78 retaining walls, creative infill in Poplar, and PMA to bring art to East Passyunk > more

On Front Street, A Warehouse With A Sacred Past Seeks Salvation

On Front Street, A Warehouse With A Sacred Past Seeks Salvation

March 4, 2015  |  Vantage

Kensington was once home to generations of Presbyterians and their houses of worship peppered the neighborhood. One of the denomination's oldest surviving churches in the area was just put up for sale after being used as a building supply warehouse since the 1950s. Oscar Beisert digs deep into the former lives of Second Associate Presbyterian and unearths a strong case for preservation > more

Claiming Fraud, Owner Of Metropolitan Opera House Seeks To Dissolve Ties To Eric Blumenfeld

Claiming Fraud, Owner Of Metropolitan Opera House Seeks To Dissolve Ties To Eric Blumenfeld

March 3, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Church group says developer misrepresented himself, a transatlantic discussion for the Lehigh Viaduct’s reuse, Maxfield Tower completed in Fairmount, and nearly 4 million PA residents at risk in event of “bomb train” derailment > more

The Costs Of Selling Schools

The Costs Of Selling Schools

March 2, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Why the City only sees two-thirds of profits from selling its inventory of vacant schools, a call for subsidized transportation for students, funding ready for South Philly art installation, urban poverty as everyone’s problem, and Council Districts’ most dangerous intersections > more

The Toughest Little Hut In Logan Square

The Toughest Little Hut In Logan Square

March 2, 2015  |  The Shadow Knows

Development of the lot at 20th and Arch has been cursed since the Kahn Building was demolished in 1929, only 8 years after its construction. Ironically, an easy to miss, colorful little Gulf Oil station has survived at the spot for 85 years--long enough to be placed on the Philadelphia Register. The Shadow serves up a big slice of history on this heartening little hut > more

Historical Commission To Consider Protecting Blue Horizon Exterior

Historical Commission To Consider Protecting Blue Horizon Exterior

February 27, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Developers still looking for funds for historic boxing venue’s reuse, the benefits of “loose” playgrounds, construction underway for W Hotel, and arts studio to open on S. 11th Street > more