Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Stravinsky and the Rite, part 3

"The Great Sacrifice" as the original project was called, was set, not in Spring, but in midsummer to correspond to the ancient Slavic rite of Kupala which was the one with the sacrificial aspect. After Russia was Christianized in the tenth century the festivals of the folk calendar were accommodated to those of Christianity and Kupala became associated with the feast of John the Baptist. In Russia there grew up a set of ritual folksongs known as Ivanovskiye pesni, "Songs of St. John's Eve." One of these was published in a collection in 1899 and part of the tune found its way into the middle section of Stravinsky's Danse russe from Petrushka:

This Ivanovskaya could be described as a khorovod, often translated as "round dance." But khorovodï are more than that, they are often enactments of folk rituals that contain elements of long-forgotten folk customs. One Vladimir Propp has given a description:
Unlike ... songs [that] are performed only vocally [khorovods] are accompanied by various body movements. ... The khorovod may be performed by various movements in a circle (usually to the left posodon', that is, as the sun moves), with or without stopping; there can be two circles, one inside and one outside, moving in opposite directions. While those moving in the circle sing, those standing inside the circle (a young man, or a girl, or a pair) perform and portray what is being sung. ... the chorus may form not only a circle, but also a chain, it can perform different movements in a straight line or in various line formations... [quoted in Taruskin, op. cit. p. 868]
And so on. We see all of this reflected in the scenario and choreography. The opening tune used in the Danse russe was also a khorovod and the text was associated with matchmaking. Both this and the tune quoted above refer to the ancient "ritual of abduction" a somewhat rough form of matchmaking where the youth abducts the girl. This was part of the ritual of Kupala. Recall that Stravinsky had actually started sketching "The Great Sacrifice" before he began composing Petrushka. Obviously the Danse russe was originally intended for it.

The scenario was finalized towards the end of July 1911 in a visit Stravinsky paid to Roerich in Talashkino where the latter was designing and supervising the creation of murals and mosaics for Princess Tenisheva's private church, one of the landmarks of the neonationalist movement. At this time the scenario was divided into two parts instead of one and the name was changed to Prazdnik vesni or "The Festival of Spring." Later the Russian name would become "Vesna svyashchennaya" or "The Consecrated Spring." Stravinsky's sketchbook, which has survived, contains the titles for the individual dances, worked out in this meeting. Here they are, together with the equivalents in the published score:


The most significant change from this to the final arrangement is the movement of the "Jeu de rapt" from its penultimate position in Part I to much earlier, just after "Les augures printanières." The earliest surviving synopsis of the action is in a letter of Stravinsky dated December 1912:
The first part, which bears the name "The Kiss of the Earth," is made up of ancient Slavonic rituals--the joy of spring. The orchestral introduction is a swarm of spring pipes [dudki]; later, after the curtain goes up, there are auguries, khorovod rituals, a game of abduction, a khorovod game of cities, and all of this is interrupted by the procession of the "Oldest-and-Wisest." the elder who bestows a kiss upon the earth. A wild stomping dance upon the earth, the people drunk with spring, brings the first part to its conclusion.
In the second part the maidens at night perform their secret rituals upon a sacred hillock. One of the the maidens is doomed by fate to be sacrificed. She wanders into a stone labyrinth from which there is no exit, whereupon all the remaining maidens glorify the Chosen One in a boisterous martial dance. Then the elders enter. The doomed one, left alone face to face with the elders, dances her last "Holy Dance"--the Great Sacrifice. These last words are in fact the name of the second part. The elders are witness to her last dance, which ends in the death of the doomed one.
Throughout the whole composition I give the listener a sense of the closeness of the people to the earth of the commonality of their lives with the earth, by means of lapidary rhythms. [quoted in Taruskin, op. cit. p. 874]
A number of other synopses are extant, some were published around the time of the premiere. Stravinsky went to great lengths to disavow some of these later in life.

The ultimate source for the folk rituals was likely the three volume compendium by Alexander Afanasyev published 1866-69 titled, in English, The Slavs's Poetic Attitudes Toward Nature. Rimsky-Korsakov had drawn heavily on Afanasyev for a number of his operas. The book was a kind of bible for the Russian Symbolists and World of Art circle.

The original choreographer was going to be Fokine, but he left the Ballets russes and the job was given to Nijinsky who began work in November 1912.

Let's stop here for today and listen to a performance of the Danse russe from Petrushka. The conductor is Valeria Martinelli at the INTERNATIONAL BARTÓK SEMINAR AND FESTIVAL 2014:


Will Wilkin said...

It sure would be interesting to listen to a compilation CD of all the old folk songs that Stravinsky used as sources for the Rite of Spring! It seems like the scholarship has already been done so now the task would be to find or make recordings of the songs as performed by traditional Russian folk musicians.

Bryan Townsend said...

I'm not sure that has been done, but see today's post for some of the original melodies, which you can play for yourself!