François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles granted exclusive permission to recreate Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as first heard in Paris in 1913 for BBC Proms on 14 July, 2013
Period instruments restore original French flavour to landmark twentieth-century masterwork and beguiling programme of French dance compositions
An audience riot, the sight of ‘prehistoric’ dance onstage and extraordinary music from the orchestra pit marked one of the most important events in twentieth-century music. Eye-witness reports of the first performance of Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) capture the uproar and insults that flew around the Theatre des Champs Elysees on 29 May 1913. Stravinsky’s ballet provoked conservative Parisians to cry “Abominable! odious! ridiculous! impertinent!”
The composer’s many post-premiere revisions to his revolutionary score and evolutionary advances in the construction of orchestral instruments mean that we know more about the riot at The Rite than about how the work sounded a century ago.
Thanks to painstaking work by François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles, audiences today have the chance to hear The Rite of Spring in its original colours. The French conductor and his orchestra are set to recreate the score as heard in Paris in 1913 at the BBC Proms on Sunday 14 July, using instruments of the period to restore the intrinsic tone colours of the large French orchestra employed by Serge Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes season.
Roth’s reconstruction involved comparing Stravinsky’s original autograph manuscript full score and his four-hand piano arrangement of 1913 with the various printed editions, including the full score of 1947 and re-engraving of 1967 that provide the standard performing version authorised by the composer. He was supported by advice and generous assistance from the French Canadian musicologist Louis Cyr, an expert in the copious and complex revisions made to the score following its first performance. Roth studied the work’s main sources and created a long list of variant readings in everything from instrumentation and orchestration to finer points of rhythm, articulation and dynamics. The process prepared the ground for Les Siècles’ reconstruction of The Rite of Spring as at its 1913 premiere. “We have researched the first performance of this great work in Paris,” Roth explains, “and we will be recreating the exact orchestra used at the Paris Opéra, from the specific French harps to the brass and fascinating French wind instruments of the period.”
Thanks to Louis Cyr, François-Xavier Roth was able to examine a copy of Stravinsky’s autograph manuscript, the original of which is now held in the collection of the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel. Monteux had been provided by Stravinsky’s publisher with a copyist’s score to prepare the rehearsals and first performance and in this he marked his solutions to problems arising from Stravinsky’s original dynamics and orchestration. Stravinsky, who played a central part in rehearsing Diaghilev’s dancers from the piano, appears to have accepted Monteux’s suggestions without question. Roth also consulted Monteux’s copy of the work’s first edition, dated 1921 but not published until the following year by Edition Russe de Musique, based upon the conductor’s annotated version of the score. He also listened to the conductor’s famous 1929 recording of the ballet, described by the British pianist and musicologist Peter Hill as ‘almost certainly the most authentic guide to Stravinsky’s earliest intentions’, and weighed the evidence contained in errata lists prepared by conductors Ernest Ansermet and Igor Markevitch for early Ballets Russes revivals of the ballet. A facsimile of Stravinsky’s autograph manuscript of The Rite was published in a special limited edition by the Sacher Foundation and Boosey & Hawkes in May to celebrate the work’s centenary.
“I think hearing Le sacre with instruments of the period will be a shock to people who know the piece and very impressive for everyone in the audience,” comments François-Xavier Roth. “The instruments of this period were very different to those used today. French brass and woodwind instruments from the time have so many more tone colours than their modern ‘international’ equivalents. And there are many details in the score that Stravinsky and others changed over many years. By rewriting the score to make it easier for players, Stravinsky removed many sound textures and colours that were there in 1913. In the original version of the ‘Sacrificial Dance’, for example, he included subtle variations in the texture to bring out the rhythm, alternating pizzicato and bowed strings. This was deleted after 1913. Ansermet wrote to Stravinsky in 1922 and asked if he might reintroduce this alternation. Orchestras are not ready for it, Stravinsky replied, but maybe they will be in sixty years! There are many revisions of this kind that we have restored to their original state and we are so very grateful to Boosey & Hawkes for permission to perform the work in this way.”
The Ballets Russes and Stravinsky’s immortal early scores for Diaghilev’s company have inspired the work of Les Siècles and François-Xavier Roth in recent seasons. The orchestra’s use of original instruments, however, extends to music of all periods, from the early 1600s to the present day. Their BBC Proms programme opens with the overture and a selection of dances from Lully’s comédie-ballet Le bourgeois gentilhomme, first performed for Louis XIV in 1670. The spirit of the dance continues in the first half with a suite of pieces from Rameau’s Les Indes galantes (1735), excerpts from Delibes’s ballet Coppélia (1870) and the exotic ballet music from Massenet’s opera Le Cid (1885). Roth’s ensemble will use period instruments appropriate to each work, charting the evolution of French ballet from courtly spectacle to public entertainment and creating a compelling context for their centenary recreation of The Rite of Spring.
“To play these pieces in one programme on instruments of their period is so demanding for the players,” notes Roth. “But it’s also very exciting for them and for the audience. It is not only the aesthetic of the sound that will differ in each piece but also the way in which the music is articulated and comes to life. When you have the right tools for the job, it becomes clear why Lully, for example, wrote a complex dance rhythm in a particular way. And it’s the same for Rameau, Delibes, Massenet and Stravinsky. This concert is a tribute to the importance of dance in French culture. Remember – Le sacre was written for a French audience, with a French orchestra playing in the pit conducted by Frenchman. I think our approach, with Les Siècles using period instruments, brings another dimension to each of the works in our Proms programme.”
The performance of The Rite of Spring by Les Siècles is taking place by special permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd. The 1967 edition published by Boosey & Hawkes remains the sole authorised edition for general performance.
Sunday 14 July
Royal Albert Hall
François-Xavier Roth, conductor
Jean-Baptiste LULLY – Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670)
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU - Les Indes Galantes (1735)
Léo DELIBES - Coppélia (1870)
Jules MASSENET – Le Cid
Igor STRAVINSKY – Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)