What we’re doing to the “Rite of Spring”

What is this thing called Rite? Do you know your Rites? Rite on, spring forth! Forgive me, Father, I should be punnyshed!…

The Rite of Spring is a 25-minute ballet by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.  Our children know it as “Dinosaurs”, thanks to the animated version in Disney’s “Fantasia”.   It is one of the most important pillars of modern music and dance.  It’s also public domain – in a way.

“Rite of Spring” turned 100 this season, and the anniversary has brought many performances and new versions, from an all-guitar arrangement by The Butchershop Quartet, to “Radhe, Radhe: Rites of Holi“, a film/music collaboration by composer Vijay Iyer and filmmaker Prashant Bhargava.

In the middle of this busy “Over-Rite” season, I was commissioned by the Rite of Summer Festival (directed by Pam Goldberg & Blair McMillen), to create some sort of a response, and put together an ensemble to premiere it on Governors Island, on August 10th.

For me, the path was immediately clear — rather than attempting to re-arrange the Rite (Stravinsky would probably liken this to an act of Sacrelege),  I wanted to focus on the folk sources that Stravinsky chose to use as his inspiration, the melodic & rhythmic cells that power his ballet.

An incredibly informative and entertaining account of Stravinsky’s sources exists within Richard Taruskin’s monumental tome “Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works Through Mavra“, which you can skim somewhat on Google Books, or buy on Amazon for $200 if you’re feeling rich. To summarize crudely — Stravinsky’s sketchbook for “Rite of Spring” contains several folk melodies, written out in his hand. Some of these come from an anthology of Lithuanian folk melodies published in 1900; others come from anthologies published in 1899 and even as far back 1887.  At least one of the folk songs in Stravinsky’s sketchbook has yet to be identified.

Tickled by the idea that Stravinsky’s melodic ideas are actually in the public domain, I wanted to find a way to bring them together as a suite for exploration and improvisation with musicians I love and respect. If these tunes had strong enough bones for Stravinsky to build his legendary ballet, they should withstand public performance on their own.

What do these folk tunes sound like? Well, they could sound like this:

but we’ll sound quite different — I promise — just take a look at the band listing below.

Do the “Rite” thing – join us!
I promise not to pun during the show!   (Well, I might slip.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 1pm (raindate: August 11 at 1pm)
Rite of Summer Festival
Governors Island

the (ahem!) Riotous band:
Ljova – viola / fadolín / arrangements
Inna Barmash, vocal
Peter Hess, clarinet
Ben Holmes, trumpet
Jay Vilnai, electric guitar
Max ZT, hammered dulcimer
Shoko Nagai, accordion
Satoshi Takeishi, percussion
Pablo Aslan, bass

..and stay for the Fireworks Ensemble, who are performing their version of “Rite of Spring” at 3pm!



  • Anonymous says:

    Actually, in the United States all of the Rite of Spring (the whole work) is in the public domain, as is the case for essentially every pre-1923 musical composition.

  • Derek Warby says:

    Anonymous: Stravinsky ‘revised’ and re-published ‘The Rite of Spring’ in the USA in 1947. Therefore, it is NOT in the public domain.

    • Ljova says:

      ah i love that the public domain question of this piece is igniting the most response! Sure, Stravinsky re-copyrighted – but the sources were published before 1900, and that is what my work is based on.

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