Previously for the classical music list I listened to Bolero having been inspired by a rather heartbreaking edition of the Radiolab podcast. For this post I listened to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as a companion piece because of two things that they have in common. Firstly, and more cosmetically, Bolero and The Rite of Spring have had stories as part of Radiolab. The more interesting commonality is how these two have been used in cartoons.
You see, as I mentioned before, Bolero was used in Fantasia spoof Allegro non troppo as the backdrop to a cartoon about evolution in a fantastical/alien setting. The Rite of Spring, on the other hand was used for the more serious evolution piece in Disney’s Fantasia. So you see these two pieces are united through real-life and animated science stories.
As someone who grew up with Fantasia on VHS, it proved practically impossible to listen to The Rite of Spring without thinking about it within the context of the cartoon. I would listen to flourishes and see the soaring pterodactyls. I’d hear outrageous blasts from the horn section and envisage the quaking of the earth and the creation of mountains. It really speaks to the power of the power of those Disney images and, actually, the weight of responsibility on taking pieces like The Rite of Spring and interpreting them outside of the composer’s original vision.
One look at the track titles (and even the title of the whole piece) demonstrates that this piece was intended to represent a pagan ritual whose endpoint is a sacrifice and a whole lot of dancing. Seeing how this was written for a ballet, I can only imagine just how visceral some of these dances would have been.
Now, I didn’t just listen to the Fantasia version of this on earphones. I figured that Disney would have altered the arrangements to better suit their visuals… and I was right. If anything, the original music is a whole lot darker than what I first got to know as a child. Some parts are more muted and others incredibly more complex. As this had to be a film that also appealed to children I can see why some edits were made, but it does dumb down the piece somewhat.
I’m not sure if it’s because Stravinsky sought to create something dissonant or because of my own memories of the battle between the stegosaurus and the T-rex, but there parts of this piece that generated a visceral reaction. At times I could feel myself getting a bit on edge, and others a bit upset. The 30+ minutes is an interesting experience and one that should be experienced outside of the Disney scope. Might be worth seeking out a YouTube video of the ballet at some point in the future.