Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring turns one-hundred today. Without going too deep, I’ll say that it’s one of my favorite pieces of music of all time.* Apart from it being an utter and complete textural, rhythmic, and harmonic whirlwind, it, more than any other piece of music, clearly and concisely illustrated to me the ideas of orchestration and thematic development at a time when I was just waking up to [what I’ll call] the big musical picture. That awakening has since, for me, broadened even further to encompass all of art, and, in the end, all of life.
Over the course of both of its sweeping, varied sections, the pristine, confident, accessible themes/motives of the Rite are imagined, twisted, re-imagined, joined, separated, re-joined, and hidden — often times in plain sight. The tools Stravinsky employs to build each section have, over time, helped shape my own personal feelings, intentions, and system of composition. The musical journey slowly became more important than the destination. While concrete, intentioned melodic material is crucial, it’s the way that that material is transformed, varied, and re-presented throughout the course of a piece that lays bare the inner workings of the composer or artist’s mind and process.
Pulling the lens back, the broader, more general ideas — the unique instrumentation, groundbreaking use of bi-tonality, and relentless rhythmic assault — can, themselves, be thought of as themes that have been and continue to be re-orchestrated in other works and by different composers over time.
Art, in general, and as far as I can tell, is that ability to recognize, internalize, and re-orchestrate the themes that we find in the world into something novel, something new, and something that tells the world a little about what we’re like as individuals. This is why many artists have trouble trying to figure out where life ends and art begins. It’s really not a pretentious posture of some kind; once one starts viewing the world through this lens, the whole of existence becomes a very complex theme-and-variations which we all spend our entire lives analyzing, borrowing from, reworking, and re-presenting to one another.
For me, that journey started [and continues] with Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece, The Rite of Spring.
I am literally crying right now.
*I mean, I’m obviously not alone here.