Simon Rattle rehearses “Le Sacre du Printemps”

Simon Rattle rehearses “Le Sacre du Printemps”

27 Jan 2003

Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle

  • Igor Stravinsky
    Le Sacre du printemps (revised 1947 version) (37 min.)

Sir Simon Rattle once described Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps as “prehistoric jazz”. The archaic and the modern do indeed come together in this composition, written as a ballet score, but long established in the concert hall as symphonic music. The action of the ballet takes place in “prehistoric” times: various tribes gather to select a sacrifice for the upcoming spring. In the end, a young girl dances herself ecstatically to death.

The elemental power – even violence – of the subject is clear in Stravinsky’s music in moments in which the entire orchestra seems to transform itself into a single rhythm machine. There are also subtle uses of Russian folk tunes which bear no resemblance to cosy folklore. Polytonal and polyrhythmic passages in which different harmonic or time structures are layered on top of each other are particularly trendsetting. The Sacre is a unique document of early musical modernism mainly because it freed rhythm from the corset of regular measures with a symmetrical beat. Its shocking modernity remains to this day.

During his time as chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle has programmed Stravinsky’s masterpiece on several occasions. A highlight of these performances was an education project in 2003 in which more than 250 young people performed a dance version under the direction of the English choreographer Royston Maldoom – a project which is documented in the internationally acclaimed feature film Rhythm Is It! The recording presented here shows the final orchestral rehearsal before the performance. In the audience are the young dancers who during weeks of rehearsals had worked on individual passages and were now hearing the work for the first time in its entirety.

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