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‘Rite of Spring’ modern 100 years later
by Jake Highton
Dec 26, 2013 | 657 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Before the year ends, let us pause to honor the one hundredth anniversary of “The Rite of Spring,” Igor Stravinsky ballet that premiered in Paris in 1913. To me it still sounds amazingly modern. Imagine what it sounded like to listeners then!

That audience, used to the grace and elegance of traditional ballet such as Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” hissed loudly at the inharmonious notes of the bassoon playing the opening of “Rite.” The ballet contained with its many novel features for the time: tonality, meter, rhythm, stress and dissonance.

Accounts of that historic night vary. But apparently the Stravinsky claque countered boos with cheers. Brawls ensued. Punches were thrown. Police arrived to restore a semblance of order.

The critic for Le Figaro complained that the work was “a laborious and puerile barbarity.” He added: “We are sorry to see an artist such as Monsieur Stravinsky involve himself in that disconcerting venture.”

So much for perceptions of music critics.

Affecting film scene.

“Grand Illusion,” a 1937 film directed by Jean Renoir, is one of my favorite yesteryear movies. I watch it once every year or so from my video collection. The film contains a scene near the end that is one of the most affecting in all cinema.

Two French escapees from a German prison camp in World War I are nearing their destination: Switzerland and freedom.

Near the border one escapee, Rosenthal, sits down, his ankle so painful from a fall that he refuses to go on. His comrade, Maréchal, unleashes an anti-semitic tirade at him and heads toward freedom alone.

About 100 yards on, Maréchal stops, overcome by remorse. He doubles back to his pal and helps him struggle to Switzerland.

Humanity triumphs. No wonder Orson Welles, who knew plenty about movie-making, called “Grand Illusion” a film he would take with him “on the ark.” (Maréchal is played by Jean Gabin, Rosenthal by Marcel Dalio.)

Greatest sermon ever.

A new biography of jazz colossus Duke Ellington by Terry Teachout notes that Ellington had many flaws, “from his relentless womanizing to his penchant for hogging credit from his collaborators.”

I know nothing about that. But I do know Ellington and his band “preached” the greatest sermon I ever heard. It was offered in the Methodist Church of Highland Park, Mich., in the 1960s.

The Duke, touring in nearby Detroit, graciously and gratuitously played for the pastor, a friend, and her parishioners for one joyous hour.

The stage was tiny, the band large. I can still see in my mind’s eye The Duke tottering on the edge of the stage, threatening to fall into the audience. That audience, a mere 50 people, witnessed a glorious concert.

‘Sometimes there’s God.’

One of the great lines in literature appears in the Tennessee Williams play, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Blanche DuBois, who has just been kissed, says with happiness: “Sometimes there’s God.”

This line occurred to me recently when informed that surgeons had successfully removed a tumor from the spine of my eldest daughter, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years earlier. (An MRI revealed that if the tumor was not removed it could cause paralysis.)

The tumor was benign. My eyes clouded with tears of joy and relief.
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