Bet you can’t beat the Rite of Spring

Bet you can’t beat the Rite of Spring


norman lebrecht

February 22, 2020

Most conductors can’t either.

See how you get along.



  • Tommy says:

    Sorry to disappoint you Norman, but this is pretty bread-and-butter stuff for timpanists (and conductors) these days!

  • Tomtom says:

    It is interesting when you see Boulez conducting the Rite. In this passage he seems to add several bars together and beat them as if they were one. At speed you can’t realistically beat every bar.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Nice video. The metrum changes are meant to define rhythmic structure, but they are also quite random. Stravinsky struggled with notation and tried different versions, never to arrive at an entirely satisfying one. I can imagine there should be a simpler notation, maybe not in sixteenths but in eights. It is always impressive how conductors, and players, get through this episode without lethal accidents, let alone dancers.

    Stravinsky never recovered the fullness of inspiration of his early ballets after emigration from Russia.

  • D** says:

    I’ve always wondered how conductors handle this piece, but I read something interesting in Blair Tindall’s book, Mozart in the Jungle.

    Although Tindall was never a regular member of the New York Philharmonic, she did perform with them frequently. She describes (p. 83) a performance of the piece with the orchestra, Leonard Bernstein guest conducting:

    As I waited with the orchestra at the Rite’s first rehearsal, I studied my unusual sheet music part, one of a set the Philharmonic kept just for Bernstein, its complex meters repackaged into neat bars of 3/4 and 4/4.

    I wonder if any other conductors have followed Bernstein’s lead.

    • Actually Nicholas Slonimsky re-barred it for Koussevitsky. Lenny used that score. Makes total sense.

    • perturbo says:

      This didn’t originate with Bernstein. Nicholas Slonimsky re-barred parts of Rite of Spring so that Koussevitsky could conduct the piece. I don’t know for sure, but I would bet that Bernstein knew about this and either copied what Slonimsky did or wrote out a similar solution.

    • Monsoon says:

      Ormandy also conducted it with such a score. Szell completed avoided it and instead brought Boulez in to conduct it with Cleveland (and admired it from the audience)!

      Reading biographies about orchestras and conductors from the middle of the century, it seems like a lot of the big name conductors had a difficult time conducting complex rhythms. And that’s not really surprising given how they were mostly expected to conduct 19th century music.

      But even today, if you pay attention to some of the biggest name conductors, their baton technique isn’t so rhythmically precise in difficult passages.

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    D** confirms what I had heard from another source :
    Bernstein couldn’t deal with some of scores’ rhythmic complexities and had to rewrite some of the meters.

  • Edward says:

    That’s a rare photo of Stravinsky with baton in hand as a young man — has anyone ever seen footage of Stravinsky conducting in his younger days?

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    My first horn teacher, the late, great Ralph Pottle of the Boston Symphony, told me that it was Vic Firth, the legendary timpanist of the BSO, who held the entire orchestra together whenever they played Sacre.