Notes to My Friends in Theater

From Ivan Schwebel’s book, Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv!:  “Never read newspaper critics.  If the temptation is too great, change your country and don’t learn the language.”

From David Ewen’s article on the premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rites of Spring”, published in Coronet Magazine, March 1937:

“On May 29, 1913, a volcanic eruption rocked musical Paris.  The eruption was caused by the first performance of “The Rites of Spring”, at the Theatre des Champs Elysees, an offering of the Diaghilev Ballet Russe, headed by Nijinsky…….The performance of “The Rites of Spring”, under the baton of Pierre onteaux, had progressed only a few minutes when the growling of a volcano began to assert itself in the audience.  Before long, the air of the theatre became charged with electric excitation, and the hot lava of dissention spat among the audience……While the music was in progress, a lady stretched into the next box and slapped the face of a man who was hissing; her escort arose , cards were exchanged, and a duel took place the following morning.  SaintSaens viciously denounced the composer; Andre Capu, the critic, bellowed that it was all a colossal bluff, while – at the same time – Maurice Ravel was crying ‘genius’ to his inattentive neighbors.  The Austrian ambassador laughed loudly in derision, Florent Schmitt, the great composer, attacked hiim for his laughter.  The Princess des Pourtales left her box, exclaiming, “I am sixty years old, but this is the first time that anyone has dared make a fool of me.”  Another proud society lady rose majestically in her seat, contracted her capacious bosom and spat in the face of one of the demonstrators….And throughout it all, Claude Debussy, pale and trembling, was pleading to his audience to remain quiet and listen patiently to the music.

“When the tempestous performance came to a close, Stravinsky (who had left a sick bed to be present), Diaghilev and Nijinsky fled from the theatre, engaged a fiacre and spent the entire night circling the lake in the Bois de Boulogne.  Their nerves were tangled, they temples throbbed, they were alternately smothered by rage and disappointment….when they returned to their homes the following dawn, and faith had replaced the despair of the previous night, they knew that they had created an important and epochal work, they were convinced that the music had greatness as well as originality, that it was music of the future, and that it would live”


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