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A Century of Springtime With Stravinsky

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- This spring marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most notorious premieres in the history of classical music, Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Presented as a ballet with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, the music deliberately pushed the envelope of harmony, rhythm and orchestration.

The audience reaction at the Paris 1913 premiere was ferocious. Arguments broke out, physical altercations, hooting and hollering -- Stravinsky left his seat in the audience bewildered and hurt, and retreated to the backstage wings.

The ballet's storyline was written by the composer using ancient Russian tribal imagery, including a famous scene in which a young virgin dances herself to death as a sacrifice to the gods.

Everything about this project was intended to shock and the choreography was apparently the most shocking, turning the old mannerisms of ballet on their heads in favor of a style that still looks awkwardly new today.

While the audience's reaction was certainly due to the combination of both radical music and radical dancing, it is easy to imagine a similar outburst just for the dancing alone.

Stravinsky was not looking to shock for its own sake. He was charting a new musical direction that drew heavily on folk music and deliberately primitive influences. He wanted the music to sound both organic and elegant, an authenticity that was not stuck in a museum case but instead transformed the concert hall into a scene of bloody ritual.

Stravinsky had calculated his music to push the boundary of popular taste, but not break it. He expected The Rite to succeed.

Wisely, after the first run of performances with Nijinsky's choreography, Stravinsky began offering the work to orchestras as a concert piece -- no dancing. From that point it was widely accepted as a masterpiece.

It's important for any businessman -- especially those in the arts and especially those whose business is transformative innovation -- to know his audience, an intimate instinctive knowledge that understands what customers want before they do themselves.

In addition to his unerring craftsmanship and imagination, Stravinsky had that keen business sense. Throughout his career he led the style of the day. Other composers, younger ones, perhaps exceeded his innovations, but none exceeded his influence.
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