Amanda's Circus

Scraps Anthology – The Rite of Spring etc


scraps amaThis is really good! Well worth reading. Here’s the link.  I know I’m in it and it’s likely you’re thinking ‘she would say that wouldn’t she’ but really, I’ve discovered I enjoy reading flash fiction. It’s the first time I’ve bought a whole book of flash fiction and I’ve loved reading in short bursts like this. The print version is out on 22nd June but a kindle version is out now. I’ve downloaded mine and I have some favourites, ones that I’ve enjoyed reading several times – Jonathan Pinnock’s is one of those – do check that one out and there are loads more to suit every taste, I’d think. Really handy reading flash on a kindle. (Amazon Kindle Links at the end of article, I don’t know how to get the picture to link)

My story, ‘Perfectly Black Sky’ is about a bassoonist, a dentist and Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’. The first notorious performance of The Rite was May 29th 1913. So it’s 2013 now, and we’re in the centenary year, serendipitous. It has been my favourite musical work since I was seventeen and one of the reasons I took up the bassoon is the haunting (some might say strangulated) solo that starts the whole thing off. I find that it’s a work that’s always fresh. For me it embodies youthfulness, that bursting out, energy, fecundity and at the same time it implies ancestry, rootedness. balletrusses_dances_custom_290x215_06200461The orchestration is so imaginative and surprising even if you know it well. Stravinsky takes you on a dangerous sound journey where there’s always something wonderful going on in the sound colours and mixes, texture too – whether it’s a yearning, stretched-out melody or those pounding, irregular rhythms. Not particularly long either. It is the bassoon melody at the start though, that haunts me. It is, in itself, difficult to play. Even nowadays with a slightly more developed bassoon, its high notes are awkward,  it needs to be played smoothly, it is very exposed, it is a virtuosic passage. The bassoonist who played it first, on a French basson – different to the German bassoon system used by most bassoonists – had one hell of a time. Stravinsky was not kind to him!  I have read though, that he was a young fairly inexperienced player but the conductor took him under his wing and eventually found him a job in his orchestra in the USA. Apparently his bassoon is on show in a concert hall. So it turned out fine in the end!

I’m a fairly persistent follower of stuff I like- obsessive some might say. I saw a matinee production of ‘The Rite of Spring’ at the Royal Opera House a couple of years ago and somehow that was a disappointment. I think I prefer it without the dancers, to be honest. I fairly recently went to the ‘Diaghilev and Ballets Russes’ exhibition at the V&A. The original costuCostumes Rite of springmes were on display along with sketches and drawings from the set and Stravinsky’s music was played over the sound system – Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite. It was a brilliant exhibition. Absolutely fabulous costumes, the work that went into them was considerable and immensely skilled. Lots of information on Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, plenty of story material.

The Rite didn’t go down well on it’s first performance in Paris, one hundred years ago at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.  But I think Diaghilev and Stravinsky knew that it might not. diaghilev_and_stravinsky_spain_1921Stravinsky himself said that when he first played the beginning of the Rite, with the call of the bassoon followed by dissonant chords and pulsating rhythm, to Serge Diaghilev, Diaghilev asked him: “Will it last a very long time this way?” Stravinsky replied: “To the end, my dear.”

Diaghilev probably wanted a scandal, it was good publicity after all. The first performance was highly publicized. The police were there. The audience knew that Nijinsky had choreographed the work and therefore expected a modernist performance. But perhaps they wanted to be shocked. Forty people were arrested. If you’re interested watch the film, ‘Riot at the Rite’ which shows one view of the proceedings. Some members of the audience said that the riot broke out as soon as the music started, Stravinsky said the storm broke after the overture, “when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down”. However, when Stravinsky and Nijinsky came to take their bow at the end, the ovation drowned the noise of the protestors. It would be nice to think that it was the bassoon solo that brought about all this bad behaviour but apparently not.

It won’t be a surprise to you to know that the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées did a centenary performance of ‘The Rite of Spring’, I was thinking of going but instead, I wrote the story. My story was originally 3,000 words and had a subplot! It no longer has that. It has been cut to its essence for ‘Scraps’. And if you buy the book, in whatever format, I hope you enjoy the story.

You can buy it here:



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About writing, trickery and a little music