Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Heaven, Earth & In Between

Here is a story that you might find as fascinating as I do. Many of you might be surprised to learn that when Igor Stravinsky's ballet, The Rites of Spring premiered in Paris in May of 1913, it caused riots in the audience. Nijinsky's choreography, the costumes by archaeologist and painter Nicholas Roerich coupled with the primal tones and atypically heavy use of percussion and dissonance roused unusual passions in the classical audiences. There were catcalls, whistles, fistfights, people storming out of the theatre. Many people obviously were quite shocked and taken aback by this tour de force. How could all these intense feelings be stoked by a ballet?

The actual translation of the title Le sacre du printemps, Tableaux de la Russie païenne would be Sacred Spring, Pictures from Pagan Russia.

Rites of Spring has been performed many times since then, with different choreographers and conductors interpreting it, but no performance since the first has had the same impact. Many people have grown to love it as one of the great ballets and one of the most popular pieces of classical music.

The primal energies of the return of spring is part of our nature. How we celebrate it and mark the change of seasons will vary among people and cultures, but the calling is always there, with the genetic memories of our bodies.

Another story involving classical music caught my eye today. The Houston Symphony this past weekend performed Gustav Holst's The Planets while NASA film of the planets was shown.

What is amazing here is that this music came from the same time period as The Rites of Spring, at which there were still only seven known planets. Holst was inspired more by the ancient gods and goddesses the planets were named for than the actual planets in that he never had the ability to see them through the kinds of telescopes and cameras we have. He drew his inspiration from classical mythology, but remember, the planets were named for characters that people had strong feelings about. To name your heavenly bodies and the days of the week after these shows how much the stories of the myths were part of people's daily lives. Picture a world where a day every week was dedicated to Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn. It was a sense of perspective, of organization. The characters inspired people to name the biggest visions in the sky after them. It was this immenseness that Holst tried to capture in The Planets in this popular and evocative tone poem.

When you listen to the music, the majestic pulse and sense of melody actually creates seven different characters, seven different sonic portraits. When you look at space shots and listen to the music, see if you do not agree that he has captured the immensity and gravity of the scope of his subjects.

Remarkable how perceptive the human imagination is, and how powerful our creativity when we unleash it. Our relation to the energies of our world are quite amazingly reflected in these two works which manage to evoke deep feelings in listeners without any words. These potent non-verbal communications conjure up the mystery and awe of living on this planet. Appreciating being on this earth and looking out beyond it to try and see and comprehend what is there, these are lofty goals, and sometimes creative spirits are able to touch both heaven and earth and everything in between simultaneously.

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