Igor Stravinsky’s (1882-1971) Rite of Spring (La sacre du printemps) remains one of the most written-about pieces of music of the 20th-century. Nonetheless, perhaps our knowledge of it still suffers from an under-appreciation of its original version for two pianos.
Although primarily known as a version Stravinsky used during dance rehearsals, the two-piano version is also occasionally recorded and performed as a composition in its own right. In fact, something about hearing the textures and rapid scales this way best demonstrates Stravinsky’s then-new musical language with a syntax of contrasting ideas that stretched the imagination of the listeners of its day almost to the breaking point.
Much has been said about the Rite of Spring’s use of dissonance and compound meters, not to mention its unconventional orchestration, but there is something fundamental about Stravinsky’s innovative juxtaposition of ideas that is more apparent without the distraction of a cacophonous orchestra. In fact, the piano played such a central role in all of Stravinsky’s music, no matter how elaborately he orchestrated it, that hearing these ideas on keyboard brings an alternative point of view to them.
Adapting the two-piano version of Rite of Spring for pipe organ (four hands and four feet) brings more color into the original two-piano version, but certainly is not as percussive. Without going into too much detail about the familiar segments of music that make up this ballet, this adaptation for pipe organ allows the players an arsenal of registrations to choose from while maintaining the simpler overview of the music that the two-piano version offers.
Gregg Wager is a composer and critic. He is author of Symbolism as a Compositional Method in the Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen. He has a PhD in musicology from the Free University Berlin.