Introduction

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring premiered in Paris in 1913, sparking a riot and screaming so loud that the dancers could not hear the orchestra, and the choreographer had to shout numbers from backstage to keep the dancers on beat.

The Rite of Spring continues to challenge listeners. According to Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring was intended to portray “the surge of spring, the magnificent upsurge of nature reborn.” As you will see, Stravinsky’s description is almost frighteningly apt!

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Harvard’s Thomas Forrest Kelly (Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music) guides learners through The Rite of Spring, highlighting not only the contributions of Stravinsky, the composer, but also those of his collaborators. Professor Kelly takes learners through the ballet’s development, rehearsals, and finally, premiere performance, and he explores just how and why The Rite of Spring challenged (and to a certain extent, continues to challenge) its listeners.

You will learn about the ballet’s innovative choreography, the basics of 20th-century orchestral form and technique, and the circumstances of this ballet’s first performance and subsequent history. Learners in this course need not have any prior musical experience.

What you'll learn:

  • Identify and describe forms and techniques used in 20th-century orchestral music
  • Understand approaches to ballet choreography in the 20th century
  • Appreciate cultural context and performance circumstances of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring

Meet The Faculty

Thomas Forrest Kelly

Thomas Forrest Kelly

Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music

Tom Kelly is the Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music at Harvard University. Professor Kelly received his B.A. from Chapel Hill; spent two years on a Fulbright in France studying musicology, chant, and organ. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard (1973) with a dissertation on office tropes. He has taught at Wellesley, Smith, Amherst, and at Oberlin, where he directed the Historical Performance Program and served as acting Dean of the Conservatory. He was named a Harvard College Professor in 2000 and the Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music in 2001. 

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