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Igor Stravinsky

‘The Rite of Spring’, Pierre Monteux 1963

1963. Royal Albert Hall, London
A recording of the historic concert in which Pierre Monteux, the conductor of the first performance of the work in Paris, conducts 'The Rite of Spring' exactly 50 years later in London.
Composer Igor Stravinsky
Conductor Pierre Monteux
Ensemble London Symphony Orchestra
Genre Symphonic concert

Diaghilev presented the première of the ballet The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris on 29 May 1913.  The occasion was a famous scandal, with the audience reacting in uproar not only to Nijinsky’s novel style of choreography but to Stravinsky’s revolutionary score.

In 1911, as a young assistant conductor, Pierre Monteux had made a great impression on both Stravinsky and Diaghilev with his preparation of the score of Petrushka with the Colonne Orchestra, which Diaghilev used for his Paris seasons.  When the orchestra’s Music Director declined to conduct Stravinsky’s music, the composer insisted that Monteux should take over and Diaghilev appointed him Music Director of the ballet company. And so Pierre Monteux was in the pit for the eventful première of The Rite of Spring in 1913.

In 1961, the 86 year old Monteux was appointed Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and on May 29 1963, fifty years to the day since the first performance, they gave an anniversary concert of the piece.  Monteux conducted without a score, but he was tired and Stravinsky later complained to Robert Craft that the tempi were too slow and the ensemble ragged.  There were rumours that the composer spent the evening elsewhere in London, but he was certainly present in a box at the Royal Albert Hall at the end of the concert to receive the rapturous applause from the audience.  Quite a change from the howls of protest that had greeted him fifty years previously!

One eye-witness to this historic occasion was Jon Tolansky, who cofounded Music Preserved.  He has written of that performance:

By the time of the ‘Rite of Spring’s’ 50th Anniversary Performance in 1963, the separate stature Monteux had achieved and the work had attained combined to generate an electrifying atmosphere in London’s Royal Albert Hall, as I myself can attest to. I still palpably relive the emotion when I recall Monteux, after having conducted the performance without a score, peering out across a wildly cheering packed-out hall in search of someone in the audience. After about ten or fifteen seconds, his face beamed. He gestured with his left hand towards Stravinsky, whom he had located in his box waving his handkerchief vigorously so that Monteux could see him. Fifty years prior they were howled down; now, at 80 and 88 years old respectively, composer and conductor were receiving roars of elation. All this can be heard in our recording, and moreover the scene is painted for us in the animated commentary from renowned radio announcer Alvar Lidell, who spontaneously abandoned the impartiality demanded of BBC presenters at the time (a far cry from what the broadcaster expects of its deejays in the new millennium). Even if Monteux’s performance had been less than ideal – some of the tempi were sluggish, and there were some shaky moments of ensemble – there is a tangible frisson throughout. Midway through the final Sacrificial Dance in particular – as the Wise Elders exalt the impending death of the frenetically dancing Chosen One – the London Symphony Orchestra are crying out with all their intensity for their Maître. This is the sonority of something profoundly special.


Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)

Le Sacre du Printemps

Track 1:

Part 1 Adoration of the Earth (The Rite of Spring)

I. Introduction

II. The Augurs of Spring: Dances of the Young Girls

III. Ritual of Abduction

IV. Spring Rounds

V. Ritual of the Rival Tribes

VI. Procession of the Sage

VII. Dance of the Earth

Track 2:

Part 2 The Sacrifice 

I. Introduction

II. Mystic Circles of the Young Girls

III. Glorification of the Chosen One

IV. Evocation of the Ancestors

V. Ritual Action of the Ancestors

VI. Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One)

Applause · Announcement by Alvar Lidell


This recording is taken from a relay of a concert given on 29 May 1963 at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

It is from the Tolansky-Tschaikov Collection at Music Preserved.

Remastering by Paul Baily.

The performance is available on CD or on download from SOMM Recordings ( on ARIADNE 5028-2 (Pierre Monteux Live)

  • London Symphony Orchestra
  • Pierre Monteux

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