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7.3: Primitivism in Music

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    The brilliant Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was truly a cosmopolitan figure, having lived and composed in Russia, France, Switzerland, and the United States. His music influenced numerous composers, including the famed French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. Stravinsky caused quite a stir when the ballet entitled The Rite of Spring premiered in Paris in 1913. He composed the music for a ballet that was choreographed by Sergei Diaghilev, and it was so new and different that it nearly caused a riot in the audience. The orchestral version (without the dancing) has become one of the most admired compositions of the twentieth century.

    Stravinsky’s use of “primitive” sounding rhythms to depict several pagan ritual scenes makes the term “primitivism” seem appropriate. Use the listening guide below to follow Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.


    For audio, go to:

    Composer: Igor Stravinsky
    Composition: Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance
    Date: 1913
    Genre: Ballet music
    Form: Specific passages accompany changes in choreography
    Performing Forces: Full orchestra
    Timing Performing Forces, Melody and Texture

    Flute repeated pattern based on scale tones.

    Wind and soft plucked stringed accompaniment.

    Steady slower pulse in accompaniment.


    Muted trumpets state theme.

    Wind and plucked stringed accompaniment continues.


    Violins enter softly.

    Wind and plucked stringed accompaniment continues.


    Loud French horn entrance on fanfare-like part.

    French horn, bass drum, strings.

    1:09 Oboe melody alternates with orchestra. Oboe, strings, brass, bassoons.
    1:40 Restatement of loud French horn entrance. French horn, bass drum, cymbals, strings.
    1:57 Low flute. English horn, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, muted brass, drum.
    2:45 Strings. String section with percussion. Short, hard notes, irregular rhythms.
    3:16 Strings. Winds and soft plucked stringed accompaniment.
    3:28 Trombones. Winds and soft plucked stringed accompaniment. Triplet trombone fanfare over plucked string parts. Muted trumpets and strings answer.


    Plucked stringed accompaniment becomes immediately loud.


    Trumpet fanfare.

    Plucked stringed accompaniment remains loud.


    French horns join fanfare section.

    Plucked stringed accompaniment remains loud.

    4:06 Plucked stringed accompaniment becomes the melody.
    4:17 Winds and soft plucked stringed accompaniment.
    4:31 Violins. Scale patterns become very fast and loud.
    4:40 Silence.
    4:41 Strings and percussion. Restatement of section at 2:50.
    5:09 Brass and percussion. Brass and percussion. Percussion faster and louder.

    Horn riffs up to high notes.

    Add high clarinet.

    5:49 Silence.
    5:50 Strings and percussion. Restatement of section at 2:50 and 4:41.
    5:55 Full orchestra. Multiple loud fanfare-like parts in many sections. Piece builds.
    6:19 Strings. Similar to 2:50, 4:41, 5:50 but more intense.


    Full orchestra.

    Rhythmic figure carries intensity of the dance to end

    This page titled 7.3: Primitivism in Music is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Clark, Heflin, Kluball, & Kramer (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.