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Gillian Moore CBE, director of music at Southbank Centre, tackles one of the most (in)famous works of all time in this stylish, compact, beautifully and tastefully illustrated book. Moore tackles the score from multiple angles, giving plenty of space to context, while also including a relevant discography and bibliography (the usual suspects, Taruskin and Hill; but also the more recent Indiana University Press The Rite of Spring at 100). Moore’s sources are beautifully up to date, including a section on the recently discovered Funeral Song as a missing link between early Stravinsky and the clear masterpieces of the Ballets Russes.

Most relevant in the discography is the Mariinsky/Gergiev DVD Stravinsky and the Ballets Russes, in which Millicent Hudson and Kenneth Archer reproduce Nijinsky’s original choreography (it is coupled with Fokine’s Firebird). After an examination of ‘What was so new?’ (musical architecture, melody, harmony and of course rhythm are examined in turn), Moore gives a listening guide (‘The Rite step-by-step’). Following her account of the music itself with the Nijinsky choreography DVD at hand is highly recommended; the impact, for example, of the jagged movements of the Sorceress in ‘Augurs of Spring’ can only be fully appreciated in this way.

Contextualising The Rite speaks of Moore’s strengths, and she goes right back to the 1825 Decembrists and Tolstoy; it is, however, the ‘after-shocks’ that provide the most food for thought. These range from the reactions of today’s conductors (Salonen, Gražinytė-Tyla, Alsop, Jurowski) to the work’s ‘shadow,’ extending from Prokofiev (Ada and Lolly) through Varèse (Amériques), Antheil (Ballet méchanique) and on to Charlie Parker, Joni Mitchell, Zappa and further to the Russian folk-metal of Arkona (Yarilo). There is, she is correct to say, an ‘intimidating’ mountain of musicology both analytical and historical, over The Rite; Moore’s writing offers a way in, perhaps, inviting one to dig ever deeper into Stravinsky’s seminal score.

From a Cocteau line drawing to a Roerich imagined portrait of prehistory to Walt Disney, illustrations consistently stimulate and illuminate; Moore’s enthusiasm and trademark clarity are everywhere. This is, as a rival concert organisation to the Southbank might say, ‘Total Immersion’.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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