Quiet Riot
December 28, 2010 8:06 AM   Subscribe

A classical music riot is violent, disorderly behavior that usually occurs during the premiere of a controversial piece of music. Here are some famous examples:

La Muette de Portici by Daniel Auber (1830) -- led to the most violent afterparty in operatic history. It was performed in 1830 to an already agitated population in the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. When it came time for the patriotic duet Amour sacré de la Patrie, pandemonium broke out. People poured out of the opera house and started looting and ransacking the city. Eight thousand Dutch soldiers were sent in to restore order, but after three days of bloody street fighting, Belgium declared independence.

The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky (1913) – probably the most famous classical music riot in history. The ballet opened with a solo bassoon, followed by intensely rhythmic dancing, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. (Watch a recreation of the 1913 performance here: part one, part two, part three.) The booing and yelling grew so loud that the dancers had trouble hearing the orchestra, forcing Nijinsky to shout out counts to them. Fistfights broke out in the audience and the Paris police were called in to restore order, which they could not. The Rite would famously appear in Disney's Fantasia in 1940 and has since become a standard of the classical repertoire. (NPR has more!)

Four Organs by Steve Reich (1973) – has the distinction of being the last classical music riot of the 20th century. The work calls for a maraca and four organs, which harmonically expound a dominant eleventh chord. (Listen to part one, part two.) A performance at Carnegie Hall in New York led to people yelling out for the music to stop, while one older woman started banging her head on the front of the stage, crying out: »Stop, stop, I confess!«

Parade by Erik Satie, Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso (1917) – This ballet in the middle of WW1 had cardboard costumes by Picasso, while Cocteau threw in a typewriter, milk bottles and a foghorn. (Listen to Jean Cocteau reminisce about the performance, watch a modern interpretation) Afterwards, Satie reacted to a negative review by calling the critic »Not only an ass, but an ass without music« prompting a lawsuit. At the trial Cocteau was beaten by police for screaming »ass« repeatedly in the courtroom, while Satie was sentenced to 8 days in jail.
(Read a long paper on Parade.)

The Miraculous Mandarin by Bela Bartok (1926) – The mix of seduction, murder and radical music didn't go over well at the premiere in Cologne, Germany. The conductor of the premiere, Eugen Szenkár, recalled that the »uproar was so deafening and lengthy that the fire curtain had to be brought down. Nevertheless, we endured it and weren't afraid to appear in front of the curtain, at which point the whistles resumed with a vengeance.« Szenkar was later summoned to see then-mayor (and later chancellor of West Germany) Konrad Adenauer, who insisted that the »work of filth« be withdrawn from the repertoire, which it was. The opening of The Miraculous Mandarin famously tries to evoke city life in the »concrete jungle.« (Part one, part two) (More about the work here. Watch excerpts from a contemporary ballet performance here.)

String Quartet No. 1 by Arnold Schoenberg (1907) – It was premiered by the Rosé Quartet in Vienna and even though it was still tonal, a kerfuffle broke out. Gustav Mahler, who privately admitted that he was unable to read it, still stood up for the work, nearly getting into a fistfight with a detractor. (Listen to part 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.)

Salome by Richard Strauss (1905/1906) – After being banned at the Court Opera in Vienna, a performance in Graz (see the original playbill here) attracted Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Giacomo Puccini and (possibly) a teenage Adolf Hitler. (Hitler later said that he had borrowed money to go see the performance.) The finale of the opera was scandalous for some. In it, the princess Salome seduces and kisses the severed head of John the Baptist. (Watch the entire seduction scene here: part one, part two, part three) In 1907, when the opera was being rehearsed in New York, it enraged J.P. Morgan & friends. Morgan happened to be a member of the board of the Metropolitan Opera and saw to it that the production was closed down. (See the cover of Harper's Weekly magazine from 1907; see a picture of Olive Fremstad as Salome in the 1907 Met Production) The opera remained banned in New York for nearly three decades... (You can read more about Salome here.)
posted by Ljubljana (94 comments total) 125 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I saw The Rite of Spring at the NY Philharmonic some years ago, numerous old fogeys marched out in the first few minutes. It would have been more exciting if they'd rioted instead, but at least I got to enjoy one of my favorite pieces of music.
posted by exogenous at 8:11 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Radiolab did a fascinating segment on the potential neurological causes and implications of the "Rite of Spring" incident in their "Musical Language" episode.
posted by rollbiz at 8:13 AM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Excellent post, by the way...!
posted by rollbiz at 8:13 AM on December 28, 2010


"You call that a crescendo?! And what's with the key signature, maestro!?!! I'm gonna come up there and give you an accidental upside the treble clef, in the key of FU Major..."
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:14 AM on December 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


Don't forget about one of my favorite opium addicts.

Fantastique post!
posted by mintcake! at 8:19 AM on December 28, 2010


You missed an important one: the riot which took place after the first performance of Cage's 4'33". Appropriate to the piece, it took the form of confused clapping and hushed murmurs.

At the trial Cocteau was beaten by police for screaming »ass« repeatedly in the courtroom...

Wow. Jean Cocteau is hard-fucking-core.
posted by griphus at 8:19 AM on December 28, 2010


Four Organs makes me want to confess as well, though to what it is unclear. Great post!
posted by atlatl at 8:24 AM on December 28, 2010


Satie reacted to a negative review by calling the critic »Not only an ass, but an ass without music« prompting a lawsuit. At the trial Cocteau was beaten by police for screaming »ass« repeatedly in the courtroom.

I'm LOLing as I type. Delightful post on an always-fascinating topic, thanks. Clearly, the classical music world needs its own flagging system and MeTa to keep audience members from concert-shitting.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:28 AM on December 28, 2010


The action of the first book of Alan Moore's Lost Girls reaches an, ahem, crescendo during the infamous perfromace of The Rite of Spring... or, er, so I've been told
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:28 AM on December 28, 2010


Listening to the Reich Four Organs through headphones may have done something permanent to my brain...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:32 AM on December 28, 2010


Maybe there are no more riots because some of us have completely given up in despair.
posted by Melismata at 8:33 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


At the trial Cocteau was beaten by police for screaming »ass« repeatedly in the courtroom

I wish I could go back in time to 1984 when arcade attendant dude was screaming at me for entering "A-S-S" into all the high score counters on the games and invoke...The Cocteau Defense.
posted by mintcake! at 8:33 AM on December 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


The Rite would famously appear in Disney's Fantasia in 1940...

Although they did clean up some of harmonies, for the kids.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:37 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe there are no more riots because some of us have completely given up in despair.

Ahem
posted by griphus at 8:40 AM on December 28, 2010


Very metal.
posted by QIbHom at 8:40 AM on December 28, 2010


NYC had a tradition of Opera and theatre riots in the past, not due to the music being played, but due to the intense anti English sentiment among the mostly Irish audience. Since most visiting performers were English, you'd get this complicated in- play insults being hurled back and forth from theatre to theatre until it all reached a head and the crowd went wild and took to the streets to put an end to all this englishness on stage.
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on December 28, 2010


Wow. Jean Cocteau is hard-fucking-core.

Although Artaud once dismissed Cocteau's stage direction (that Artaud enter bipedally) with "Oh. You want realism."
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:49 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Part of me would love nothing more to witness one of these, but I just can't imagine it happening in my lifetime. I can't quite put my finger on why... The general sense of apathy that seems pervasive lately? People are jaded because shock art and all that is played out and people are bored with it all? Or folks like Stravinsky and Reich and Cage et al. "paved the road" so well that there's nothing else to pave over? But really, I'd rather not believe any of those things and cling onto my hope of experiencing something like that, someday.
posted by mingo_clambake at 8:51 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


And now the conductor Otto Klemperer is hopping across the stage towards Gilbert and trying to poke at him with a stick. I must say this is amazing. This is the first time at the Festival Hall that I have seen a violinist of Gilbert's calibre poked with a stick.

And one of the oboists has leapt on to Klemperer's back and is pulling his hair out. I must say that it is wonderful to see the loyalty that which a great soloist like Gilbert can still command amongst his fellow musicians. In fact several of the cellists have thrown off their clothes and are making a vast human pyramid standing a full thirty feet above the smoke and flames drifting across from the blazing wind section and through the smoke I can see... yes... I can see the timpanist one of Britain's best has lashed himself and a Japanese friend to the kettle drum and is rolling off the stage towards the pit of audio which has opened up under the first six rows of the stall.

Whilst throughout this rather unpleasant business of prising Gilbert out from between the organ pipes is being undertaken by the men of the Royal engineers. And Gilbert is half out. He has got an army violin and he is having another go at Contezana Padoano, and he is playing beautifully.

But oh dear one of the Royal Engineers has stuck a crowbar through his chest and he has dropped the violin and his very fit young nepatist has pounced upon it and are already taking bits of it across to Herr Billy Brandt across on the other side of the stage [sounds of rioting].

[sounds of police sirens] Well the Police have erected barriers now to keep people away from the rubble and as fighters swoop down [sounds of WWII fighter planes] to bomb the last pocket of resistance, we go onto the next part of our program. The Sonatine in E sharp by Antonio Vivaldi played by Pablo Casals during his 400 foot plunge into a bucket of boiling fat.

http://listen.grooveshark.com/#/s/Royal+Festival+Hall+Concert/vp8oL
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:51 AM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


♫ Four Organs by Steve Reich (1973) – has the distinction of being the last classical music riot of the 20th century.

I guess Classic Rock doesn't count as classical music, then?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:53 AM on December 28, 2010


I just spent 2.5 hours in a conference call. I woke at 8, walked the dog, got on the call at 9, and proceeded to die inside for the next 2.5 hours. I was not anticipating relief from this thread. However, I have now ROFL'd for the first time today. A very hearty ROFL it was too. Who knew!!
Funniest classical music thread ever. ASS ASS ASS ASS ASS ASSS
posted by spicynuts at 8:57 AM on December 28, 2010


There should be more of these riots. At the premieres of "Doctor Atomic" or "Nixon in China" the audience should have risen up, seized John Adams, pantsed him, and thrown him out onto the street.

Actually, the same should have happened at the premieres of most of the operas and symphonic works introduced over the past 80 years. The fact that these composers are allowed to walk out of the concert halls with lying friends patting them on the backs, while the audiences ears still ring with the inevitably dull, annoying or proactively ugly composition, is one of the reasons that composers still won't bother to bestir themselves to produce a work that might genuinely please a human being -- least of all that most despised of concert-goers, the elderly subscriber who actually pays the bills.

The modern composer should start producing something someone wants to listen to, or be whipped naked through the streets. "Rite of Spring" is all very well, but I'd gladly do without it to be spared its constantly being bought forth as an example of merit roundly derided upon first performance (and, personally, I suspect the "riot" was wildly exaggerated in the retelling), and justification for the mediocrity, noisemaking, and playpen-rattling that has passed for concert music over the past century.

The early 20th century composers made a pact with the devil - joining their lot with a culture bored by half a century of peace and reverence, and seeking stimulation in war and cruelty. They hoped that their cruel god moloch would be pleased by their violent rhythms and clashing tonalities. They turned their back on love, to subject their audiences to real and symbolic torture -- an artistic trend that became all too real in the subsequent wars, and continues to be fulfilled in "Rites of Spring" like the Abu Gharib atrocities, the glorification of Michael Vick, and the American taxpayers' continuing willingness to pay for the ongoing murder-festival in Iraq and Afghanistan.
posted by Faze at 8:58 AM on December 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


OMG I had never seen that Joffrey reproduction of Rite. Great post!

* rocks out with cock out *
posted by everichon at 8:58 AM on December 28, 2010


Wait wait wait...I have a question...how do you seduce a severed head? Is it even necessary to seduce a severed head?
posted by spicynuts at 9:00 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


art of me would love nothing more to witness one of these, but I just can't imagine it happening in my lifetime.

I've witnessed or heard about several music riots in my lifetime, but of course they aren't spurred by classical music anymore. Woodstock '99 would quite possibly qualify. Or this is a little before my time, but I think the 1978 Suicide riot definitely fits the bill.

I think that modern-day audiences find classical music riots to be fascinating because we've grown used to the highly-ritualized performances of today, but it hasn't always been like this. It's much more understandable and less mysterious if we remember that music performances used to be like going to the movies or a rock concert.
posted by muddgirl at 9:02 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The modern composer should start producing something someone wants to listen to, or be whipped naked through the streets.

Please, can we not do this again? I'm still glowing from my ROFL. A debate about the merits of 20th Century Modern Classical is just another form of your favorite band sucks and it will seriously harsh my mellow.
posted by spicynuts at 9:02 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


.how do you seduce a severed head

Consent would be a vexed matter in such a pursuit, too.
posted by everichon at 9:03 AM on December 28, 2010


They turned their back on love, to subject their audiences to real and symbolic torture -- an artistic trend that became all too real in the subsequent wars, and continues to be fulfilled in "Rites of Spring" like the Abu Gharib atrocities, the glorification of Michael Vick, and the American taxpayers' continuing willingness to pay for the ongoing murder-festival in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So what would you prefer? Neo-romanticism?
posted by ReeMonster at 9:04 AM on December 28, 2010


The glorification of Michael Vick? The left in this country needs to decide if they believe in rehabilitation or not.
posted by spicynuts at 9:06 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


So what would you prefer? Neo-romanticism?

I like Soft Cell and Adam Ant as much as anyone but never again.
posted by griphus at 9:07 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The left? Faze speaks for "the left" now? Saints fucking preserve us.
posted by enn at 9:12 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Actually, The Glorification of Michael Vick would make a nice title for a classical piece of music, and one well worth rioting over.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


True. I'd get in line for that. I nominate John Zorn as composer.
posted by spicynuts at 9:16 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]



The left? Faze speaks for "the left" now? Saints fucking preserve us.


Is there a world in which the issues he lists are not considered liberal?
posted by spicynuts at 9:20 AM on December 28, 2010


how do you seduce a severed head

I don't know, but it's clear that waiting for the head to make the first move won't get you anywhere.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:22 AM on December 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Faze thinks because something sounds ugly to his ears, it is objectively ugly. Oops.
posted by barrett caulk at 9:24 AM on December 28, 2010


When I saw this post I immediately thought of the Clash as the last rock show to play the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto (Now the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts)
"There's probably 20 rock and roll fans in North America" - Kosmo Vinyl
posted by phirleh at 9:24 AM on December 28, 2010


Is it even necessary to seduce a severed head?

Not if it's already in the mood. (NSFW)
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:29 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read somewhere that the "riot" the Rite of Spring caused was wildly exaggerated by its promoters. And over time, as the legend of the riot grew, more and more people would say they were at the Event and add their embellished recollections and thereby contributing to the myth. Sorry I don't remember a source. It was in either New Yorker or Metafilter, I think.
posted by Pantalaimon at 9:30 AM on December 28, 2010


What a great post, I would love to use this information in teaching. I'm going to have to get the Ass in Classical, somehow in an understated context. Hmm.
posted by effluvia at 9:34 AM on December 28, 2010


I believe the audience was probably going nuts, and the dancers probably couldn't hear the music properly. Probably lots of booing and hissing and heckling, mixed with applause from people who respected the music. We'll never know, really.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:35 AM on December 28, 2010


I read somewhere that the "riot" the Rite of Spring caused was wildly exaggerated by its promoters. And over time, as the legend of the riot grew, more and more people would say they were at the Event and add their embellished recollections and thereby contributing to the myth.

Malcolm McLaren had heroes, too.
posted by mintcake! at 9:36 AM on December 28, 2010


The only complaint I can understand about the Steve Reich piece is that you just keep waiting for it to explode into a Latin-tinged dance piece, and it doesn't.

This thread is absolutely made by Faze's satire of ponderous, benighted, self-declared critics who hate any art beyond the waxworks of the Victorian and earlier eras, but mask it in an indefensible pose of snobbery. Bravo! Now do the critic who thinks dance hasn't been worth a damn since Balanchine left the New York City Ballet -- or are you playing a critic too dimly aware of the actual arts to know who Balanchine is? It's so hard to tell.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:39 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stellar post!
posted by kthanksbai at 9:40 AM on December 28, 2010


I read somewhere that the "riot" the Rite of Spring caused was wildly exaggerated by its promoters.

Only a thousand people ever heard Rites of Spring, but every single one of them went out and wrote their own dissonant, rhythmically asymmetrical, ostinati-based compositions for ballet.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:41 AM on December 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


Dunno what I expected from that Reich piece but that wasn't it. I could see being really into that if I was high. And I assume everyone in the audience in 1973 probably was. Maybe the woman ate the brown acid.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:48 AM on December 28, 2010


The fact that these composers are allowed to walk out of the concert halls with lying friends patting them on the backs, while the audiences ears still ring with the inevitably dull, annoying or proactively ugly composition, is one of the reasons that composers still won't bother to bestir themselves to produce a work that might genuinely please a human being

the other reason being that when film composers take these kind of themes, timbres and tonalities and use them in the movies, everyone sits quietly and munches their popcorn - even you, i dare say, have listened to serial music contentedly as part of a movie you liked, thinking that it added to the production

wait until it invades pop and rock music more than it already has, wait until microtonal music takes off - then you'll wish for the good old days, won't you?

because people, once they get it and accept the style, will find worth in it and it will be used in some way in our culture

besides, you lost a long time ago when the 7th chord was used to harmonize the diabolus in musica - it's all been discord since
posted by pyramid termite at 9:49 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


We don't speak of the devil's tritone on MetaFilter.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:53 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Previously related on AskMe.
posted by Pantalaimon at 9:59 AM on December 28, 2010


I always know I'm in for a wild ride when Faze gets to pontificatin'...
posted by stenseng at 10:00 AM on December 28, 2010


Metafilter: mediocrity, noisemaking, and playpen-rattling
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:08 AM on December 28, 2010


Boy, you talk about your spittin' an' cursin' rock shows -- bet you punks never brought down a government -- eh? eh?

{/kecker}
posted by tspae at 10:12 AM on December 28, 2010


I should know better than to actually respond to performance art from Faze Productions, but...

...Nixon In China is effing brilliant. John Adams is glorious in his abilities to mix melody and minimalism. Steve Reich is equally amazing, in differently similar ways. Music For 18 Musicians is like a window into another universe. Drumming is a two-hour ecstasy tab.

I'm not always a huge fan of late 20th Century classical music, but we did produce some masters whose works will be performed a century from now.

(And for those who didn't know this already, Nixon In China will be part of the Met's live HD simulcast schedule this coming spring. It's truly an amazing way to see opera. Riots not guaranteed with ticket purchase.)
posted by hippybear at 10:12 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a former [board] member of the Baltimore Composers Forum and a twenty year operatic extra with more than a bit of experience with difficult classical fans, this makes me pine for a good riot, if for no better reason than this:

I hate showboating, prima donna, oh-so-conspicuous thing-haters.

It's fine to hate something, and it's even finer to rebuke it in a detailed way, IMHO.

I'm an enormous fan of Four Organs, and the amazing, transcendent experience of meditative repetition I had while listening to that record in the listening room at the U-of-M Hornbake Library, where you'd sit there with sticky plastic-cupped headphones tied to a turntable, before everything was easily available via the net, and explore. Four Organs won't work for some people. My dad found it terribly funny to point out that "the needle was stuck" every time I played Reich, and my mother would sort of shrug. For me, it's the music of divine clockwork, cycles interlocking, unlocking, meshing like orbits.

For me, music like this sounds like the rest patterns of my neurons firing, in the same way that the Rite of Spring sounds like my brain when my chemicals are dancing lusty, fluid dances, or how the People Like Us song "SwingLargo" sounds like the conversations that my cells have when they're toying with new ideas.

I get what's going on in Four Organs. Other people don't, and it's not because they're not as smart or tasteful as me. De gustibus est non disputandum and so on. We don't all have to like the same things.

The thing about the performance of Four Organs, though is this--the folks who didn't like it could have left. They could have stood up, walked out, and written some wry, pithy letter to the editor about it, but they didn't, and that idiot woman banging her head on the stage, after having thought out what I'm certain she thought was a crowd-pleasing bit of Dorothy Parkeresque bon mot, reflected nothing more than the vanity of the talentless critic.

I "curated" a number of concerts for the BCF over the years (I don't like the word "curated," either, but that's what they called it), and after every one, there would be some wag who had to come up and complain about "that piece," which was "not music." They always did it loudly, and as conspicuously as possible, to show their tremendous, throbbing erudition. I was never personally named, as my own work is pretty low key and inoffensive, but still, it would piss me off, the reactions to things.

"Why didn't you leave, then?"

"I felt like I should say something."

"Why? This was a free concert. Seven composers worked hard on these pieces, and a large group of performers came here to play. No one got paid, and they rehearsed for a long time, and maybe it's not your cup of tea, but other people really enjoyed it. There was nothing stopping you from quietly walking out."

"But it's not music."

You really want to say "Would you just get the fuck out of here, you insufferable asshole," but discretion is the better part of valor. I would just point out the composer in question and send the stinking little git over to make his or her unproductive, whiny, long-winded point.

I've enjoyed more than a few showy, ranting assaults on the things I don't care for, but I'm increasingly bored by what they really represent, which is an outlet for an impotent need to be seen as canny and sophisticated. It's a pat answer, in a way, to say "well, then, you make something better," or to just suggest that people get up, quietly file out of the theater, and go watch something they'll like, instead, but that doesn't mean that these aren't useful considerations.

The haters, though, are practically genocidal, unhappy unless they can rewrite history and erase the actual existence of what they can't stand, and for that, I pity them their small, small worlds, with so little room for other things. The tragic irony, of course, is that their attitudes are precisely what will kill classical music as a dynamic contemporary artform, freezing it into something as hard and fragile as glass, destined for delegation to the funereal category of folk forms preserved in amber.

The mediocre is carved away on the lathe of history by public tastes.

What survives, survives.

The critics, though, are like people walking behind a train, claiming that they're pushing it forward, making a spectacle of themselves for no better reason than making a spectacle that they can't produce with actual talent.

The actual talent carries on, regardless.
posted by sonascope at 10:27 AM on December 28, 2010 [27 favorites]


Not a riot, but didn't people bring rotten tomatoes to throw at a Phillip Glass/Merce Cunningham dance piece?
posted by outlandishmarxist at 10:38 AM on December 28, 2010


I can understand the visceral reaction to Steve Reich -- I know some avant garde percussionists socially, and I attended their group's performance of Drumming a few years ago. From a film perspective, the experience was a lot like watching an early Kurosawa or Izu film (lots of long, lingering shots, very slow development, etc) for the first time after long exposure to MTV-influenced contemporary editing techniques and/or Michael Bay. That piece (which I believe clocked in at around 70 minutes) involved a lot of percussive experimentation -- beating, slowly-mutating patterns, etc. A lot happened throughout the piece, but all within a small range of variation. I knew what I was getting into, was interested in the ideas, and I still found myself hoping it was going to be over soon. I've since listened to some shorter Reich pieces, and they're enjoyable, but.. that was an interesting first-encounter.

That said, I didn't start responding to email on my phone or anything despite the length of the thing. I certainly didn't take down a country in response. Now that's punk.
posted by Alterscape at 10:42 AM on December 28, 2010


to show their tremendous, throbbing erudition

The last time I showed my tremendous, throbbing erudition I got arrested and now I'm not allowed within 500 yards of a church or a playground.
posted by spicynuts at 10:51 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]



The première of Hans Werner Henze's political oratorio Das Floß der Medusa fits this bill.
(For lack of time right now, I'll borrow from Wikipedia:)

Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) is an oratorio by the German composer Hans Werner Henze. It is regarded as a seminal work in the composer's political alignment with left-wing politics.

Henze wrote it as a requiem for Che Guevara, and set it to a text by Ernst Schnabel. It tells the story of a French frigate, the Meduse, which ran aground off the west coast of Africa in 1816. It marks an undistinguished episode in French political and maritime history, and was later immortalised in the painting of the same name by Théodore Géricault. As Henze's oratorio builds to its climax, the "dead" move from the choir of the living to that of the dead, which is full of both adults and children, creating an imbalance on the stage.

The first performance was scheduled for 9 December 1968 at the Planten un Blomen Hall in Hamburg. Just before it was due to begin, a student hung a large poster of Che Guevara on the rostrum rail, which was torn down by an official from NDR radio. Some students then hoisted the Red Flag and another Che portrait; some anarchists raised the Black Flag. At this point although Henze and soloists had arrived onstage, the RIAS choir started chanting "Under the Red Flag we sing not" and left the stage. After some scuffles the police arrived and began removing the students, taking Schnabel with them. Henze reappeared, stating that the police intervention had made a performance impossible, and led part of the audience in a chant of "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!" before they dispersed, the première cancelled.

It was finally premiered at a concert performance in Vienna on 29 January 1971, and its first stage production was given in Nuremberg on 15 April 1972. Henze revised the work in 1990, and it has been performed several occasions since, notably by the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle in 2006.


I saw the 2006 production (with Henze present.) It was very moving - I'd heard the story of the riot-aborted première many times: the arrested librettist, Ernst Schnabel, was my granddad.
posted by progosk at 10:53 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Alterscape: Drumming is pretty incomprehensible at first listen, even if you know what is going on. It's with repeated listens that it really springs to life. Yes, it's long, and since it's basically the same pattern repeated 4 times on 3 groups of instruments (with the 4th iteration involving all three kinds of percussion -- skin, wood, metal), I do find the 3rd iteration a bit wearisome. However, it's all made-up-for and forgiven with the final joyous iteration.

My first exposure to Reich was hearing a public radio broadcast of The Desert Music when the recording was first released. I was in high school at the time, classical music student (piano, string bass), and was utterly mesmerized. I'd never heard anything like it before. The sea of voices, the repetitive nature of the piece... I called the radio station immediately after it finished playing and asked who it was, got in my car, and bought a copy. I still listen to it very regularly.

I still have a strong desire to find an ensemble to learn and perform Music For 18 Musicians. The sense of time/no-time that it creates and the beauty of its non-melodies have haunted me for decades.
posted by hippybear at 10:54 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


"But it's not music."

You really want to say "Would you just get the fuck out of here, you insufferable asshole," but discretion is the better part of valor. I would just point out the composer in question and send the stinking little git over to make his or her unproductive, whiny, long-winded point.


I find that the best way to end this b.s. is to just say "You're right! It's not! Wasn't it awesome?" If you take away the label, the morons are dumbfounded
posted by spicynuts at 10:54 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is not a riot, but perhaps someone hoped it would be: I went to a performance of Harrison Birtwistle's opera Gawain at Covent Garden in 1994--not the premiere, even of the revised version, though it was shortly after the premiere of the revised version--and one person made a complete spectacle of himself by booing and carrying on and shouting various imprecations at Birtwistle when he came out to take a bow.

I was quite astonished. My own response when I don't enjoy a performance or a work is, you know, to flag it and move on leave after the intermission. The idea that it would feel important to one operagoer in the balcony of a giant opera house to yell at the composer is kind of alien even to a crank like me.

The thing was that Gawain is very typical of Birtwistle's work, both in its strengths and its weaknesses. You kind of know what you're getting with Birtwistle, so if you don't like what he does, why not skip his stuff in favor of something you do like?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:05 AM on December 28, 2010


This year the Canadian Opera Company unveiled a new production of Aida, with, nary an elephant in site, focusing on a late 19th/early 20th century pastiche of communist wartime nations, which some patrons loved, as it was not the hopelessly GAUDY same old Aida.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did many reviewers, but others were LIVID. I work in the box office and the number of calls we'd get, as ticket operators was staggering. But then in contrast the raves I heard, from people who usually skip the 'classics' were also many.

You can't love everything, but don't fuck with Verdi, apparently...
posted by darlingmagpie at 11:08 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The idea that it would feel important to one operagoer in the balcony of a giant opera house to yell at the composer is kind of alien even to a crank like me.

Yeah, in our modern context, which is why these sorts of riots seem so incomprehensible for our framework of "serious music". But we (well, lots of us) don't hesitate to boo shitty performances in other venues (or at least, loudly pay attention to something else, which is a similar offense in my mind).
posted by muddgirl at 11:18 AM on December 28, 2010


Yeah, in our modern context, which is why these sorts of riots seem so incomprehensible for our framework of "serious music". But we (well, lots of us) don't hesitate to boo shitty performances in other venues (or at least, loudly pay attention to something else, which is a similar offense in my mind).

The booing seems more honest or at least engaged than twiddling with our iPhones.
posted by immlass at 11:28 AM on December 28, 2010


At the premieres of "Doctor Atomic" or "Nixon in China" the audience should have risen up, seized John Adams, pantsed him, and thrown him out onto the street.

I would have, but I was to busy sleeping.

I honestly don't get the visceral reaction to Reich. I mean, I think the man is absolutely brilliant, but his music, by 20th century standards, is pretty tame (which is probably why he has such a mainstream following). I mean, you'd think more people would have been upset about Danger Music for Dick Higgins.*

*calls for performer to climb inside the vagina of a living whale.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:31 AM on December 28, 2010


Oh, and fantastic post! Thanks.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:31 AM on December 28, 2010


I don't leave when I don't like modern classical music. In fact, I make sure I put in one or two concerts I'm pretty sure I won't like when I get my BSO subscription every year. I do this because I'm often wrong. While I didn't like the John Adams piece I heard, Tan Yun blew me away a few years ago.

Charles Ives talked about stretching our ears. Music I don't like is a feature, not a bug.
posted by QIbHom at 12:09 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


At the premieres of "Doctor Atomic" or "Nixon in China" the audience should have risen up, seized John Adams, pantsed him, and thrown him out onto the street.

I attended the premiere of Nixon in China. There was no riot, but a small number of people walked out early on. I distinctly heard the word "bullshit" muttered by one of them.

They turned their back on love, to subject their audiences to real and symbolic torture

When I was 16, my parents got me Music for 18 Musicians for xmas. I stayed up all night listening to it over and over. That night was one of the most transcendent experiences I've had with a recording of music. And if I had to pick the most transcendent experience with live music, it would be Einstein on the Beach at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

So, yeah. Whatever.
posted by williampratt at 12:45 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Premiere of Nixon In China? Parents who gave you 18 for xmas? Live performance of Einstein On The Beach?

*prepares Life-X-Change-O-Ray and tries to look casual as he points it at williampratt*
posted by hippybear at 1:25 PM on December 28, 2010


While I didn't like the John Adams piece I heard, Tan Yun blew me away a few years ago.

ITYM Tan Dun? I say this not to be a pedant, but so you can look for more by this composer (who is also a favorite of mine).

Also, I love your attitude, QIbHom! As a founding trustee of this fine musical organization, I wish there were even more people in the greater Boston area like you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:42 PM on December 28, 2010


And if I had to pick the most transcendent experience with live music, it would be Einstein on the Beach at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Really one of the most incredible things ever, I agree. And while we're talking about amazing minimalist music experiences, one of my top ten was hearing Steve Reich and his usual suspects perform Tehillim.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:45 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


And if I had to pick the most transcendent experience with live music, it would be Einstein on the Beach at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Many a cringing servant has learned to love the rod. Others, like me, believe that artists should suffer, not audiences.
posted by Faze at 1:58 PM on December 28, 2010


And if I had to pick the most transcendent experience with live music, it would be Einstein on the Beach at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Really one of the most incredible things ever, I agree. And while we're talking about amazing minimalist music experiences, one of my top ten was hearing Steve Reich and his usual suspects perform Tehillim.


Yeah, one of the best things I've ever seen was Fase - four dance pieces to Reich's Phases - at BAM as a part of New Wave. Just mind blowing. I love BAM in general, and it's one of the things I probably miss most about NYC.

Also williampratt - um...coolest parents ever??
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:08 PM on December 28, 2010


Gee, Faze, that's getting awfully close to "SHEEPLE" there. You're not bringing your A-game today, I guess?

I bet you don't want to hear about the workshop for pre-K students where they loved loved loved Steve Reich's "Clapping Music" more than anything else? But you know, those inner-city nursery schools are all about intellectual pretension, so those kids were just posing--in their heart of hearts, they really wanted to be listening to Beethoven.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:17 PM on December 28, 2010


When I was in high school music class we listened to The Rites of Spring while reading through the score. I learned that the 1/1 time measure exists, and is hilarious if dropped in at random moments.
posted by ovvl at 2:28 PM on December 28, 2010


Years ago I heard a live performance on radio of Steve Reich's Drumming by the Nexus Ensemble on the now-defunct CBC Canada experimental music show Two New Hours. It was really intense.
posted by ovvl at 2:31 PM on December 28, 2010


I saw Dr. Atomic in the movie theatre for the Met HD re-broadcast. The opera dragged a bit in the middle, and was not as melodic as I would have liked, but the climax was excellent. The count-down to the detonation was half as slow as real-time, the clock ticking... and when they finally blew the thing up, pieces of debris from the buildings drifted out on rigging wires towards you in slow motion. My heart almost stopped. The most brilliant staging I had ever seen.
posted by ovvl at 2:43 PM on December 28, 2010


Others, like me, believe that artists should suffer, not audiences.

They have learned to suffer fools; you must credit them that.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:03 PM on December 28, 2010


I bet you don't want to hear about the workshop for pre-K students where they loved loved loved Steve Reich's "Clapping Music" more than anything else?

One of my favorite essays by Reich is called 'Philosophy and Music' - or something close to that (Reich was a philosophy student before he went to study with Berio in CA) - and the entire essay (it's very short) says something like...'if critics don't like your music, don't worry; but if children don't like your music, you should re-think your composing.'

I wish I could find the exact quote. It appears in his great book Writings on Music.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:04 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Re: the non-première of Henze's Medusa - here's a pdf of the article Der Spiegel published on the riot at the time, with a few photos. (Fwiw, here's the Google translation of the same.)
posted by progosk at 3:21 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Faze, I think you are being *far* too kind to these so-called "modern" composers. Honestly, I go out to a concert expecting a nice bit of plainchant, but it's all been wrecked by polyphony -- TWO notes at once -- sometimes more! Who on earth needs more than one note at a time screeching for your attention? In *intervals*, yet! Seriously, is there anyone who doesn't want to stab sharp spikes into their ears when presented with that kind of dissonance?

But it doesn't end there. I mean, maybe I could learn to stomach a bit of parallel singing, some organum perhaps, or even discant, every now and then. I'm hip. I can understand why a composer might want to experiment, even if they leave their audience behind a bit. But they never STOP there. Motets! Who can keep track of a friggin' motet?

And even that's not complex enough for these clever dicks. No, they say, next you're going to have to sit through cointerpoint! Canzona! Ricercar! FUGUE! All those notes BLARING BLARING BLARING! All those different lines BLARING BLARING BLARING all at once, never stopping, on and on and on and then SONATA! CONCERTO! Concerto GROSSO! Chord chord chord chord solo solo chord!

Do they stop there? No, of course they don't stop there. Next we get the goddamn SYMPHONY! Throw every instrument you can think of up there on stage at once! Just heave it all at the wall and see what sticks! Do these people care that their poor audience might be trying to follow the bassoon line, just figure out one thing in this mess, but they can't because HERE COME THE VIOLINS! HERE COMES THE TYMPANI! Not loud enough for you? Let's have the brass and woodwinds ALL PLAY AT ONCE!!!

And then ... and then ... I don't, I don't think I can talk about the romantic movement. It's just too soon. All I will say is, I think Beethoven deafened himself so he couldn't inflict on himself what he inflicted on the rest of the world.

Riot? It's too kind, Faze, it's too kind. Modern music must be purged -- purged with fire. Pianofortes? PURGE THEM WITH FIRE! Organs with solo stops? PURGE THEM WITH FIRE! The French horn? FIRE! FIRE, BURN AND BURN AND MELT AND BURN AND FIRE!!!

Although, you're right, I quite like Stravinsky.
posted by kyrademon at 4:27 PM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I liked it when that one guy hit a rock with another rock, but after that things got too hoity toity for my tastes.
posted by Aquaman at 5:04 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was a mistake ever to have come out of the ocean. Heck, I was complaining when that one guy was showing off his two cells, like being a single cellular organism wasn't posh enough for his majesty.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:30 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the inclusion of La Muette de Portici needs an asterisk: after all, it was the thematic content (a small nation struggling against its oppressor) and not the music of the piece which set off the Belgian Revolution.

This is as good an occasion as any to promote one of my favorite books, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins. Eksteins spends 50 pages looking at the way in which Rite of Spring represented a challenge to traditional aesthetics, then details the horrors of World War I, and finally chronicles how World War I affected the world of art and letters, drastically changing what people found acceptable and pleasing.

One of my favorite lines from the text:
"Humor became bitter and black, and Monty Python would have never lived in the last quarter of this century [sic] had his forebears not gone through that 'great war.'"
posted by dhens at 5:57 PM on December 28, 2010


Fun post. Here's a more detailed account of the Rite of Spring premier from Alex Ross' book The Rest is Noise.

I read somewhere that the "riot" the Rite of Spring caused was wildly exaggerated by its promoters.

I don't know about "wildly exaggerated," given the screaming match between the rich and poor seats and Gertrude Stein recalling a man smashing his cane over the head of another near her seat, but it's worth noting Ross' point that "even at the first performance, Stravinsky, Nijinsky, and the dancers had to bow four or five times for the benefit of the applauding faction."

This wasn't the first time Nijinsky's freaky new choreography caused trouble; his orgasmic masturbating at the end of a ballet set to Debussy's Prelude to "The Afternoon of a Faun" caused a stir the previous year:

Taking the role of the faun himself, Nijinsky ended his version by masturbating against a veil dropped by one of the nymphs. A scandal ensued, with police in attendance for the second performance.

Oh, and the premiere of Rossini's Barber of Seville was disrupted by two obnoxiously yelling and jeering groups, one from a rival theater and one made up of fans of a previous version composed by a guy named Paisiello. It was so bad Rossini skipped the 2nd night's performance, but the assholes didn't show and the opera became a smash.
posted by mediareport at 6:07 PM on December 28, 2010


One of my favorite lines from the text:
"Humor became bitter and black, and Monty Python would have never lived in the last quarter of this century [sic] had his forebears not gone through that 'great war.'"


It's hilarious because Monty Python exists as a person in the same way as Pink Floyd?
posted by hippybear at 6:18 PM on December 28, 2010


hippybear: I think Eksteins knows Monty Python is not an actual person; he was just speaking metaphorically. No, I like this line because it neatly encapsulates Eksteins's point: the experience of World War I deflated solemn belief in authority figures, social traditions, and the like, leaving a space for irreverent humor like that of the Pythons.
posted by dhens at 6:26 PM on December 28, 2010


Thank you for your comments everyone. Mine is simply that listening to "It's Gonna Rain" by Steve Reich on a half a hit of acid in the late Sixties changed my brain's neuromusical chemistry forever. Sorry, no riots involved. Yet.
posted by kozad at 7:32 PM on December 28, 2010


Yo, Auber, I'm really happy for you and Imma let you finish, but the Shakespeare Riots really were the deadliest highbrow-art-performance riots OF ALL TIME!
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:25 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meh; I'm with Faze on this one. After Copeland, most 20th century concert music sounds like either a movie score or a car being crushed into a cube. Or both.

The emperor has no clothes, folks.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:40 PM on December 28, 2010


Others, like me, believe that artists should suffer, not audiences.

we're not songbirds you can blind so we can sing better - the idea of the suffering artist is so much romantic tripe espoused by mediocrities who have little appreciation of art and even less appreciation of people

artists should, and do, transcend
posted by pyramid termite at 12:29 AM on December 29, 2010


most 20th century concert music sounds like either a movie score or a car being crushed into a cube. Or both.

Wow, that's quite a generalization. Have you tried listening to any of the many composers who used both atonal and tonal strategies at various times, including in the same piece? One of the joys of discovering 20th century music (for me, anyway) has been discovering the large number of composers who rejected doctrinaire 12-tone rules or harshly aggressive sounds in favor of a more nuanced, much more listenable approach while still taking advantage of the strange beauty of non-tonality. I'd argue that despite the domination of the loudest and most rigid theorists the majority of 20th-century composers found their own, more thoughtful and pleasant way through the thicket, with much great music as a result.

Who have you listened to? Yesterday's Takemitsu thread might be a good place to start.
posted by mediareport at 5:57 AM on December 29, 2010


Sidhedevil: "ITYM Tan Dun? I say this not to be a pedant, but so you can look for more by this composer (who is also a favorite of mine)."

Gah! Yes, thank you, Sidhedevil. Tan Dun. The piece was "The Map," he conducted. I detest multimedia classical music, but found this so compelling I bought the DVD. I also tend not to think much of people who compose for movies (a cousin who is a complete asshole makes his living this way). So, I anticipated hating the concert.

I was wrong. Happily wrong.
posted by QIbHom at 7:20 AM on December 29, 2010


I read somewhere that the "riot" the Rite of Spring caused was wildly exaggerated by its promoters.

Also, relevant RadioLab episode that talks about the premiere and cognition. Amazing, per usual.

Tan Dun is great - I really like Ghost Opera, Symphony 1997, and Water Passion. I'm not as big a fan of his film scores.

most 20th century concert music sounds like either a movie score or a car being crushed into a cube. Or both.


This sort of blanket ignorance, especially about something as wonderful as music, makes me Weltschmerz.

One must remember that the history of music, like the history of anything, is besprinkled with 'radical' works that are later seen as great or at least benign. When Beethoven began his first symphony - in F - on the dominant seventh chord, people were aghast.

I mean, haters gonna hate, but there's no reason to bunch Schoenberg, Cage and Bang on a Can in the same category.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:50 PM on December 29, 2010


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