Department of Art and Art History Calendar

Art History Lecture Series presents Esteban Buch

Scandal at The Rite: Games of distinction and dreams of barbarism

For a century, the 1913 riot has pursued The Rite like a shadow, or like some strange alter ego. Between them they came to signify the end of the world of yesterday, the triumph of modernity, even the first fruits of the Great War or totalitarianism.

The first performance was described as disrupted from start to finish by displays of hostility such as laughter, shouting, hoots, hissing, as much as by signs of approval, just as noisy, provided by another section of the public, including friends of the performers. And the general assertion, that because of the racket in the auditorium it was very difficult to hear Stravinsky¹s music and even harder to listen to it. The Rite of Spring is itself the expression of a conflict between norms. It is even the paradox of legitimate transgression that retrospectively justifies its inclusion in the canon of modern art. For those who admired it the most, The Rite was an irreducible singularity called to become a new law, that of the Messiah or that of the Revolution. For those most hostile to it, it was not exactly a bad work, but a work that, by a sort of passage to the limits of the bad, interrogated the criteria of evaluation of the bad itself. With his costumes and scenery, Nikolai Roerich, who in himself alone embodied the alliance between art and archaeology, contributed to the creation of an authentic scene shared by performers and audience. But Stravinsky¹s music and Nijinsky¹s choreography, for their part, tended to bring to a crisis the modes of representation of cultural otherness. This lecture analyzes the keys to the riot in order to understand the articulation of an avant-garde project that connected references to other cultures with artistic experimentation.


Esteban Buch is directeur détudes at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France. A specialist on the relations between music and politics in the twentieth century, he is the author of six books, namely, in French, Le cas Schönberg (Gallimard, 2006), La Neuvième de Beethoven (Gallimard, 1999; English tr. by The University of Chicago Press, 2003), and Histoire d'un secret (Actes Sud, 1994); in Spanish, The Bomarzo Affair (Adriana Hidalgo, 2003), O juremos con gloria morir (Sudamericana, 1994) and El pintor de la Suiza argentina (Sudamericana, 1991). He is currently director of the Centre de Recherches sur les Arts et les Langages (CRAL), and director of the Master in Music programme of the EHESS.


Presented by the Center for Latin American Visual Studies (CLAVIS)