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Igor’s Opinion of Walt and Leopold (Sacre Bleu!)


May 29 is the actual centenary of the scandalous premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, and before the day is out (if I can post this in time), I’d like to offer a modest coda to Edward Teller’s superb diary on the work.

One thing ET didn’t mention was how most of us first encountered The Rite of Spring: through Leopold Stokowski’s excerpted version set to the dinosaur scene in Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

I recalled reading, years ago, Stravinsky’s frank commentary on the Stokowski/Disney adaptation but had a devil of a time the last few days locating it on Google. This morning, I hit paydirt when I remembered to plug the word “imbecility” into the search:

In 1938 I received a request from the Disney office in America for permission to use Le Sacre in a cartoon film. The request was accompanied by a gentle warning that if permission were withheld the music would be used anyway. (Le Sacre, being ‘Russian’, was not copyrighted in the United States.) The owners of the film wished to show it abroad, however (i.e., in Berne copyright countries), and they therefore offered me $5,000, a sum I was obliged to accept….

I saw the film with George Balanchine in a Hollywood studio at Christmas time 1939. I remember someone offering me a score and, when I said I had my own, the someone saying, ‘But it is all changed’. It was indeed…. The order of the pieces had been shuffled, and the most difficult of them eliminated—though this did not save the musical performance, which was execrable. I will say nothing about the visual complement as I do not wish to criticize an unresisting imbecility….

Ah well, chacun a son Goofy. But I told you that story to tell you this one. Musician and digital visualization pioneer Stephen Malinowski has been creating mesmerizing animations of musical works for decades. His animations actually constitute a sort of vivid, dynamic alternative system of notation.  In honor of Le Sacre’s centenary, he produced this astounding animation of the complete work.

Equally astounding is the orchestra. More about them in the comments. First listen and watch. Maybe the art of animation would finally have redeemed itself in Stravinsky’s estimation. Or not…tough critic, that Igor.


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