Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"finally in a violent altercation"

It was about a week later that Florence Bradley asked us to go with her to see the second performance of the Sacre du Printemps. The russian ballet had just given the first performance of it and it had made a terrible uproar. All Paris was excited about it. Florence Bradley had gotten three tickets in a box, the box held four, and asked us to go with her. In the meantime there had been a letter from Mabel Dodge introducing Carl Van Vechten, a young New York journalist. Gertrude Stein invited him to dine the following Saturday evening.

We went early to the russian ballet, these were the early great days of the russian ballet with Nijinsky as the great dancer. And a great dancer he was. Dancing excites me tremendously and it is a thing I know a great deal about. I have seen three very great dancers. My geniuses seem to run in threes, but that is not my fault, it happens to be a fact. The three really great dancers I have seen are the Argentina, Isadora Duncan and Nijinsky. Like the three geniuses I have known they are each one of a different nationality.

The performance began. No sooner had it commenced when the excitement began. The scene now so well known with its brilliantly coloured background now not at all extraordinary, outraged the Paris audience. No sooner did the music begin and the dancing than they began to hiss. The defenders began to applaud. We could hear nothing, as a matter of fact I never did hear any of the music of the Sacre du Printemps because it was the only time I ever saw it and one literally could not, throughout the whole performance, hear the sound of music. The dancing was very fine and that we could see although our attention was constantly distracted by a man in the box next to us flourishing his cane, and finally in a violent altercation with an enthusiast in the box next to him, his cane came down and smashed the opera hat the other had just put on in defiance. It was all incredibly fierce.
From The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, 1933. Stein and Toklas met everyone, saw everything, in Paris from 1907-1932. Mighty Reader wondered if Marcel Proust had read about or possibly even witnessed that opera hat being smashed.

15 comments:

  1. i never played it but a friend, french horn, did. he said it wasn't too bad once you got used to it. i saw the score once and it's all chopped up time: 7/8,13/16, 2/4, 5/8, etc. the music itself is riveting; especially the bassoon solo in the beginning... i don't think there's any opera hats in it...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never looked at the score, but I know what you mean about the shifting time signatures. "Rite of Spring" and "Firebird" are my favorite Stravinski. It's amazing to think there could be a riot about aesthetics, the aesthetics of a ballet.

      I own a tuxedo, but not a silk topper. That should protect me from cranky, cane-wielding music fans.

      Delete
    2. i HAVE played the firebird suite; it's hair raising sitting in front of the brass section, there at the end...

      Delete
  2. TadiƩ says that Proust went to the first performance. If the hat was smashed at the second performance then he didn't see it.

    (I've already tried to post this once, so if both of the messages came through then feel free to delete one of them.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it's hard to imagine Proust and stravinsky in the same gestalt. i usually feature him lying in bed... no?

      Delete
    2. One of the best things about reading Toklas is that it pulls together a lot of strands of history that I usually compartmentalize; for the first time I'm seeing them as really contemporaneous.

      There is no evidence that no hat was smashed at the first performance, not that Proust needs that to have written the hat assault scene in Remembrance..., whatever volume it appears in.

      Delete
    3. this is a true story: i went to oberlin conservatory of music for a brief period; i went and saw madame butterfly in the hippodrome, in cleveland. just at the point where the japanese lady stabs herself and comes rolling down the stairs, a little girl sitting directly above me barfed all over my head. talk about your gross and yuk; it still gives me the colly wobbles 55 years later...

      Delete
    4. This is why little girls should not go to opera. When Mighty Reader and I saw Butterfly a couple of years ago, nobody vomited.

      I am reminded of the Chekhov story "The Death of a Civil Servant."

      Delete
    5. Vol. 3, I think.

      Probably a hat was smashed on the night he went. Probably hats were smashed every night. By the end of the run they had people outside who would pre-smash your hat for you before you went in. "The hat-fixer's friend," they called it. He writes about it somewhere in his published complete correspondence, which I don't have.

      Delete
    6. You were nobody if you hadn't had your hat bashed at Sacre. Nijinsky writes about it in his memoirs, which I haven't read.

      Delete
  3. And the three geniuses are? . . . .
    Stein's assessment of genius must be interesting.
    Of course, says I, Stein was over-rated in her own time; only in the early 20th c. Paris-scene could she have wielded so much influence. But I could be quite wrong.
    I do like that idea of crime/violence in the audience. Who has not been tempted to batter an annoying Philistine? Of course, I write that recognizing the self-inflicted irony.
    All the best from the Gulf coast and Past Perfect Murders.
    Tim
    http://pastperfectmurders.blogspot.com/
    Yes, 'tis yet another new address for yet another attempt at making sense of guilty-pleasure books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Toklas liked to say that she always met geniuses in groups of three, of different nationalities. It's a sort of running joke in the book. We've argued before about Stein's importance, and I think we have different ideas about what Paris was like in those days. I see it as packed full of perceptive and intelligent artists. I don't know how you see it. I can say that the artists/writers/musicians of her acquaintance all seemed to respect and seek Stein out, but she had poor luck getting her own writing published.

      Good luck with the new blog!

      Delete
    2. I guess my POV regarding GS is colored by Hemingway's attitude toward her (less than kind according to Hemingway scholar Stoneback) and my own unsuccessful attempts to read GS prose. BTW, Hemingway had no high regard for the so-called Quarter in Paris (i.e., the melting pot for displaced artists, writers, et al). Of course, how one regards Hemingway will influence how one regards his opinions. I understand (and relate to) Hemingway in ways that are probably both ironic (to others) and unflattering (to me).

      Delete
    3. I hold Hemingway in pretty high regard, but I don't have to share his evaluation of people. He held himself in pretty high regard. I don't know about Stoneback, but Hemingway writes appreciatively of Stein in A Moveable Feast, acknowledging his debt to her and stating his admiration for her work. He found The Making of Americans brilliant, but noted that Stein was lazy and would never revise. He writes less appreciatively of other writers he knew in Paris, but we all know that Hemingway saw himself in competition with all writers everywhere. Maybe Stonebeck uses Hemingway to grind his own axes. People do that. From everything I've read written by Stein or Hemingway, they always admired each other's work.

      Delete
    4. I think it's pretty silly to want to pick a side in Stein v. Hemingway, anyway.

      Delete