Sunday, April 15, 2012

Classical Music Riots

A couple months ago, I listened to a Radiolab episode on "Musical Language." One of the things they talked about was how music affects the brain--in particular, Igor Stravinky's Rite of Spring. Apparently, novel sound patterns can trigger the release of dopamine in the brain. In small doses, dopamine is pleasing. However, a large enough disruption can cause hallucinations and psychosis. This has happened before, many times, because of classical music. Here are a few:

La muette de Portici

I'm not sure whether this is the exact portion that triggered a riot or not. This is the oldest one on the list. In 1830, a portion of the piece involving patriotic and revolutionary themes started a riot that led to the Belgian Revolution, ceding Belgium from The Netherlands.

Benvenuto Cellini

At its premiere, it started a riot and was deemed impossible to perform by the musicians who took part.


Strauss based Salome on a play written by Oscar Wilde. For years, it couldn't be performed in London. Most notorious is the final portion of The Dance of the Seven Veils, where Salome kisses the severed head of John the Baptist.

The Rite of Spring

This was the first of these that sounded familiar to me. It begins deceptively peacefully, but by 3:35, it takes a turn for the awesome. A name like "Rite of Spring" sounds so happy--Vivaldian, if you will. The premise of the play, however, is a young woman dancing herself to death, and the choreography and music reflect this.

During the premiere, the audience was split between loving the piece and hating it. Fist-fights started in the aisles, followed by a full on riot.

Musica Futurista

Futurism was a movement in Italy that glorified ideas of the future, like speed and technology. In particular, futurist musicians like Pratella rejected tradition and emphasized experimental sounds.

Four Organs

People actually screamed for this to stop. "One woman walked down the aisle and repeatedly banged her head on the front of the stage, wailing 'Stop, stop, I confess.'" It's pretty damn cool, honestly.


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