Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Rite of Spring

Fantasy Bob's faithful handful of worldwide readers will be fully familiar that today is the centenary of one of the most infamous events in the history of music.

The young Stravinsky
The more sensational reports suggest that the premiere in Paris of The Rite of Spring, a new ballet choreographed by Nijinsky for the Diaghilev Company, to a score by Igor Stravinsky was met by a a riot in the audience.  Less sensational accounts come short of describing a full scale riot but certainly report a continuous and unruly audience response including stamping, jeering, animated discussion and some people being banged on the head.  In either case it is rather far from the standards of behaviour FB is accustomed to when he attends the Usher Hall.  There  is occasionally an outburst of concerted coughing, some of it may verge on the apoplectic, if not consumptive, but it is far from riotous.

For the music of Rite of Spring is a radical departure.  FB can still remember the first time he heard it.  His jaw dropped.  His eyes popped.  His spine tingled.  This was not the rite of spring that is familiar to cricketers - the first scent of linseed oil on the bat, he rolling of the wicket and the first outdoor nets.  This was something altogether different.  Something elemental. After a winding bassoon figure which increases in intensity, there is a percussive outburst of strings in changing time signatures and off beat accents which blew FB away.  It is wholly original and wholly distinct from anything that went before. The Dilshan scoop must have had the same impact when it was seen for the first time.

Critics panned the piece - which has of course ensured that it is now one of the mainstays of the repertoire and one of the most recorded pieces of 20th Century music.  Riot or no riot, its brilliance remains undimmed.  Test Match Quality. Here is a link to the opening sequence choreographed by Pina Bausch.

While in some areas riots may be everyday occurrences, cricket shares with classical music a pleasing absence of intention to riot in its audiences.  Of course there can be moments at Grange Loan,  specifically when FB decides that he must open the batting himself,  when the crowd turns distinctly ugly and care has to be taken to avoid things getting out of hand.  This is usually accomplished when FB plays all round a straight one and so appeases the riotous intentions.  These tense moments aside however, riots and cricket are not common bedfellows.

Nevertheless there are some famous occasions when things went over the top and the cricket crowd had a Stravinsky moment.  Perhaps the most celebrated - and the original - full scale crowd disorder was the Sydney Riot of 1879 during a match between a touring English team captained by Lord Harris and New South Wales, led by Dave Gregory, also at the time captain of Australia. When star Australian batsman Billy Murdoch was given out by umpire George Coulthard, a Victorian employed by the Englishmen, there was uproar.  Gregory refused to send out a replacement batsman for Murdoch. He called on Lord Harris to remove umpire Coulthard, but Harris declined. Spectators surged onto the pitch and assaulted Coulthard and some English players.

The other umpire, Edmund Barton, defended Coulthard and Lord Harris, saying that the decision against Murdoch was correct and that the English had conducted themselves appropriately. Eventually, Gregory agreed to resume the match without the removal of Coulthard.  However, the crowd continued to disrupt proceedings, and play was abandoned for the day.  The next day was rest day for players and rioters alike, but then things settled down and Lord Harris's team won convincingly by an innings.

In the immediate aftermath of the riot, the England team cancelled the remaining games they were scheduled to play in Sydney. The incident also caused much press comment in England and Australia. In Australia, the newspapers were united in condemning the unrest, viewing the chaos as a national humiliation and a public relations disaster.  Rather than let matters rest, Lord Harris published an open letter about the incident  in English newspapers, and caused fresh outrage in New South Wales when it was reprinted by the Australian newspapers. Relations between cricketing authorities went into melt down and were not repaired until Lord Harris agreed to lead an England representative side at The Oval against the touring Australians in 1880; this match became the fourth-ever Test match and the first in England.  While there have been some ugly crowd scenes during subsequent Ashes series, there has never been a full scale riot as in 1879.

Fires in the stand 1996
But the epicentre of cricket rioting seems to be Eden Gardens in Kolkata. During the 1996 World Cup semi final when India played Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens.  India were chasing 251 but slumped from 98 for 1 to 120 for 8.  The huge crowd started fires in the stands and threw anything they could onto the field.  The riot police had a go.  Things quieted down.  They tried to restart the match only for it to kick off again.  The match was abandoned and awarded to Sri Lanka. That didn't really put out the fires.

But the Eden Gardens crowd had previous.  In 1967 they managed to cause the Test with West Indies to be abandoned.  In 1969 things got even more out of hand when there was trouble over getting tickets for the India v Australia match which led to 6 deaths. 

It would be a brave conductor who tried to play the Rite of Spring at Eden Gardens.  Things could get out of hand.

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