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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #86
Bolero vs Gliere, Round 1
David Gunn
The first performance of Maurice Ravelís Bolero as an orchestral piece 67 years ago today caused a celebrated scandal of epic proportions. Scored for Dutch Diaghilevís Ballet Rooster of Detroit, it borrowed heavily from Belliniís Norma in that it contains no fewer than 38 food fight scenes, 29 of which inadvertently involved the audience. As the seemingly rudderless orchestra meandered uneasily among blocks of tritonality, obstreperous polychromaticism and pleasingly jaunty folk melodies, the audience grew palpably fidgety. When to this cacophony were added syncopated and irregularly percussive polyrhythms violent enough to stir emotions long held in homo sapienic check, a faint susurrus of boos and hisses arose from the balcony. But not until a seemingly possessed ballerina creamed the head usher with a broccoli did the concertgoers stage a full scale riot. As hundreds of crazed audients rushed the proscenium, the dancers turned and fled -- or they would have, if their turns hadnít involuntarily evolved into pirouettes. Hence, before they could in fact flee, the disgruntled mob was upon them, tearing them limb from limber limb. Some of the limbs gripped stout ballet props, which came down hard upon the attackersí noggins. Splitting headaches, sprained ankles, black eyes, bloody noses and more ensued. Even the goal posts were torn down. To its credit, the band never stopped playing, although many in the string section switched to the theme from Richard Straussí Also Sprach Macarena. The tumult went on for days, weeks, even months. Since many Detroitniks were mired in the unpleasantness of the Great Depression, they figured they had nothing better to do. When, in April of 1930, signs of employmental salvation appeared on the horizon, calm finally returned to the theater, ending what has since become known as "The Riot of Spring." Ravelís creative association with Diaghilev ended there in the gutted Detroit theater, but he later enjoyed less pandemonial collaborations with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Andy Williams.

Today is also the 122nd anniversary of the birth of Mr. 20th Century himself, Reinhold Gliere, a Russian composer of unparalleled fifths. Considered too modern for most radio stationsí playlists -- including, alas, this one -- Gliereís symphonic music teeters uncomfortably between chronic renal distress and the sound of Ravelís cocker spaniel experiencing the nuances of a microwave oven on high. Although he was a professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory for 36 years, his fame truly derives from his having directed the schoolís pep band. While uninformed onlookers might deem his erratic baton style a bit wacky, he chose to attribute the irregular fluctuations in his conducting to chaos theory, or le flambeau oriange. Gliereís third symphony, Ilíya Muromets -- named after the broccoli-wielding heroine in Diaghilevís Bolero fiasco -- virtually reeks of chaos theory, for which youíll have to take my word, since a rendering of this fine tune, even a teeny snippet, is sadly not in the radiophonic cards on this, the 86th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, this portion of which is being brought to you in spite of the unrequited absence of Mr. Gliereís musique moderne. Instead, we can only offer you the usual musical suspects, beginning, meddling and ending with Kalvos.