Igor Stravinsky's first working draft of his uproariously controversial score for the ballet "The Rite of Spring" was sold at auction today for 330,000 (about $550,000), the highest price ever paid for a musical manuscript.
The score, contained in a 65-page, 14-by-12-inch notebook, was bought anonymously to be donated to the Sacher Foundation in Basel, Switzerland. The seller was also an anonymous European.
Sotheby's, the auctioneers, declared the work "the most important 20th-century music manuscript ever to be offered for sale," and bidders in the salesroom clearly agreed.
Albi Rosenthal, a spokesman for the London firm that represented the anonymous buyer, said the annotated and corrected draft would join the autographed final version already in Basel and would be available to scholars.
Outbid was an unidentified woman who matched Rosenthal in 27 rounds of 500 jumps before dropping out. Rosenthal said he had been prepared to go higher, but declined to say by how much.
"The Rite of Spring," now regarded by many as Stravinsky's finest work, premiered in Paris on May 29, 1913. It featured choreography by the Russian master Vaslav Nijinsky and was danced by the equally celebrated ballet company of Sergei Diaghilev. According to Norman Lebrecht, author of "Discord," a recent book on the turbulent lives of great musicians, Stravinsky's work caused immediate and serious trouble:
"From the opening bars, Stravinsky's barbaric elemental score drew protests from the audience in the new Champs E'lyse'es Theater. Within minutes, the most sophisticated gathering in Europe degenerated into a primordial mob and five successive nights of street violence began."
Lebrecht quotes a spectator as saying, "The audience rebelled at once. People laughed, shrieked insults, hissed, imitated the cries of animals . . . standing in her box, tiara awry, the ancient Comtesse de Pourtales brandished her fan and screeched until her face turned purple: 'This is the first time in 60 years anyone has dared insult me.' "
Lebrecht continues: " Composer Maurice Ravel raised his fist at a society matron who questioned his parentage . . . the ambassador of the Austro-Hungarian Empire delivered a formal protest to the French foreign ministry over something someone had called him in the melee."
Gendarmes were summoned, but fighting spilled into the street, the conductor Pierre Monteux wrote years later.
As for Stravinsky, "he stood despairingly in the wings. Diaghilev kept ordering the electricians to turn the lights on and off, hoping in that way to put a stop to the noise."
Years later Stravinsky said, "I have never again been that angry."
Composer Claude Debussy attacked "The Rite of Spring" as "primitive music with every modern convenience." He called Stravinsky "a young savage who wears loud ties and kisses ladies' hands while treading on their feet."
Debussy's view is interesting in part because one of his own compositions, "Pelleas et Melisande," held the previous record for the price of a manuscript, $385,000 paid in New York earlier this year.
Stravinsky wrote "The Rite of Spring" from 1911 to 1913 and the first draft, according to Sotheby's, provides a valuable picture of his working methods. Several pages are blank, apparently because of a mix-up with Nijinsky. A note in the manuscript complains, "The bloody fool Nijinsky did not give me the Danse sacrale. Don't forget to ask him for it."
Sotheby's says the manuscript and extensive sketches in the Collection Meyer in Paris "form an integral part of the first stage of Stravinsky's composition."
There were several other important sales in the manuscript auction today. Two scores of "works in progress" by Johann Sebastian Bach were sold to dealers for 209,000 (about $350,000) and 165,000 (about $275,000), respectively.
In a separate auction, the autographed draft of Mussolini's declaration of war against Britain and France went for 66,000 (around $110,000) to an anonymous buyer, 10 times more than the pre-sale estimate.
Underbidder was Christopher Forbes, son of American magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes, who did better on the marriage certificate of Napoleon and Josephine, who were secretly wed on Dec. 1, 1804, the eve of the imperial coronation. Forbes paid 11,500 (about $19,000).