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European History As Told Through Diaghilevs Rite Of Spring

1087 words - 4 pages

Many often associate the 19th Century with old-fashioned ideas and customs, whereas the 20th Century is seen as the ‘modern era’. So where in between these two extremes can historians label a turning point as the end of one era, and the start of another? Modris Eksteins offers his view in Rites of Spring, where he uses the Russian ballet of the same name as a metaphor for the changing society during the World War I era. Eksteins views Germany as being the most modern nation in Europe, despite the outcome of the war, and sees its characteristics in the ballet, with Serge Diaghilev as the ringmaster behind it all. Diaghilev brings the ideas and talent of the blossoming Russia to Paris in 1913 with the premiere of Le Sacre du printempes. Even though many thought of Paris as the cultural center of Europe, Germany was the source of the majority of new ideas and ways of thinking. The newly unified Germany is trying desperately to contest its modern ideas against the centuries of tradition that Britain and France are trying to hang on to. World War I was not significant merely for the massive level of violence on a scale as never seen before, but for the war on culture raging in the background.
On May 29, 1913 when Diaghilev’s masterpiece debuted at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, the response of the audience was overwhelming in their shock at the erotic and unconventional nature of the dance. What made this performance different then what anyone in Western Europe had ever seen before was its jarring and sexual nature. Rather than the music and choreography be one, flowing, coherent unit, it was instead rather choppy and dissonant which most likely caught the naive audience off guard. The nature of this ballet is described many times throughout the book as ‘nihilistic’, which supports Germany’s rebellious disposition and their large sense of spirit in bringing society into question. Germany also rushed into war as a way to prove them as a capable new entity on the European map. It glorified war to its youth as being a speedy rite of passage for young men where they would be able to get shipped off to war so as to gain manhood, and return to their families in a matter of a few weeks. However this was incredibly unrealistic in every sense once the war started heating up; many would be gone for long periods of time and possibly not return at all. Going to war was glorified to such an extreme extent in Germany and was the cause for the greatest loss of life in history in what is now called the ‘Lost Generation’. While Germany thought its antagonistic actions in war were justified in supporting their modern views and ideas, old-fashioned Britain felt their behavior was warranted in that they were trying to defend the old regime that had dominated Western Europe for centuries.
Another changing aspect of culture in the early 20th Century is the morals and values of the people. There became an increasing value in individualism and doing things for oneself...

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