Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Road to the Rite, Part 4: the Rite of Spring

I have some research to do on the Rite and I'm waiting for some materials to be delivered from Amazon, so it will be a few weeks before I can finish this project. I imagine there will be three or four posts altogether. This is just a little placeholder so you know I haven't forgotten.

I was just re-reading a Taruskin essay on the Rite ("Resisting The Rite" from Russian Music at Home and Abroad) and he coyly teases us by saying that there are only two pieces of music that stand out as being of transcending importance in both the academic canon and the popular repertory. The Rite is one and the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven is the other. He actually struggles trying to sort out just why this is the case, talking about how both pieces were "resisted" by the audience initially, but later accepted, how both pieces are "events" rather than just pieces of music, how both hook into non-musical narratives such as gesamtkunstwerk (complete artwork because it is a ballet with a set design as well as a piece of music) in the case of the Rite and the transcendent humanistic values of the Enlightenment, embodied in the instrumental and vocal forces of the Ninth. But I don't think he quite succeeds in his mission of "contextualizing" the Rite because he, like academic musicology generally, abhors any mention of "aesthetic quality" as being somehow out of bounds. Instead of saying that the Rite stands head and shoulders above other pieces because of its aesthetic quality, he reverts to claiming that it, rather than say the Firebird or Pierrot Lunaire, was the object of numerous conferences (on the 100th anniversary of its premiere in 1913), hosts of books, zillions of concert performances and so on because:
From all these stories and testimonies we can conclude that neither a piece belonging only to the canon, like Pierrot, nor a piece belonging only to the repertory, like Firebird, could have given rise to such an orgy of commemoration. You have to have the dual status that seems to be The Rite’s alone, among twentieth-century masterpieces.
[Taruskin, Richard. Russian Music at Home and Abroad: New Essays (Kindle Locations 12061-12064). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.]
But mere "dual status" seems a feeble reed to hang all this adulation on, does it not? I would want to add things like the nature of the genre itself: the only pieces that can attain a kind of universal status (among classical music lovers at least) are ones that have what we might call a high social profile, ones that are in the symphonic or ballet or operatic genre. These pieces are always performed before large groups of people and hence have the possibility of a wider impact than pieces with smaller audiences. Yes, with modern technology a single piano can be heard by any number of people, but the intimacy of the solo piano does not convey. Similarly, a Beethoven string quartet, obviously as profound as music gets, is not going to become a widespread social artifact the way a symphony can. So the two elements that seem crucial to me are the universality of the genre combined with the aesthetic quality of the individual piece. Another possible element might be the completeness of the range of aesthetic quality. I can exemplify this by mentioning another near-iconic piece of 20th century music that Taruskin might have considered (but didn't), the Symphony No. 3 of Henryk Górecki, which also possesses that dual status of being in the academic canon (for some academics, at least) and in the popular repertory. Taruskin might disqualify it by saying that it has attracted little academic attention, but I would instead point to the fact that it covers a far narrower range of musical textures, moods, devices and expression than either the Rite or the Ninth.

Let me close with one of the most entertaining quotes about the Rite, this is from Claude Debussy who described it as "primitive music with all modern conveniences."

And for our envoi, of course, the Rite of Spring in an attempted reproduction of the original choreography, costumes and sets with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet Company and Orchestra:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Creativity and Technology

Technology is a wonderful aid to musicians of all kinds. One of the most used examples is probably this one, which sits next to me when I practice:

On the left hand side is an electronic tuner that sounds whatever note you choose and will even compare that with a note from your instrument as it contains a microphone as well as a little speaker. On the right is a metronome that will sound a click at whatever tempo you choose. You can even tap a tempo into it and it will tell you what tempo it is, measured in beats per minute. You can also set the meter by choosing to have a different sound on every downbeat, every 2nd, 3rd, 4th beat, for example. A wonderful little piece of technology that efficiently replaces the old style wooden pyramid metronomes (that were never quite exact):

And the older tuning fork (that always was perfectly accurate):

I still have one of those kicking around. I could go on for hours about the fantastic things you can do with notation programs like Sibelius and Finale, that enable the composition, professional typesetting, and synthesized playback of virtually any kind of composition.

But all this is dwarfed by the technology available to pop musicians these days, as discussed in this article from Scientific American (thanks to commentator Will for sending it):
Apple's GarageBand program for Mac computers lets you create fully orchestrated “compositions” just by dragging tiles into a grid. Everything sounds great, whether or not you know anything about rhythm, pitch or harmony. At the time of GarageBand's introduction, its product manager told me that even if the program semiautomates the composition process, it still gives people a taste of the real thing. It could inspire a novice to learn music, maybe take up an instrument.
Agreed. But how can we gauge artists' talent without knowing how much of the work was theirs? Should it affect how much we pay for their output? And what about when commercial musicians use GarageBand to produce their tracks—as Oasis and many indie bands have done?
I don't think this is a problem for any trained musician: it is actually pretty easy to hear the difference between real musicians and synthesized drum tracks or autotuned voice tracks. If everyone is out there lip-syncing, then all a good performer has to do is go out and sing for real to win that competition. At least that would be my hope! But I do have a beef about one phrase: "even if the program semiautomates the composition process, it still gives people a taste of the real thing." Composition is not really a "process" in that sense, at least not the creative part. Real creation remains a mystery because none of us, least of all the creators themselves, know where it comes from. The "process" part is more the craft aspects of composition: getting the ideas down on paper in a legible form, working out voicing or some of the rote aspects of orchestration, for example. Virtually all of the real acts of composition are inherently creative and therefore, absolutely impervious to being automated or replaced by technology. This is a little less obvious in pop music, a lot of which seems to be industrialized commercialism.

Let me give a personal example. Decades ago Yamaha came out with their first "acoustic/electric" piano. This was an electronic keyboard enclosed in a wooden case so it looked a lot like a baby grand piano. The keys were weighted to give the sensation of the normal piano mechanism instead of that of an electronic keyboard. They promoted it by staging demonstrations in department stores. One of my students, an adult, came to a lesson one day having just heard the demonstration and breathlessly claimed: "you couldn't tell the difference from a real grand piano!" I gave him A Look and said, "how much do you want to bet? $50?" This was so long ago that $50 was actually a lot of money. He suddenly got very cautious. I told him that I had friends, some of them just down the hall (we were in a conservatory) that could tell the difference between a Steinway built in New York and one built in Hamburg--do you really think we can't tell the difference between a concert grand and an electronic piano, no matter how gussied up? He didn't take the bet!

Mind you, now electronic and synthesized instruments, in the pop world at least, don't make any effort to sound like their acoustic forebears. But I still think that if you have much musical sophistication at all you can tell genuine creativity and musicianship from computerized fakery without too much trouble. Essentially all that technology is there, not to aid creativity, but to distract us from the lack of creativity. Right?

There are pop musicians who make rather a thing out of doing covers of songs and showing how good musicianship can replace all the technology. I give you Overdriver, from Brazil:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Classical, Smassical

The Los Angeles Times has another one of those think-pieces on the future of classical music. At risk of plowing already plowed fields, let's have a look.
Classical music may be the art of the sublime, liquid architecture and all the rest, but it has nonetheless always been a long-suffering kingdom of kvetching. Born to serve the church, Western music became in the Middle Ages an ideal medium of sacrilege, and the art form has continued over the centuries to bite the hands that have fed it, be they the aristocracy, ruling powers, philanthropists or the public. However high-minded, the history of classical music is riddled with worry and an obsessive desire for reinvention.
That's a pretty generic opening. Classical music is a rather particular art form, not really like any other, but most of that opening paragraph would apply to any art form. But this next quote hits the nail on the head;
Technology is ever the elephant in the room. The history of sharks out to cheat musicians is long and dishonorable. Today it’s Silicon Valley’s ability to redirect profits from the creators and producers to the likes of Apple, Amazon and Spotify. Equally troubling is the power of technology in the form of virtual reality, holograms and things we may not yet know about, to suck the life out of live music making.
Classical music has not made an easy transition from aristocratic patronage, to middle-class support to becoming a tiny niche in a world dominated by pop music. The visual arts have somehow found a way to become a high-end commodity, while the economics of classical music remain desperate. If we just glance at the material foundations of the art forms we get a clue why: a contemporary visual artist can make art out of pretty well anything from high-tech installations to oil on canvas to slapping a little paint on his own unwashed bedsheets. The costs can be high, as in the case of Damian Hirst's jewel-encrusted skull, or they can be low. And yes, you can be impoverished or not. But the production of visual art is not necessarily expensive while the production of high-quality classical music is always very expensive. Take the performance of The Golden Cockerel I just saw. It required the services of two different casts of vocal soloists capable of singing in Russian, plus chorus, orchestra and then the whole production staff: design, lighting, costumes, set, props and so on. Not cheap! There is an article on the subject at The Guardian, which, even though a bit old, gives some information. Most of the important numbers, such as artists' fees, are confidential, but:
One observer's educated guess is that the biggest stars, such as Pavarotti, Bartoli and Alagna, command between £12,000 and £15,000 per performance. But however expensive singers may be, they will not form the main cost of mounting an opera. Production costs - set, props and costumes - will always be the chief expense. "We have capped the expenditure on a new production at £300,000," says Padmore. "But you don't get a great deal in a house of this size for much less than £180,000 or £200,000." At ENO the average cost of a new production is £150,000.
I suspect all these numbers are higher now. But they haven't mentioned the biggest cost of all: the opera house itself. Opera requires a building custom designed and built for its very special needs and the cost of a new one is likely in the $300 million dollar range, though, again, these numbers are not readily available.

One significant cost is the orchestra in the pit. A typical fee per service is $150, multiply that by 80 musicians, multiply that by four rehearsals and you get a total of $48,000 before you have even had the opening night performance!

But getting back to the LA Times article, the occasion for it was a two-day conference on the topic of the evolution of classical music. One speaker had an interesting take:
For his part, Sam Bodkin asked what the world needs and rapidly answered his own question: “It needs more substance, beauty and intimacy, and classical music checks all those boxes.”
Frankly, that's the only kind of approach that interests me. All this other stuff, music streaming, holograms of Yuja Wang, virtual reality tours of the orchestra, all that has a faint whiff of BS about it, the elevation of shallowness and spectacle over real substance.

Let's have an envoi of substance. Here is the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg with Frank-Peter Zimmerman, violin and the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Daniele Gatti, conductor:

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

I frequently refer to the work of brilliant musicologist Richard Taruskin here and he has just been awarded the mammoth $450,000 Kyoto award in Japan. Of course, now he has to write a bunch of articles on Takemitsu! (No, I'm kidding.) But I would hardly call him "combative."

* * *

This sounds like terrible news: The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival.
“Helmuth Rilling wasn’t the only individual who retired in 2013, so too did many of his most loyal and passionate supporters,” Evans wrote. “And the donor, corporate, foundation, audience, and ticket revenue figures bear this out.”
During the transition from Rilling to Halls, OBF attendance dropped by over 50 percent : 2011 had 44,148; 2014 had approximately 20,000. There are no figures for recent years.
I'm pretty sure this is not Bach's fault; he is just as popular as he ever was.

* * *

AI and machine learning will make everyone a musician. Here's the first paragraph:
Music has always been at the cutting edge of technology so it’s no surprise that artificial intelligence and machine learning are pushing its boundaries.
There are a couple of nasty writing quirks that seem endemic these days. The first is to have a headline that is so absurd its only possible function is to be "clickbait" and the second is to start off by stating something as an unquestioned truth that is probably nonsense. This article starts off two strikes down. I was going to do some more fisking, but as the claims get feebler and feebler the further you read, it's not really worth the effort.

* * *

Also shrinking are sales of electric guitars and the Washington Post has a huge piece on that:
Over the past three years, Gibson’s annual revenue has fallen from $2.1 billion to $1.7 billion, according to data gathered by Music Trades magazine. The company’s 2014 purchase of Philips’s audio division for $135 million led to debt — how much, the company won’t say — and a Moody’s downgrading last year. Fender, which had to abandon a public offering in 2012, has fallen from $675 million in revenue to $545 million. It has cut its debt in recent years, but it remains at $100 million.
And starting in 2010, the industry witnessed a milestone that would have been unthinkable during the hair-metal era: Acoustic models began to outsell electric.
* * *

 The extent to which things like "public policy" are now nearly exclusively tendrils of the progressive project to remake society continues to trouble me. Today's example is an article on a new cultural policy in the UK reported on at ArtsProfessional. For much of the article I wasn't sure exactly where they were going, but the conclusion made it clear:
What if cultural policy makers and cultural organisations began to think strategically about ensuring the cultural capability of all – not only opportunities to participate in great art, but the substantive freedom to make, transform and contest versions of culture?
Such an approach would provide a progressive path beyond the deficit model, in which cultural policy not only invests in great art and audience development but in the conditions which enable everyone to make versions of culture. This is cultural democracy. The possibility of cultural democracy has been of interest to people working in the tradition of community arts since at least the 1960s. Now is the time to bring this approach to the heart of cultural policy in the UK. 
The underlying principle or assumption here is one of "equity" which means replacing equality of opportunity, something that is fairly tricky to handle, with equality of outcome which is a bad idea. The real bonus and incentive these kinds of projects support is the army of cultural bureaucrats needed to develop them. "Ensuring the cultural capability of all" is not only something that government cultural policy should have nothing to do with, it is also contrary to human nature. A whole lot of people don't have a lot of interest in "culture" and don't want to be bothered with it.

* * *

 Jazz musician Maria Schneider makes an impassioned argument about the ills of the music business and how they can be addressed in a piece at JazzTimes:
Why am I speaking about the power of music? Because at this moment in history, our livelihoods and the entire culture of music—jazz and more—stand in jeopardy. And so does the power for good that music brings the world.
So, who exactly has put all of this in jeopardy? I see three culprits. First: big data, with their endless appetite for eyeballs and information. Second: our government, buckling under oppressive lobbying from Silicon Valley. Conflicts of interest are everywhere, as Google inserts their people into all three branches of our government.
Third is, sadly, some powerful people within our own industry. A good example is how the three majors [Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group] made Spotify the giant it now is. Together, they handed over 80 percent of the world’s recorded music in exchange for equity. At a recent intellectual-property [IP] conference, counsel for Spotify confirmed that that contract “made” Spotify. He additionally volunteered that, of the 1,200 employees at Spotify, 900 are data analytics scientists, making the streaming service more of a big data company than a music company. What a breach of trust, to trade our music for ads and data. It’s like when the Titanic started sinking, the executives at the majors elbowed their way to the lifeboats, right past the musicians, who just kept on playing. And those musicians are still playing, but are also slowly drowning. And not just those trapped in steerage by their contracts: We’re all drowning, the whole jazz family and beyond—all being sucked down the sinking ship’s vortex, because the majors gave the unsustainable model of streaming a monopoly over how music is distributed.
But you should read the whole thing.

* * *

 Terry Teachout has an article in Commentary on the hoary old problem of classical musicians' participation in the Nazi regime in Europe.
The story of European classical music under the Third Reich is one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture, a chronicle of collective complaisance that all but beggars belief. Without exception, all of the well-known musicians who left Germany and Austria in protest when Hitler came to power in 1933 were either Jewish or, like the violinist Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin’s father-in-law, had close family ties to Jews. Moreover, most of the small number of non-Jewish musicians who emigrated later on, such as Paul Hindemith and Lotte Lehmann, are now known to have done so not out of principle but because they were unable to make satisfactory accommodations with the Nazis. Everyone else—including Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Walter Gieseking, Herbert von Karajan, and Richard Strauss—stayed behind and served the Reich.
Like so many other commentaries the claim is that people who cling to the belief that high art is ennobling to the spirit are sadly mistaken. The evidence that classical musicians were at the very least compliant with the Nazi regime is all too clear:
The admiration that Austro-German classical musicians had for Hitler is not entirely surprising since he was a well-informed music lover who declared in 1938 that “Germany has become the guardian of European culture and civilization.” He made the support of German art, music very much included, a key part of his political program. Accordingly, the Berlin Philharmonic was placed under the direct supervision of Joseph Goebbels, who ensured the cooperation of its members by repeatedly raising their salaries, exempting them from military service, and guaranteeing their old-age pensions. But there had never been any serious question of protest, any more than there would be among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic when the Nazis gobbled up Austria. Save for the Jews and one or two non-Jewish players who were fired for reasons of internal politics, the musicians went along unhesitatingly with Hitler’s desires.
But the same is true of the ordinary people of Germany and Austria who were equally supportive. This is a knotty problem and I would love to see someone write a book discussing it. My instinctive reaction is to say that the arts are a kind of medium or tool or channel that can be used or misused, just like so many other social phenomena. Music, or any other art, is not inherently ennobling. It is only so when used in the proper way. It does not immunize its practitioners against racism or fascism or socialism, in fact it has been used in the production of propaganda both for and against those and other ideologies. It can be a force for good--or evil. But I think that if we look at the history of music as a whole, we might find that it is usually and commonly a force and discipline for good. The story of European classical music under the Third Reich was a squalid chapter--but just a chapter.

* * *

Let's have a cheery envoi to balance that last item. This is Grete Pedersen conducting the  Oslo Camerata/Det Norske Blåseensemble & Solistkor Oslo in Haydn's Nelson Mass:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Road to the Rite, Part 3: Petrushka

In my last post in this series I made a passing reference to "a lot of quite lovely and quite conventional ballet music, the sort where you see the dancers wafting around on stage." This "wafting around on stage" music I associate with 19th century ballet such as Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. Let's have a listen. This is an excellent complete performance from the Kirov (complete credits at the beginning) and if you want to focus on specifically what I mean, go to the 31 minute mark:

This is classic 19th century Russian ballet and therefore the establishing context for Stravinsky's pieces for the Ballets Russes. This is, in other words, what the audience had in mind when they attended a performance of a Russian ballet company. The music is in various tempos and uses various dance genres, but a lot of it is lyrical, meaning not too fast and with smooth, legato phrases. No stomping around! Classical ballet is all about defying gravity and lyrical beauty.

In parts of the Firebird, and more so in Petruska and the Rite, Stravinsky makes a fundamental stylistic change. Most of the commentary on this music is about the melodic and harmonic aspect, as we discussed last time, but the most important changes in the style are on the rhythmic level. Small parts of the Firebird, larger parts of Petrushka and a great deal of the Rite are very much "stompy" music, music with a heavy pulse. In the Firebird, this is largely restricted to the Infernal Dance, but in Petrushka we get more and earlier. Most of this ballet is at very fast tempi and quite a bit of it has a heavy pulse.

First, let's have a listen to Petrushka. This is a production from the Bolshoi that recreates the original sets, costumes and choreography from the original production:

Right from the beginning we hear the much greater role given to the percussion, the ubiquitous accents instead of flowing legato and the heavy pulses in the bass instruments. This, more than the famous "Petrushka chord," is what gives the ballet its unique character. Sure, the melodic and harmonic structures are important, and most particularly when we have two very different textures, rhythmic and harmonic, colliding, which creates a kind of musical irony or cubism, depending on how you want to analyze it. There are a lot of examples starting in the introduction, whose motoric music is interrupted by tweedling in the high winds in a different tempo. Another example is at the 20:10 mark where a kind of limping waltz is periodically interrupted by a meandering melody in the cor anglais in the "wrong" key. But the underlying musical vocabulary is rhythmic, accented and much weightier than previous ballet music. For an example of what I am talking about, go to the 25:10 mark in the above clip, the dance with the peasant and the bear, where we hear a characteristically heavy accompaniment in the low strings, with a raucous melody in the high clarinet. (And, good god, I think that's a real bear!)

As is often done, you can look at this ballet in terms of its Russian folktale flavour, the leading role given to a marionette, the use of Russian folk music and so on, but I like to look at the musical foundation that makes all this work, the frenetic, syncopated and heavily accented rhythms that drive the music forward, the piquant slow sections that give eerie pause and prepare the next fast section. What I find most striking about the musical texture here is how very different it is from previous ballets and even from the Firebird. Instead of romantic lyricism we have crisp, sardonic, rhythmically involved music that can express tragedy, exuberance, irony and an earthy expressiveness. This is what distinguishes these ballets by Stravinsky from the earlier ones by Tchaikovsky which were also based on Russian folktales. It's the medium not the message (if by "medium" we mean the musical elements and by "message" we mean the story elements, costuming, sets and so on).

All three of these ballets are heard more often with just the orchestral score in a concert presentation than they are with a full ballet production. The reason is that the music works just fine on its own. Taruskin even makes the point that it was the ballet production, not the music, that was the real cause of the riot at the premiere of the Rite of Spring. Audiences have always readily accepted the music, even from the earliest performances.

Let's end with a concert performance of the score of Petrushka. This is Pierre Boulez conducting the New York Philharmonic, with the score:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Classical Smackdown

The Guardian has an account of an unusual sort of concert: Eine kleine slam poetry: Mozart comes to Shoreditch:
Classical Smackdown is roughly equivalent to a boozy poetry slam. While the venue is informal and the alcohol flows freely, no concessions are made to the repertoire. Hearing solo classical music away from any sort of ceremony, completely on its own terms, highlights the simplicity and accessibility of what one might tend to see as complex pieces: contrapuntal Bach partitas and Gypsy dances full of flying staccato technique.
So far it sounds totally cool...
“In an ideal concert, you can chat to the audience a bit before,” says Balanas. “But in the classical world, it’s usually the case that you go on, you bow, you play: you don’t get to interact. Performing here becomes daunting in a different way, because your onstage persona becomes much more of a focus.”
But now I see the problem. Like virtually every other attempt to "improve" the classical music concert, it does so by making it all about the personalities of the performers and the audience. More narcissism! "You don't get to interact" in a traditional classical concert? Just with the music, dude.

But I loved this picture of the MC:

How about some Mozart, just to remind us what we missed? This is the Fantasia in C minor, K. 475 played by Friedrich Gulda:


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Road to the Rite, Part 2: Firebird Infernal Dance

The Firebird was Stravinsky's first big success as a composer and his first ballet for the Ballets Russe of Diaghilev. He was just twenty-eight when it was premiered so it was written in his twenty-seventh year. He was still searching to find his unique compositional "voice" but this piece set him on the right path. There is a lot in it that is owed to his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, including elements in the story of the ballet which echo in some respects Rimsky-Korsakov's 1907 (premiered 1909) opera The Golden Cockerel which also revolves around a mythical bird.

Mind you, Stravinsky was the first to deny any influence from his teacher whom he described as
“shockingly shallow in his artistic aims.” His knowledge of composition “was not all it should have been.” His “modernism” was “based on a few flimsy enharmonic devices.” Summing up, Stravinsky patronized his teacher wickedly: “I am grateful to Rimsky for many things, and I do not wish to blame him for what he did not know; nevertheless, the most important tools of my art I had to discover for myself.”
[Taruskin, Richard. Russian Music at Home and Abroad: New Essays (Kindle Locations 2475-2478). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.]
However, the immensely learned Richard Taruskin goes on, in this same essay "Catching up with Rimsky-Korsakov," contained in the above volume, to point out that when music theory finally, in the 1960s, caught up with Stravinky's musical language, it was discovered that one important element was the use of the octatonic scale, an example of a harmonic structure that was based on a tonal centre, but not tonally functional in the usual way. I have mentioned this scale before, but it is worth repeating:

The scale consists of alternating tones and semitones and there are two versions depending on which one you start with. The famous "Petrushka" chord which is an F# major chord sounded simultaneously with a C major chord is easily derived from the octatonic scale: take out one of those chords and the remaining notes contain the other chord. The theorist, Arthur Berger, who discovered this found other instances of its use in Les Noces and the Rite and quite a few other pieces.

Now here is the interesting thing: a couple of other composers have also mentioned this scale, Olivier Messiaen (in his book on his musical language) and, yes, Rimsky-Korsakov in his book on orchestration. In Russia one of the names for this scale is the korsakovskaya gamma, the "Korsakov scale!"

The reason the Petrushka chord comes out of the scale so easily is that each note in the scale has a tritone counterpart: the C to G flat, the D flat to G and so on. Let's have a look and see if this useful scale is also in the Firebird. Here is the first theme in the bassoons (bass clef):

Click to enlarge
And here is its continuation in trombone, also bass clef:

If you will allow me to use this continuation, I can map it nicely onto the octatonic:

Click to enlarge

The first line is the theme, shown in treble clef. The second line is the notes arranged as a scale and the third line is the octatonic starting on the same note. Everything matches up (except those pesky B naturals in the first part of the theme!).

The use of the octatonic scale, plus the orchestral virtuosity, are things that give an exotic Russian color to the ballet and they are both, as we see, derived from Rimsky-Korsakov. Here, by the way is an example of that exotic orchestration, from the introduction:

Click to enlarge
He has the strings doing a glissando while playing harmonics! On a string instrument, you get a "harmonic" (a high note created by forcing the string to vibrate in smaller sections than usual) by touching a finger to the string at a "node". The sound is eerie and high-pitched. This example comes from very early in the score. You can hear and see this technique around the 2 minute mark in this clip:

There is also a lot of quite lovely and quite conventional ballet music, the sort where you see the dancers wafting around on stage. Also in the Infernal Dance are some sections that sound like a manic Parisian music-hall:

Click to enlarge
You can hear this section from the 1'17 mark in this clip:

To my ear, Stravinsky has not yet integrated all his influences with the eerie orchestrations, octatonic elements, Parisian music-hall and Stravinsky's own brilliant rhythmic ideas, so the Infernal Dance in particular sounds a bit like a dog's breakfast--just too many elements that don't quite cohere. His next ballet, Petrushka, goes a long way to solving this problem and the integration is complete with the Rite of Spring.

Let's listen to the whole ballet in the excellent performance by Valery Gergiev conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival in 2000: