Stravinsky’s Rite of Springpremiered in Australia in August 1946, with Eugene Goossens and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra putting on a “magnificent performance.” Goossens told the audience “that only his complete confidence in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra had induced him to entrust them with the score.”

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Rite of Spring Lotte Betts-Dean, Sir Andrew Davis, Paul Groves and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Photo © Laura Manariti

The Melbourne premiere of August 1952 was less successful. “Stravinsky’s Rite of Springupset a number of people,” reported one newspaper. “Some got up and walked out. Others protested to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which had arranged the concert. Some said Stravinsky’s music had been ugly. Others said it had been boring, incomprehensible, or simply not music.”

It was a strange reaction – perhaps the citizens of Melbourne thought themselves more Parisian than their northern counterparts – because Stravinsky’s masterpiece was, by the 1950s, one of the most popular orchestral works in the world.

Walt Disney’s revolutionary Fantasiahad arrived in Australia a decade before the Melbourne premiere, and featured the Rite of Springprominently in its program. One journalist who asked filmgoers about their...