When the ballet was first performed, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on 29 May 1913, the avant-garde nature of the music and choreography caused a near-riot in the audience. Although designed as a work for the stage, with specific passages accompanying characters and action, the music achieved growing success as a concert piece and later became recognised as one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century. It is widely performed in the concert hall, and is frequently revived on the stage.
Stravinsky was a young, virtually unknown composer when Diaghilev recruited him to create works for the Ballets Russes. The Rite was the third such project, after the acclaimed The Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911). The concept behind The Rite, developed by Roerich from Stravinsky's outline idea, is suggested by its subtitle, "Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts"; in the scenario, after various primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring, a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death. After a mixed critical reception for its original run and a short London tour, the ballet was unperformed until the 1920s, when a version choreographed by Léonide Massine replaced Nijinsky's original. Massine's was the forerunner of many innovative productions directed by the world's leading ballet-masters, which gained the work worldwide acceptance. In the 1980s, Nijinsky's original choreography, long believed lost, was reconstructed by the Joffrey Ballet in Los Angeles.
Stravinsky's score contains many features that were novel for its time, including experiments in tonality, metre, rhythm, stress and dissonance. Analysts have noted in the score a significant grounding in Russian folk music, a relationship which Stravinsky tended to deny. The music has influenced many of the 20th century's leading composers and is one of the most recorded works in the classical repertoire.