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March 13, 2010

March 13, 2010 Program Notes

Russian composers of the last couple centuries have found themselves dealing not only with the tensions of their music, but also the social and political implications of their work. Throughout this time Russians struggled to reconcile their fascination for the musical tradition of the west with their allegiance to the music of their Russian heritage. When Tchaikovsky wrote his Second Symphony, he owed much to his German and Austrian predecessors, but at the same time he built his symphony on the Ukrainian folksongs of his homeland. Alexander Glazunov's career began with a fascination for the western tradition, and his violin concerto drew from the romantic style he discovered in his youth. Later in life he found himself resisting the formalism of the new century. For Dmitri Kabalevsky, rejecting the formalist style of the new age became a political imperative; for he wrote his music under the watchful eye of Soviet bureaucrats, who ruthlessly crushed the careers of composers who diverted from their criteria of political correctness. Despite the social pressures on their work, Russian composers succeeded in transcending parochial considerations, and they created a body of work that enriched the western tradition by incorporating sounds on its eastern periphery.

ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV

Born St. Petersburg, 10 August 1865. Died Paris, 21 March 1936.

VIOLIN CONCERTO IN A MINOR, OP. 82

Composed in 1904-5 and first performed in St. Petersburg on February 17, 1905, with Glazunov's St. Petersburg Conservatory colleague, Leopold Auer, on the violin. (Among Auer's students were Nathan Milstein and Jascha Heifetz.) The score calls for solo violin, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings. The work lasts approximately 20 minutes.

Alexander Glazunov traveled to the west as a nineteen year old, where he came under the romantic spell of the music of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Years later, in 1904, at the height of his career (and in the year Dmitri Kabalevsky was born), Glazunov wrote his deeply expressive violin concerto, a composition steeped in the rich expressiveness of the romantic tradition. Just as Wagner dissolves classical conventions and blends together the traditional forms in his operas, so too Glazunov obfuscates the boundaries of the three movements of his concerto, creating a panormaic emotional landscape. Just as Liszt raises teh solo instrument to the level of virtuosity, focusing attention on the artistic genius as a guiding light, so too Glazunov lets his solo violin rise above the orchestra in a dazzling display of technique. The virtuosity of the solo voice finds its spectacular climax in the final movement.

The Violin Concerto premiered in 1905. In the same year, Glazunov accepted the position of director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. At about the same time, farther west, Arnold SChoenberg began to experiment with a new music unrelated to any home key. This "atonal" technique would soon capture the iamgination of young composers. In Russie it was a time of revolutionary fervor, and Glazunov, as director of the St. petersberg conservatory, deftly lead his school through the turbulent years of czarist backlash, revolution, and the ideological directives of the new communist regime. Throughout the ebb and flow of Russia's political fortunes, Glazunov doggedly resisted the new atonal musical language of the time. Whether by inclination or political necessity, his opposition certainly helped him ride out the storms of the Russian revolution and the new Soviet era. It was especially this atonal technique that attracted the ire of the communist regime.

DMITRI KABALEVSKY

Born St. Petersburg, 30 December 1904.
Died Moscow, 18 February 1987

OVERTURE TO COLAS BREUGNON

Composed 1936-38 and first performed in 1938 at the Leningrad State Opera. The score calls for solo violin, piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, snare drum, xylophone, gong, harp, and strings. The work lasts approximately 5 minutes.

When Dmitri Kabalevsky became professor at the Moscow Conservatory in 1939, his accessible energetic style had earned him the approval of the communist authorities. The year before Kabalevsky premiered his opera, Colas Breugnon. Officials at the Ministry of Culture, guardians of the healthy political instincts of the working class, were pleased. They assumed the task of purging Soviet culture from the "decadent formalism" that could be heard in much of the west by this time. In Berlin, for example, Alban Berg had premiered his jarringly atonal opera, Wozzeck, back in 1925. The guardians of working class sensibilities were mollified by the conviction that Kabalevsky, at least, avoided such anti-proletarian methods.

The overture of the opera is a brilliant romp in the conservative tradition. It is a rousing opening to the opera, beginning with driving passages, rhythmic intensity, and good humor, with a slower, lyrical middle section, and finishing with an exciting flourish. Kabalevsky creates a compelling overture within the constraints of the conservative style.

If Soviet authorities were reassured by the overture of the opera, they were equally enamored with its plot, for the story pits a noble worker against an evil aristocrat, a favorite theme of the community party. Based on a novel by the French author, Roman Rolland, entitled The Master of Clamecy, the opera tells of the master sculptor, Colas Breugnon, who loves a maiden named Selina. The duke of the province beguiles Selina, tricking her into rejecting Colas. Years later, a plague kills much of the village, including Colas' wife and family. In the confusion, Colas and Selina find each other again and fall in love. The enraged duke destroys all of Colas' artworks. Colas exacts revenge when he is commissioned to carve a monument of the duke, and in the final scene Colas unveils a sculpture of him riding backwards on a donkey.

The communist authorities, in their self-righteous indignation against the aristocracy, seem to have missed the double entendre of a political regime that imposes its will on the artists of its realm. The irony could hardly have been lost on the composer. Still, Kabalevsky managed to keep a low enough political profile, so that in 1948, when the communist party condemned so many of his fellow composers, including Prokofiev and Shostakovich, for musical decadence, Kabalevsky was spared. He managed to continue working within the system, and created music that found universal appeal, even if it did not extend the boundaries of musical expression.

ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV

Born St. Petersburg, 10 August 1865. Died Paris, 21 March 1936.

VIOLIN CONCERTO IN A MINOR, OP. 82

Composed in 1904-5 and first performed in St. Petersburg on February 17, 1905, with Glazunov's St. Petersburg Conservatory colleague, Leopold Auer, on the violin. (Among Auer's students were Nathan Milstein and Jascha Heifetz.) The score calls for solo violin, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings. The work lasts approximately 20 minutes.

Alexander Glazunov traveled to the west as a nineteen year old, where he came under the romantic spell of the music of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Years later, in 1904, at the height of his career (and in the year Dmitri Kabalevsky was born), Glazunov wrote his deeply expressive violin concerto, a composition steeped in the rich expressiveness of the romantic tradition. Just as Wagner dissolves classical conventions and blends together the traditional forms in his operas, so too Glazunov obfuscates the boundaries of the three movements of his concerto, creating a panormaic emotional landscape. Just as Liszt raises teh solo instrument to the level of virtuosity, focusing attention on the artistic genius as a guiding light, so too Glazunov lets his solo violin rise above the orchestra in a dazzling display of technique. The virtuosity of the solo voice finds its spectacular climax in the final movement.

The Violin Concerto premiered in 1905. In the same year, Glazunov accepted the position of director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. At about the same time, farther west, Arnold SChoenberg began to experiment with a new music unrelated to any home key. This "atonal" technique would soon capture the iamgination of young composers. In Russie it was a time of revolutionary fervor, and Glazunov, as director of the St. petersberg conservatory, deftly lead his school through the turbulent years of czarist backlash, revolution, and the ideological directives of the new communist regime. Throughout the ebb and flow of Russia's political fortunes, Glazunov doggedly resisted the new atonal musical language of the time. Whether by inclination or political necessity, his opposition certainly helped him ride out the storms of the Russian revolution and the new Soviet era. It was especially this atonal technique that attracted the ire of the communist regime. 

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY

Born Vyatka province, Russia, 7 May 1840. Died St. Petersburg, 6 November 1893.

SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN C MINOR, OP. 17 "LITTLE RUSSIAN"

Composed in 1872 and first performed in Moscow in 1873. Revised in 1879-80. The score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam (fourth movement only) and strings. The work lasts approximately 32 minutes.

Tchaikovsky wrote the Second Symphony at a time in his life when he was particularly interested in the songs and melodies of his Ukrainian homeland, which was sometimes known as "Little Russia." The composition incorporates a number of Ukrainian folk melodies. Tchiakovsky succeeds in combining the simplicity of the folk song with the complexity of the symphonic form, but it did not come easily for him. Despite the fact that the 1872 premier was a great success, the composer was unsatisfied until he made major changes to the symphony in 1879-80.

The first movement begins with a slow introduction which features the first Ukrainian folk tune. A dramatic chord is followed by the plaintive horn melody. The woodwinds introduce a contrasting, energetic variation which increases the sense of drama. The entire movement consists of the interplay of the original, lyrical theme and the contrasting, energetic motif.

The light, unassuming tune which opens the second movement is another Ukrainian folk song, also used as the Bridal March in the opera, Undine. Tchaikovsky takes the melody through various transformations, some more lyrical, some more dramatic, giving the song a sense of depth and complexity. It returns to its light, unassuming form to finish the movement.

The third movement is a scherzo, which literally means "joke." Accordingly the rushing runs cascade playfully. But Tchaikovsky also counterbalances the playful character of the runs with a dramatic gravitas.

The symphony's finale begins with heavy, monumental chords from the third folk song, and then repeats the melody in various forms against a constantly changing background. A contrasting lyrical section diverts our attention, until the melody returns with increasing dramatic excitement to the end.

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