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Russian Music of the 19th Century
Transcript of Russian Music of the 19th Century
Before Peter the Great, Russian contact with the west was rare and did not exceed occasional diplomatic visits
Peter the Great, after an inspiring trip to Europe, begins a Westernization program when he returned to Russia. His goal was to make it impossible for his country to undo his efforts long after his death.
- Introduced the concept of scholarship to Russians
- Reorganization of military/navy in a western manner soon brought him many serious victories
- Built St. Petersburg out of a freezing marsh modeled on Venice and Amsterdam
Everyone had to live according to his plan The music, with its rhythm of a half-note and two quarter-notes, reminded Russian audiences of Russian Orthodox chant; it is also harmonized in way that was unusual for opera, with the outermost voices moving in parallel thirds. This kind of harmonization was typical of the Orthodox Church and brings in not only religious connotations, but also an indication that the music belongs to Russian national culture. The use of church bells also serves both The Orthodoxy and Nationality aspects. The text is a simple glorification of thenew Russian tsar of the story, the first of the Romanov dynasty Track Three Michael Glinka, Ivan Susanin
"Glory Chorus" Pyotr Chaadayev's First Philosophical Letter of 1829 Russia and The West Pyotr Chaadayev's was one of many educated gentlemen who were concerned about Russia's cultural backwardness. He expressed his concern with the Philosophical Letter of 1829
Glinka’s Kamarinskaya alternates between groups of variations on its slow theme and on its fast theme (the overall form is slow-fast-slow-fast). The slow theme, a Russian wedding song “From behind Tall Hills,” is played four times in different registers and textures (the last statement is in the bass line). The CD excerpt begins immediately after this, at the beginning of the first fast section. This section is based on the fiery dance tune, “Kamarinskaya,” that lent its name to the entire piece. In folk practice, this theme was already played in an endless, “dance-till-you-drop” set of variations the first statement is given by the first violins alone, and then another strand is added, and the fun begins. Glinka rarely alters the melody (when he does, it is to suggest virtuosic fiddling), but each phrase flies by quickly enough for him to use it almost as an ostinato pattern. By the eleventh statement, Glinka makes us take notice of a motif that is not from the melody itself, but from his harmonization of the moment. It turns out to be one of his clever tricks. The music changes from major to minor, and the motif turns out to be nothing other than the opening notes of the slow theme. In this way, we are returned to the other world that the piece inhabits, and the variations that follow allow two full and one incomplete statement of the slow theme before it is interrupted once again by the call to the dance .The fast variations resume, and by now the dance theme is imprinted so firmly in the mind that Glinka can eventually afford to let it disappear, leaving us with what used to be the accompaniment. The tempo relaxes somewhat although we are still in the world of the dance theme, and we now hear some of the most inventive variations, which depart further from the harmony that the tune most naturally suggests. In one humorous touch, a dissonant note in the horn appears (a C-natural against a D-major harmony). The tempo picks up again, and the piece ends in festive triumph .The beauty of this design is that it avoids conformity to any established musical form but instead creates the variation principle afresh, using as its basis the fortuitous relationship between the folk themes, the two found objects . We can only admire how Glinka elevates folk music (not only the melodies, but also the variation principle from folk performances of the “Kamarinskaya” dance tune) to a state of high art through this ingenious design. The symphony begins with an imposing opening, a unison line for the whole orchestra. The key is B minor, but this is by no means obvious from the first phrase, which contains two notes foreign to the key .The phrase is then repeated with a new continuation that takes us into the key of D major . Another, faster thematic element enters, but it still leaves us undecided between the two keys. This differs markedly from the opening of most German symphonic allegros, where the main key is made clear from the outset. But, we can see this hovering between two closely related keys as bearing a distant relation to folk principles of having two modal centers (peremennost). The first imposing phrase comes back again; over the course of the first movement, it will return several times, with ever more grandeur and played in longer note values (augmentation). The symphony is not a programmatic piece, but Borodin saw his first theme as a representation of ancient Russian warriors (bogatyri) in the other arts, and so the symphony acquired a Russian nickname Bogatyrskaya . Feeling that his death is close, Boris calls for his son, to whom he gives his final wishes. The excerpt begins as Boris prays: a lyrical melody sounds in the orchestra, while Boris is in prayerful monotone. Suddenly we hear a huge bell ringing out: the funeral rites have already begun, even though Boris is still alive (no doubt it was the idea of Boris’s rival, boyar Shuisky, impatient for Boris’s death). Here we have the orchestral representation of the bells (a huge resonant bass note amplified by a gong and then a dissonant chord in the middle register), together with the sound of an actual bell. The chorus starts to sing a chant off stage; its archaic diatonic melody tries to evoke past times rather than the music of the Orthodox Church in Mussorgsky’s day. Against this choral background, we hear Boris’s last disjointed thoughts, delivered in Mussorgsky’s trademark speech-like declamation .It needs to be said that the notes written in Boris’s part by Mussorgsky are not necessarily sung at exactly the written pitches. The point here is to create a haunting, naturalistic scene, so to some extent it is up to the performer how to sing, speak, or even shout out the words. At one point an abrupt harmonic change brings the music to a halt on a majestic chord, as Boris cries out, “Wait! I am still Tsar!” But this is only a momentary hope, and Boris dies, while Mussorgsky bids him farewell with some beautiful transparently scored music, allowing us some sympathy for the character “It is one of the most deplorable traits of our strange civilization that we are still discovering truths that are commonplace even among peoples much less advanced than we. This is because we have never moved in concert with the other peoples. We do not belong to any of the great families of the human race; we are neither of the West nor of the East, and we have not the traditions of either. We stand, as it were, outside of time, the universal education of mankind has not touched us…Look around you. Everyone seems to have one foot in the air. One would think that we are all in transit. No one has a fixed sphere of existence; there are no proper habits, no rules that govern anything. We do not even have homes; we have nothing that binds, nothing that awakens our sympathies and affections, nothing that endures, anything that remains. Everything passes flows away, leaving no trace either outside or within us. We seem to camp, in our houses, we behave like strangers in our families; and in our cities we appear to be nomads, more so than the real nomads who graze their flocks in our steppes, for they are more attached to their desert than we are to our towns. Our memories go back no further than yesterday; we are, so to say, strangers to ourselves. We move so oddly in time that, as we advance, the immediate past is irretrievably lost to us. That is but a natural consequence of a culture, which is wholly imported and imitative. There is no internal development, no natural progress, in our society; new ideas sweep out the old, because they are not derived from the old but come from God knows where. Since all our ideas are ready-made, the indelible trace left in the mind by a progressive movement of ideas, which gives it strength, does not shape our intellect. We grow, but we do not mature; we move, but in a diagonal, that is, a line which does not lead to the desired goal. We are like children who have not been taught to think for themselves when they become adults, they have nothing they can call their own-all their knowledge is on the surface, their soul is not within them. That is precisely our condition Peoples, like individuals, are moral beings. It takes centuries for their education, as it takes years for that of persons. We may be said to be an exception among peoples. We are one of those nations, which do not appear to be an integral part of the human race, but exist only in order to teach some great lesson to the world.” Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite Scheherazade (1888) consists of four movements that follow a program drawn from the Persian tales of The Thousand and One Nights. At first, Rimsky-Korsakov attached programmatic titles to each movement, but he later removed them out of concern that they were becoming an obstacle to the full appreciation of his music. We know, however, that the first movement enters with the musical portraits of the king (a powerful unison theme in the lower register) and Scheherazade herself, who, according to the framing narrative, has to keep the king amused with a new story every night, otherwise she will be executed .The portrayal of Scheherazade is a celebrated example of Orientalist music: she is represented by a solo violin, which weaves a delicate arabesque line in triplets, very free in tempo. This is evidently Scheherazade preparing herself for the story to come, which begins with new music representing the sea since the story here is of Sinbad and his ship. As a former naval officer, Rimsky-Korsakov had a great love for the sea and represented it in music more than once. The music rises and falls like the waves, and this unending movement is conveyed through slow harmony over long pedal notes .Whereas Germanic music used harmonic phrases that were directed strongly toward cadences, Russian music often cultivates a kind of aimlessness, especially in its representations of the Orient. Religious Aspect: Letter One (excerpts)… Mikhail Glinka, Kamarinskaya
(from the fast section to the end)
Track 4 Alexander Borodin, Second Symphony,
Track 5 Modest Mussorgsky, Boris Godunov,
Boris’s Death Scene
Track 6 Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sheherazade,
Track 7 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sixth Symphony,
Beginning of the Finale
Track 8 Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony proved to be his last. His cultivation of tragic narratives made him break away here from the conventions of large-scale symphonic form: instead of ending with a positive, noisy finale as was customary, Tchaikovsky wrote a compact movement of funereal character, which is recognized as one of the finest representations of grief in music. The movement begins with a descending stepwise theme in the violins and seems to end with a question mark. The reply is always stern and reserved, but the questioning theme becomes ever more insistent. The range of the music widens, and the whole orchestra becomes involved. The second theme presents a contrast: it is in the major and has a more majestic, chorale-like character .As so often occurs in Tchaikovsky’s compositions, it is more luxuriant on its later return than on its first appearance, and it is heightened further as the music moves toward a climax. At the moment of greatest tension, the pulsating rhythm arrests the onward movement, and the music tumbles down the whole orchestral range. We are back to where we started: speech-like musical phrases return us to the poignant, grief-filled atmosphere from which we now know there is no escape (within the story of this symphony, that is) This concerto begins with a piano solo: the pianist takes a series of chords followed each time by the same bass note, with each chord ratcheting up the tension even further. This particular texture is often compared with the representations of bells in Russian music (recall the Coronation Scene from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov). After this chordal introduction, the main theme enters in the orchestra, while the piano accompanies it with stormy figurations. The melody moves mostly stepwise, often doubling back on itself .This is characteristic of Rachmaninoff’s melodies: they seem to stem from singing and are often compared to the chant melodies of the Russian Orthodox church .However, the rhythm is march-like, and the main impression is one of severity and concentration .When the piano takes over the melody, it becomes more lyrical and plaintive, but it builds up to an impressive climax, in a manner that is reminiscent of Tchaikovsky. A moment of calm ensues, and we hear a contrasting theme in the major, given to the piano alone. This theme is marked by some of the harmonic features of the Handful’s Orientalist manner, but this is best understood as simply a part of Rachmaninoff’s general vocabulary now. In a re-statement, the theme sounds still more luxuriant because of the orchestral accompaniment that has now been added. Sergei Rachmaninoff, Second Piano
Track 9 This is the finale of Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar, which may be seen as a musical embodiment of the ideas of Official Nationalism: Orthodoxy, Autocracy,and Nationalism. In the score, Glinka labels this chorus as a “hymn-march.” The march rhythm is easy to hear, and the military aspect of the music is emphasized by the fact that it is played with the participation of a military band on stage.