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The Mighty Fistful

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Cody Smith

on 8 December 2010

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Transcript of The Mighty Fistful

Fistful.. What is this... Russian... Obviously The Mighty Fistful, Mighty Handful, or The Five were a group of composers who met in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the years 1856–1870. The group contained these composers: 1. Mily Balakirev 2. César Cui 5. Modest Mussorgsky 4. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov 3. Alexander Borodin. Mily Balakirev: Was a dynamic leader of the Russian nationalist group of composers of his era. More importantly, the leader of the Mighty Handful. César Cui Alexander Borodin. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Modest Mussorgsky He became the mentor of two young composers, César Cui and Modest Mussorgsky. In 1861 and 1862 his circle of disciples was joined by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and Aleksandr Borodin, forming the group known as The Five. He was a Russian of French and Lithuanian descent. His profession was as an army officer and a teacher of fortifications; his avocational life has particular significance in the history of music, in that he was a composer and music critic who wrote operas, songs, amd piano music. Major Russian nationalist composer of the 19th century. He was also a scientist notable for his research on aldehydes.
He is best known for his symphonies, his two string quartets, and his opera Prince Igor. Music from Prince Igor and his string quartets was later adapted for the musical Kismet Of all the great Russian nationalist composers of the latter part of the 19th century, Nikolai Andreievich Rimsky-Korsakoff (March 18, 1844 - June 21, 1908) stands second only to Mili Balakirev in his practical influence on the music created and preserved in that period. In so far as his own music is concerned, while some pieces have remained immensely popular, the bulk of his achievement is rarely heard today. Many of his works were inspired by Russian history, Russian folklore, and other nationalist themes, including the opera Boris Godunov, the orchestral tone poem Night on Bald Mountain, and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition.

Laying aside the mundane work these composers started together, these men have a past. Let's explore... Balakirev had the use of Ulibishev’s music library and at age 15 began to compose and was allowed to rehearse the local theatre orchestra. From 1853 to 1855 he studied mathematics at the University of Kazan, where he wrote a piano concerto. He made his first appearance as a concert pianist in Kronshtadt in December 1855. Thereafter Balakirev performed often, composed an Overture on Russian Themes and music to King Lear. Balakirev received his early musical education from his mother. He also studied with Alexander Dubuque and with Karl Eisrich, music director to A.D. Ulibishev, a wealthy landowner who published well-known books on Mozart and Beethoven. His wealthy and land-owning family, the noble family of Mussorgsky, is reputedly descended from the first Ruthenian ruler, Rurik, through the sovereign princes of Smolensk. At age six Mussorgsky began receiving piano lessons from his mother, herself a trained pianist. In 1852, the 12-year-old Mussorgsky published a piano piece titled "Porte-enseigne Polka" at his father's expense.

In 1858, within a few months of beginning his studies with Balakirev, Mussorgsky resigned his commission to devote himself entirely to music. In 1859, the 20-year-old gained valuable theatrical experience by assisting in a production of Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar on the Glebovo estate Mussorgsky was mentored by Dargomïzhsky and Balakirev during his early musical career as a composer untill recognizing himself amongst the Mighty Handful. His French father Antoine had entered Russia as a member of Napoleon's army in 1812, settled in Vilnius upon their defeat, and married a local woman named Julia Gucewicz. Amidst this multi-ethnic environment César grew up learning French, Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian. In 1850 Cui was sent to Saint Petersburg to prepare to enter the Chief Engineering School, which he did the next year at age 16. In 1855 he was graduated from the Academy, and after advanced studies at the Nikolaevsky Engineering Academy. As an expert on military fortifications, Cui eventually attained the academic status of professor in 1880 and the military rank of general in 1906. His writings on fortifications included textbooks that were widely used, in several successive editions Despite his achievements as a professional military academic, Cui is best known in the West for his "other" life in music. As a boy in Vilnius he received piano lessons, studied Chopin's works, and began composing little pieces at fourteen years of age As a boy he received a good education, including piano lessons. He eventually earned a doctorate in medicine at the Medico–Surgical Academy and pursued a career in chemistry. He began taking lessons in composition from Mily Balakirev in 1862, while a professor of chemistry at the Academy of Medicine and married Ekaterina Protopopova, a pianist, the following year. Music remained a secondary vocation for Borodin outside of a main career as a chemist and physician. No other member of the Balakirev circle identified himself so openly with absolute music as Borodin did in his two string quartets. Himself a cellist, he was an enthusiastic chamber music player, an interest deepened during his chemical studies in Heidelberg between 1859 and 1861. This early period yielded, as well as other chamber works, a string sextet and a piano quintet. The thematic structure and instrumental texture pieces were based on those of Felix Mendelssohn. Rimsky-Korsakoff was the second son of a substantial landowner who lived "in his own house" on the outskirts of a small town, Tikhvin. Both his parents were musical and were quick to perceive that their son was unusually gifted; he had perfect pitch and excellent time and by the age of six he was having music lessons. By 1861 the 17-year-old was becoming increasingly engrossed in musical studies and exploring the concert repertoire as well as opera. This same year he was introduced by his tutor to Balakirev, then aged 24 and already the leader of a group of young composers, including César Cui, Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin. These men were highly talented and not only contributed to Russian music but their country as well by serving in some capacity of military service. However... Two questions remain. Why were they named the "Mighty Fistful/Mighty Handful"? And... What made them so significant in their style? Basically in a (Nut shell) In May 1867 the critic Vladimir Stasov wrote an article, Mr. Balakirev's Slavic Concert, on a concert given for visiting Slav delegations to the "All-Russian Ethnographical Exhibition" in Moscow. The four Russian composers whose works were played at the concert were Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Mily Balakirev, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The article ended with the following statement:

"God grant that our Slav guests may never forget today's concert; God grant that they may forever preserve the memory of how much poetry, feeling, talent, and intelligence are possessed by the small but already mighty handful of Russian musicians."
—Vladimir Stasov The expression "Mighty Handful" (Russian: Moguchaya kuchka, "Mighty Bunch" or "Group") was mocked by enemies of Balakirev and Stasov: academic circles of the conservatory, the Russian Musical Society, and their press supporters. The group responded by defiantly adopting the name. The Mighty Handful Or as Ms. Farmer called it... The Mighty Fistful. This was their first step in seperating themselves from the other composers in order to create thier unique style. The real difference was... In contrast to the elite status and court connections of Conservatory composers such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Five were mainly from the minor gentry of the provinces. To some degree their 'esprit de corps' depended on the myth, which they themselves created, of a movement that was more "authentically Russian," in the sense that it was closer to the native soil, than the classic academy.
Also The musical language The Five developed set them far apart from the Conservatoire. This self-conscious Russian styling was based on two elements:

1. Tonal mutability
2. Heterophony
A tune seems to shift naturally from one tonal center to another, often ending up in a different key than the one in which the song began. A melody is simultaneously rendered by two or more performers in different variations. This is improvised by the singers until the end, when the song reverts to a single melodic line.
The Five also adopted a series of harmonic devices to create a distinct "Russian" style and color different from Western music. This "exotic" styling of "Russia" was not just self-conscious but entirely invented. None of these devices was actually used in Russian folk or church music: Moreover... Whole tone scale
The Russian submediant Diminished or octatonic scale
Modular rotation in sequences of thirds
Pentatonic scale
They incorporated in their music what they heard in village songs, in Cossack and Caucasian dances, and in church chants and the tolling of church bells (almost became a cliché). The Five's music became filled with imitative sounds of Russian life. They also tried to reproduce the long-drawn, lyrical and melismatic peasant song, what Glinka had once called "the soul of Russian music." Likewise... The Five adopted a series of harmonic devices to create a distinct "Russian" style much different from Western music. This "exotic" styling of "Russia" was not just self-conscious but entirely invented. However, the conservatoire played mainly Western style. Symphony 1 in E Flat
Symphony 2 in B Minor Chopin
Schubert The Statue at Tsarskoye Selo
The Burnt Letter
Flight of the Bumblebee
The Young Prince and the Young Princess (Sheherazade)
Night on Bald Mountain
Pictures at an Exhibition
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