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Discussion Starter · #81 ·
The Second Symphony in C# Minor by Myaskovsky (1910-11) is also late romantic, composed between his two symphonic poems. I did not find it as compelling as the First Symphony, perhaps because the recording of the latter by the USSR Ministry of Culture SO/Rozhdestvensky is so outstanding. All three movements of the Second are in triple meters; that can create a feeling of instability over time. I think this is intentional and in the first movement the prevailing tricky Dah-daDa rhythm of the motif has something to do with it. There are big Myaskovskian contrasts in volume and register; the second subject builds to a stormy version of the motif. The movement is in clear and conventional sonata form. In the slow movement I hear the influence of Rachmaninoff in melodies and certain chord progressions, e.g. at 16:00 in the Svetlanov-conducted version from his complete set of the orchestral works of Myaskovsky. The mood is pensive with winds more prominent than in the First Symphony's Larghetto. The English horn eventually emerges as the leader of a succession of expressive wind solos towards the remarkable close of the movement.

There is a link to the last movement, -- a scherzo-finale with characteristics of both: a fast triple meter and a rousing close to the work marked Allegro con fuoco. The opening theme is marked by syncopations and accents; a second theme with more post-romantic harmony featuring the augmented-major seventh chord follows. Surprisingly there is an extended solo for contrabassoon alone, before further adventures with chromaticism and final statements of the movement's two main themes. Overall, the Second is another big symphony that shows harmonic advances in the last movement especially.
 

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Discussion Starter · #82 ·
My next post will be on Myaskovsky's 3rd Symphony (1914). Also I'll have a few remarks on his last 2 symphonies, Nos. 26 and 27. As described in post #77, please post anything you have to say on him here. I will be continuing with N. Tcherepnin and M. Steinberg but will still welcome seeing your thoughts on Myaskovsky be they brief or lengthy.

In connection with Symphony No. 3, the year 1914 is significant to me for a personal reason. My English grandmother, who was a fine musician, was governess to a family in St. Petersburg during that year. When rumors of war began foreigners were anxious to get out of Russia. My grandmother fortunately got onto the last passenger ship from St. Petersburg to London. When war was declared in Russia the border was closed and no one could leave. Who knows what could have happened to my grandmother in the 1917 revolution or afterward. She certainly wouldn't have met my grandfather who was in the Canadian army.
 

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Discussion Starter · #83 ·
A number of commentators have noted the influence of Scriabin on Myaskovsky’s Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3. Symphony No. 3 in A Minor (1914) has an unusual structure of two long movements. The work begins typically in the low register; a brass call interrupts. The first theme in a modified sonata-allegro form is tonally indecisive, consisting of abrupt segments with sharp cutoffs. The cellos present a lyrical second theme in C major, but there are mysterious pauses. The themes are developed extensively, with the pace increasing along with the frequency of key changes. More extended theme-based passages are followed by a section with everything in syncopation. About half way through the movement there is a tremendous major key statement from the brass that becomes the climax. From there the mood becomes more anxious, with a sense of crisis. In a long denouement themes are treated contrapuntally contributing expressive and moving moments. Near the end the tonic major key is re-established, closing in a high register.

The second movement is a rondo with the latter part a funeral march. It opens in a fast tempo and establishes a recurring descending motif that outlines a tritone. This interval becomes an element of an oriental scale and also of the octatonic (8-note) scale, both different than scales of movement 1. The contrasting second theme features a slower ascending motif. In the development the first motif becomes an ostinato supporting other activity that builds up to climaxes. There follows another slow section with a clarinet solo answered by very low double basses, and a chordal string passage leading to a desolate oboe solo. Violins wail in separated outbursts, and over tremolo strings the brass cry out. Typically, Myaskovsky’s augmented and minor triads plus seventh chords contribute to the uncertain, dismal mood. Following a final unison statement the music fades away in the lowest orchestral register. Described by the composer as a work of “profound pessimism,” to me it is not morbid. It connects both to the composer’s life and to the time of composition, with war and revolution looming in Russia.
 

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Discussion Starter · #85 · (Edited)
I just got myself the 4th and 5th Symphonies by Glazunov. I am most surprised why this music is not performed more. I admire the musical language and the extremely colourful orchestration.

My interest in Glazunov was born in a concert last autumn where the Saxophone Quartet was performed. I really enjoyed the musical language.
Huillunsjota was doing original research and singing his praises on the Glazunov Composer Guestbook years before I came to TalkClassical. Glazunov is a cherished discovery of my senior years -- and he's not only for seniors! I started the thread "Making friends with Glazunov's symphonic poems ..." and people including me began posting on his symphonies too. He also piqued my interest in other Russian composers, which is why I started this thread. I agree Glazunov's symphonies 4 and 5 should be performed more -- maybe they are in Russia but not internationally. Perhaps some other posters here know more about that.
 

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The posts on the Myaskovsky symphonies has made me want to revisit them. Interesting that, apart from No. 1 which has a more Brahms-sized orchestra (pairs of woodwinds etc.), for the rest of the "single-digit" symphonies Myaskovsky calls for the extra weight of six horns instead of the standard four. And the first three all end in the minor key. No. 2 ends quite dissonantly, with a final thump.
 

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Huillunsjota was doing original research and singing his praises on the Glazunov Composer Guestbook years before I came to TalkClassical. Glazunov is a cherished discovery of my senior years -- and he's not only for seniors! I started the thread "Making friends with Glazunov's symphonic poems ..." and people including me began posting on his symphonies too. He also piqued my interest in other Russian composers, which is why I started this thread. I agree Glazunov's symphonies 4 and 5 should be performed more -- maybe they are in Russia but not internationally. Perhaps some other posters here know more about that.
I love that 4th - wonderful, brilliant, so exciting and I've never understood why it's not better known. But then that's a problem for a lot of great music. I've been going to concerts all over the place for over 50 years. I have only twice encountered both the 4th and 5th. The first time I heard the 4th was a distinctly amateur group which couldn't really manage the difficult string parts - it was pretty poor. Even 45 years later I still remember how awful it was. Maybe it was the review in paper which destroyed the conductor saying that a metronome on a music stand would have done a better job than the woman trying to direct. Ouch! Then the Tucson did a smashing performance of it a few years back. Just nailed it - the coda of the finale was electrifying. So good that I went the the next performance. The 5th I first heard with a good college/community orchestra but then the Phoenix Symphony outclassed them the next year. And that's it. The reality is that orchestra repertoire is solidified and it takes a great deal of effort and dedication to get it to change. Audiences are just as bad: they like what they know. After that Tucson performance everyone I talked to just loved it and had the same comment: they should play more Glazunov. Won't happen. Thank God for CDs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #88 · (Edited)
... Then the Tucson did a smashing performance of it a few years back. Just nailed it - the coda of the finale was electrifying. So good that I went the the next performance. The 5th I first heard with a good college/community orchestra but then the Phoenix Symphony outclassed them the next year. And that's it. ... Thank God for CDs.
Agreed -- although I don't like to think this, the reality is that there are lot of darn good 19th- and early 20th-century orchestral compositions that haven't made it into the global live performance repertoire. So let's consider them an alternative global repertoire available mainly on multiple digital and analog media platforms -- that isn't too shabby these days. How to maintain and enhance this repertoire is the question.
 

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Discussion Starter · #89 ·
The posts on the Myaskovsky symphonies has made me want to revisit them. Interesting that, apart from No. 1 which has a more Brahms-sized orchestra (pairs of woodwinds etc.), for the rest of the "single-digit" symphonies Myaskovsky calls for the extra weight of six horns instead of the standard four. And the first three all end in the minor key. No. 2 ends quite dissonantly, with a final thump.
Good observations -- with No. 2 Myaskovsky moved away from a number of standard Romantic conventions that he learned as a student e.g. number of horns. Also he was known for remaining silent about his music. I've come to believe that instead of using his words Myakovsky put such suggestive things as "a final bump," horn splats, broken-off phrases, pauses, and other surprises into his music.
 

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Discussion Starter · #90 ·
In Myaskovsky’s Symphonies Nos. 1-3 we hear how his symphonic career began. It ended not long after Communist Party General Secretary Andrei Zhdanov’s 1948 announcement condemning Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Myaskovsky, Khachaturian and other leading Soviet composers for “formalist” compositions. This meant in effect that the works did not express the will of the people adequately. Composer Tikhon Khrennikov had even supplied the names of specific works under censure; among those by Myaskovsky were Symphonies Nos. 10 and 13. Already suffering from cancer, Myaskovsky was devastated by this event. He had refused to apologize to Stalin on principle. While remaining silent he went on to compose Symphonies 26: On Russian Themes and 27. No. 26 is populist in orientation while including contrapuntal arrangements of high quality. No. 27 goes further artistically and I like think that it is the composer’s gift to a future time more receptive to his message. He died in 1950.
 

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Discussion Starter · #91 · (Edited)
I was going to move on with Nikolai Tcherepnin's symphonic poem The Enchanted Kingdom (1910), but now realize it was actually his score forf a ballet, The Firebird, which was passed over by Diaghilev in favor of Stravinsky's version. In fact, almost all of his orchestral music that I've heard was written for the stage: theatre, opera, or ballet. And in the one exception, his Piano Concerto (1905), I think the only part that succeeds sounds very much like his ballet music. But this thread focuses on concert works for orchestra. Tcherepnin was highly-esteemed as a conductor, pianist, and stage music composer; his atmospheric, impressionist scores are innovative and especially good in sound combinations that include pitched percussion instruments. They also look eastward and incorporate oriental musical influences. After World War I Tcherepnin worked mainly in Paris.
 

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Discussion Starter · #92 ·
Maximilian Steinberg’s upbeat Symphony No. 1 (1905-6) opens with an energetic theme in triple meter. There follows a contrasting second theme in the dominant key, each lilting phrase answered with a soft wind instrument’s “cuc-koo.” In the development there are successive chromatic modulations. Brass instruments become more prominent in the recapitulation while the coda surpasses all of the preceding in brilliance. Speedy double-notes characterize all sections of the orchestra in the scherzo movement. The trio has a slower waltz-like melody, and then the scherzo returns with some tricky surprises.

Solemn chords open the slow movement, and an expressive minor-key clarinet melody is picked up by the strings. The pace picks up and harmonies grow more intense. Horn and oboe join in the conversation but the mood remains unsettled with Wagnerian harmonies. A flute trio emerges and the eventually the mood softens, disappearing into silence after the clarinet’s last tones. The Finale is march-like, conventional enough except for some unexpected chords, and building with imitative lines though still with a light touch. An exciting fugal passage with syncopated accents ensues with an ongoing chromatic ascent and increasing brass presence. But the movement takes its time with a variety of instrumental passages and contrapuntal treatments before accelerating to a triumphant close.
 

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Discussion Starter · #93 ·
Steinberg’s Symphony No. 2 (1909) is at least as technically adept as No. 1, but it is darker in mood at times. It was composed in memory of Steinberg’s teacher and father-in-law Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakov. The first movement opens at a brisk tempo with wonderful energy and imaginative orchestration. Throughout the movement melody flows forth and there are fresh harmonic touches such as a series of chords harmonizing the whole tone scale. Compared to No. 1 the strings are more prominent throughout. The fast second movement is a virtuoso showpiece featuring violin runs. In its slow middle section, the succession of triads from unrelated keys is effective. A rousing brass chorale is added to the virtuoso music from the opening in the last section. There are references to Rimsky-Korsakov in the lament which opens the finale: these include passages featuring the trombone or trombone trio and the harmonic progression of two triads a tritone apart. A final chorale surrounded by instrumental flourishes is succeeded by the astonishing descending strings and triumphal major chord that end this moving work.
 

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Discussion Starter · #94 · (Edited)
Maximilian Steinberg composed five symphonies, but it appears that apart from Nos. 1 and 2 only Symphony No. 4: “Turksib” (1933) is available. Its name is an abbreviation of the Turkestan-Siberia Railway whose completion it celebrates. It is a Soviet symphony, quite different from Steinberg’s pre-WWI Russian ones. Melodic material is from folk music, e.g. Kazakhstan in the first section. Modernist elements are especially prominent in the scherzo and finale, including advanced orchestration, syncopation and non-standard metric division, unsettled seventh chords and augmented triads. In general the Soviet symphony is really beyond the scope of this thread though.
 

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Discussion Starter · #95 ·
With Maximilian Steinberg we are at the most recently-born composer under consideration and it’s time to turn the ship around. We’ll pick up composers who’ve been passed over and add some new ideas with the goal of finishing this project soon.

I’ve already mentioned that Russia can draw you in further than you realize. (That is perhaps what happened to Napoleon, and to that Austrian guy in WWII.) Anyway, in the interests of humility and sanity I’ve decided not to post on concertos or other concertante works. My having listened to a lot of them will help guide the final composer choices. But there will only be a summary on concertos, not consideration of individual works. At this point please do not post comments on concertos or concertante works, only on orchestral music.

So we’re going back to the beginning with a new take on Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Rubinstein, and Balakirev.
 

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Rubinstein: people today are really unaware of his importance. He spend a lot of time touring the USA promoting his works and earning a lot of money in the process. His output is stupendous. But virtually everything he wrote - with one exception - has gone to the dustbin of history. That one one, Melody in F, was once a staple of piano students, but I'm not even sure how many people learn it anymore. I can still play most of it. If you're not a pianist you have no idea just how tricky it is. Fortunately, decades ago, someone at Marco Polo decided that Rubinstein needed a hearing and they gave us the complete symphonies and piano concertos. The symphonies are nothing spectacular and fell from grace for the best of reasons. But those piano concertos! The fourth and fifth used to be staples of the concert hall up until the '40s or so. Talk about barnstorming. They are so much fun to listen to. A great deal of his other orchestral music, solo piano music, chamber music has now been recorded - it's wonderful to hear. And the opera The Demon is marvelous and well deserves it's now two recordings. Someday I'm going to have a week long Rubinstein Festival at home and go through all of the recordings of his music I have - which is quite a lot. Rubinstein has a special place in my heart for one silly reason: there was this old horror film with Boris Karloff, The Walking Dead (long before the TV series), in which the Karloff character, revived from the dead, plays one piece of music on the piano: Rubinstein's Kamennoi-Ostrov no 22. It's a hauntingly beautiful piece that should be better known. Anyway, as a young kid I loved that movie and the music imprinted deeply in my head. When I first read that Prokofiev and classmates referred to lesser talents as "Dubinsteins" for an insult, smearing Anton Rubinstein in the process, I was always saddened by the use of his name that way. He deserves a lot of credit for his accomplishments and contributions to Russian music.
 
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Tchaikovsky is, together with Beethoven, my absolute favorite composer, so he stands on a little bit of a pedestal. Depending on which side of the bed I wake up on either Tchaikovsky or Beethoven is my favorite for the day!

In addition to Tchaikovsky, I adore Borodin, Kalinnikov, and Rimsky Korsakov.
I do also hold Mussorgsky, Glazunov and Ippolitov-Ivanov in very high regard. I do also listen to and thoroughly enjoy Balakirev.

Getting into the twentieth century Shostakovich is a favorite. I discovered Myaskovski fairly recently but have enjoyed what I heard. Katchaturian is also very enjoyable. Somehow, most of Prokofiev never clicked for me, although I do like a few compositions.
 

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Discussion Starter · #98 ·
Rubinstein: people today are really unaware of his importance. ... His output is stupendous. But virtually everything he wrote - with one exception - has gone to the dustbin of history.
Anton Rubinstein (1829-94) was unique because his career encompasses so many areas (most of which we won't get into here). An interesting fact about his birthplace Vikhvatinets, now named Ofatinti: today the town is in Transnistria, which is officially recognized as being part of the Republic of Moldova but is actually a "post-Soviet frozen state" overseen by Russia, Moldova and Ukraine.

National identity was also a confused business for Rubinstein during his lifetime, but for a cultural reason. His birthplace was within the Russian Empire, but for many years he lived in Berlin and Dresden. Advanced German musical training was something he and his brother Nicholas brought to Russia. But the Russian Five or "Mighty Handful" composers led by Balakirev wanted Russian classical music to be strictly Russian, based on folk and Russian Orthodox music. And yet Rubinstein's student Tchaikovsky showed that music could be both classically European and thoroughly Russian. Rubinstein was also born into a Jewish family, but his grandfather converted it to Orthodox Christianity. Later Anton claimed to be atheist. Nevertheless, Russian antisemitism was one reason why he spent considerable time abroad. Despite all of these conflicts, what an extraordinary career!
 

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Discussion Starter · #99 · (Edited)
A Brief Detour: Stravinsky (Not) Romantic ...

No, Stravinsky (1882-1971) was not a romantic composer! I've always heard his late romantic Symphony in E-Flat Major, Op. 1 (1905-6) as a regressive piece from his student years with Rimsky-Korsakov. So it is, but there's more to be said about Stravinsky after you've listened to other post-Rimsky late romantic Russian composers, e.g. Glazunov:

The Russian orchestral scherzo: Glazunov was a master of the orchestral scherzo, as is noted in reviews of many of his symphonies. I see a later development of the Russian orchestral scherzo in Stravinsky's E-Flat Major Symphony, which has a brilliant motoric one. His Scherzo, Op. 3 (1906) and Fireworks, Op. 4 (1908; a scherzo in form and character) for orchestra are in a similar vein.

Program vs. absolute music: In his neo-classical period, Stravinsky claimed the superiority of absolute music. Yet his Scherzo, op. 3 that he later described as "a piece of 'pure' symphonic music" was actually inspired by a Maurice Maeterlinck essay, The Life of Bees. So originally it was program music. Fireworks is obviously programmatic. It became Stravinsky's tryout piece for the commissioning of his ballet The Firebird, (1910).

Ballet score or concert work: Glazunov's ballet score The Seasons survives largely as a concert work. Stravinsky's ballet scores The Firebird (Suite), Petrouchka (Suite), and The Rite of Spring (as is) also are mainstream concert works. Maybe the ballet score turned into a concert work becomes program music too?

Anyway it is extraordinary for a composer to have three ballet scores continue to have such an important place in the orchestral repertoire over one hundred years after their premieres. Stravinsky is a singularity in many ways. My best composition teacher said Stravinsky always sounds like himself whether in his early ballets, his neo-classical compositions, or his serial works. Of what other composer and over such a wide spectrum of styles could one say that?
 
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