Classical Music Forum banner
101 - 120 of 149 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #101 · (Edited)
... Soon to come -- an interesting take on certain earlier 19th-century composers: Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Rubinstein, & Balakirev.
We're into the home stretch now -- going back to the beginning of our time period for Russian orchestral music to pick up composers passed over, or to touch on other significant matters. On a Google search you can find a Yale University doctoral dissertation by Kirill Zinkanov, Listening to Russian Orchestral Music, 1850-70 (2018: published by ProQuest on an open-access basis), that provides analyses of certain works by Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Rubinstein, and Balakirev from a revisionist point of view. These just happened to be the earlier "composers passed over" I'd been avoiding out of indecision or ignorance -- a meaningful coincidence! As for "revisionism" I can't go into that here more than to say that since 1989, both in Russia and globally, new sources and new musicological thinking have changed perceptions of 19th century Russian classical music. The prodigious Richard Taruskin has been the most influential scholar but there a number of other important ones. And in turn, revisions to the new musicological thinking including the dissertation mentioned above have been put forward as well.

With Glinka, the works Zinkanov cites are Kamarinskaya (1848), Spanish Overture No. 1 (or Jota Aragonesa, 1845), and Spanish Overture No. 2 (or Memory of a Summer Night in Madrid, 1851). The author says they should all be understood as "fantasias." Glinka's wording in an 1845 letter was "concert pieces for orchestra entitled fantaisies pittoresques ... that communicate differently both to connoisseurs and to the ordinary public" (p. 15.) This genre would be different from the more difficult-to-comprehend orchestral symphony or concerto.

For the Spanish-themed compositions Glinka spent considerable time collecting music in Spain. For Kamarinskaya he used two Russian themes. One revisionist claim the author makes is that this work has been wrongly rated higher than the Spanish ones ostensibly for formal reasons but actually more for Russian nationalistic reasons, Glinka being the progenitor of Russian Romantic music and the model for the Mighty Five. In Kamarinskaya Glinka makes individualistic use of the theme as ostinato (while varying the counterpoint or orchestral background: called ostinato-variation) and of melodic variation, in the latter case ingeniously modifying the dance theme so it becomes the wedding theme. Previous analysts including Taruskin placed this and other procedures on a higher level than simple melodic ornamentation in the Spanish works. (to be continued)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #102 · (Edited)
(continued)

Two Russian critics V. Shastov (promoter of the Mighty Handful) and A. Serov (a well-known composer also) had derived from the highly-respected 19th-century German theorist A.B. Marx a flexible sense of what the fantasia could be. From there the author identifies three different models in the three fantasias: (1) the ostinato-variation in Kamarinskaya; (2) variations embedded in a sonata form in Jota Aragonesa; (3) a series of dances representing remembered scenes in Summer Night in Madrid. According to Marx the fantasia has no fixed form but is best defined by tracking stability and motion throughout the work, along with the possibility of an extramusical program being a defining factor in the composition. It is more about following the piece move in time than about some overall architecture. In additional to formal distinction, there is also merit in the fantasias' subtleties of instrumentation and texture. Because I've been trying to decide whether or not Glinka stays in the Favored Composers list the standing of the two Spanish works is significant. The author and repeated listening to the works have convinced me of the equal merits of all three fantasias, and therefore Glinka stays in the Favored list. (end)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #103 · (Edited)
The Glinka posts have been a hard slog! Moving on to Mily Balakirev (1837-1910), he is one of our Favored Composers and that won't change. Balakirev was an outstanding pianist who also had the good fortune to gain experience in conducting and composition at a young age; he was an innovator who preferred innovative composers. Following Kirill Zinkanov's dissertation we'll look at three Balakirev overtures in relation to Glinka's fantasias. His Overture on Three Russian Themes (1858) has a lot of repetition-plus-variation like Glinka's fantasias, along with an outline of sonata form. What the dissertation proves is that Glinka's Spanish fantasias influenced this work significantly; only the themes with their three-bar phrases are Russian. According to the author Balakirev's later Russian Overture on Three Russian Themes (1864) continues his earlier procedures including the sonata form structure. But harmony and formal treatment are more complex, along with Berlioz-influenced orchestration; long woodwind pedal tones are frequent. The innovative Schumann and Liszt became additional influences. At this point Balakirev was under pressure to add extra-musical nationalistic explanations to his instrumental compositions. The work's revision is titled Russia and identified as a symphonic poem with an after-the-fact "program." Balakirev's Overture on Czech Themes (1867) appeared later as the "symphonic poem" In Bohemia with the merest scrap of a program that obviously he did not take seriously.

The author continues with Balakirev's two symphonies and "real" symphonic poem Tamara. My final take-away from him is that while 19th-century and Soviet commentary was distorted and overly nationalist, certain revisionists e.g. Richard Taruskin, dismiss distinctions between the nationalist and the internationalist Russians too much. The famous division between the nationalist Mighty Five (Balakirev, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov) and the internationalists (Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky) was not constant or consistent, but it was there.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #104 ·
I've always been impressed with the orchestral and piano works of Mily Balakirev. Has anyone ever heard his early Octet for flute, oboe, horn, violin, viola, cello, bass and piano? Balakirev gave it an opus no. (no. 3) so he must have thought something of it. Sadly only the 15-minute opening movement has survived but there are performances of it on YT and I think it has been recorded.

I did once have a disc each by Steinberg and Lyapunov but neither aroused in me the desire to investigate further.
In post #103 there is some discussion of three of Balakirev's overtures, which I am convinced are excellent works now I understand more of what he was trying to do and I think accomplished. That included finding a point between popular and classical styles, as did his mentor Glinka in his fantasias.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #106 ·
I will: The Stone Guest is a terrific opera. Short, beautifully scored, an intelligible story, good music. I'd rather listen to it than any opera of Mozart or Verdi. A real group effort, too: Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov completed it. It's unfortunate that it is so hard to get: the DVD of it is atrocious, just godawful production. The Ermler recording is out-of-print.
Listened to following Glinka's and Balakirev's, Alexander Dargomyzhsky's orchestral fantasies are a step forward that is at the same time controversial. They include: I.Baba-Ÿaga or from the Volga to Riga, fantaisie-scherzo (1862); II.Kazachok, fantasy on a Cossack theme (1864); and III.Fantasy on Finnish Melodies, or Chukhon Fantasy (1867). The three appear on YouTube in a recording as Three Pieces for Orchestra by the USSR SO/Svetlanov, but I don't see them in the current catalogue. They were among his most popular and innovative works, and I enjoy them too. But insofar as they depict some ethnic minorities within the Russian Empire in unflattering ways there are political problems. To be continued.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #107 ·
Listened to following Glinka's and Balakirev's, Alexander Dargomyzhsky's orchestral fantasies are a step forward that is at the same time controversial. They include: I. Baba-Ÿaga or from the Volga to Riga, fantaisie-scherzo (1862); II. Kazachok, fantasy on a Cossack theme (1864); and III. Fantasy on Finnish Melodies, or Chukhon Fantasy (1867). The three appear on YouTube in a recording as Three Pieces for Orchestra by the USSR SO/Svetlanov, but I don't see them in the current catalogue. They were among his most popular and innovative works, and I enjoy them too. But insofar as they depict some ethnic minorities within the Russian Empire in unflattering ways there are political problems. To be continued.
Baba-Ÿaga is in three sections, intended according to Zikanov to show the difference between Russians and Germans. In the first the serious Russians have a slow lamenting theme followed by modal ostinato variations, one with a violin melody over the theme and the next enriched with brass harmonies. In the third we visit the Baltic Germans of Riga who unlike the Volga Russians are supposed to be banal and conventional, represented by diatonic harmony and dull orchestration. In between is the witch Baba-Ÿaga who enters with grotesque slashing strings and magically flies from the Volga to Riga. For me it doesn't work with the music because the Germans' "banal" music in triple time isn't bad at all. Dargomyzhsky has a deft hand with syncopation and counterpoint; it's his fresh original music that attracts.

Kazachok is more sophisticated musically, featuring Ukrainian melodies of the Zaporozyhe Cossacks with ostinato-variations followed by melodic variations. Of particular interest are the colorful alternation of a major triad's fifth with the minor sixth above, and the cadences closing on the augmented chord. The Chukhon Fantasy goes further with third-related keys and the harmonic influence of Liszt's orchestral works, the whole-tone scale also making an appearance. It's a great listen. Tchaikovsky insightfully describes the composer's harmony as "savoury" whereas Glinka's is "sweet and savoury." For Dargomyzhsky I would add the word "spicy" (perhaps orientalist) with coloristic qualities that attracted the Impressionists. That the intention had to do with drunken peasants shows a level of condescension: in that respect Kazachok tragically reminds us of long-term echoes in today's Ukraine.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #108 ·
The last of the four Russian composers discussed in Kirill Zikanov's dissertation is Anton Rubinstein (1829-1884). Rubinstein poses a particular dilemma -- I value his many accomplishments and great ability at composition, but don't find his music compelling. My opinions are essentially the same as those engagingly expressed by mhaub in post #96. As for Zikhnanov, he is more appreciative of Rubinstein's music than I am. He presents an eloquence defence of the composer, in the face of criticism of Rubinstein for insufficient Russian nationalism and for favoring an "international" (read German) compositional approach. He also notes antisemitism as an aspect of the deprecation of Rubinstein that is well-documented.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #110 · (Edited)
Following up on posts #47, #50, #51, and #53, here is my latest (I think penultimate) version of the lists promised for this thread.

Most Favored Composers (no change): Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff

Favored Composers: Glinka, Borodin, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Ippolitov-Ivanov, Kalinnikov, Glière, Miaskovsky

NEW CATEGORY -- Valuable Listening: Dargomyzhsky, Lyapunov, Gretchaninov, Medtner, Steinberg

Composers Worth Considering: A. Rubinstein, Cui, Davidov, Liadov, Taneev, Arensky, Catoire, Blumenthal, Conus, Dobrowen

The Valuable Listening list is of composers I've decided upon as valuable but after repeated listening and deliberation not quite in the "favored" lists. That is a tough distinction. Re composers in the Composers Worth Considering list, their position is still undecided; please let me know of your opinions and suggestions. Same with any changes you'd like on the other lists. Please remember that I am listening to concertos & concertante works (including those by composers who did not write much or any other orchestral music -- Medtner, Davidov, Conus, Dobrowen), but not commenting on them.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #111 ·
My two favorite Russian symphonic pictures are by Borodin (In Central Asia) and Mussorgsky (A Night on Bald Mountain). A number of posters on this thread have identified these two composers as favorites. Borodin's inclusion on my list of Favored Composers is strengthened by his three symphonies. As for Mussorgsky who is also on the list, well, there aren't any other orchestral works. The best I can do is to mention that his original and beloved cycle of piano pieces Pictures at an Exhibition became the work orchestrated by a different composer (Ravel) that is most firmly established in the symphonic repertoire. An arbitrary choice then, Mussorgsky, but it "feels right."
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #112 · (Edited)
In view of Russia's current attack on Ukraine I thought of setting this thread aside. However, I think ignorance is not a good thing and it's better to keep on checking out Russian nineteenth century orchestral works until the thread's goal is reached. Actually, Russia has been difficult for me already. Not knowing the language is one thing; another is not having a feel for the country.

The symphonies of Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915) I find to be a mixed bag. No. 1 (1874) is dry, labored and repetitive. No. 2 (1877-78; completed and edited by V. Blok) is much better, notably in pacing and variety. In the particularly good opening movement the composer's strengths come to the fore: contrapuntal treatment of motifs, effective writing for woodwinds. Same in the slow movement although the counterpoint becomes a bit relentless towards the end. Taneyev seems to revel in martial music as is seen in the finale, though there are some clichés. Symphony No. 3 (1884) has a lovely pastoral third movement in siciliano rhythm. I found the opening movement less engaging than that of No. 2; on the other hand its harmony is more advanced. He has picked up the practice of Dargomyzhsky and Balakirev discussed in post #107 of alternating augmented and major triads using alternation of the top note from the flat 6th above the bass to the 5th. The finale is a romp -- good to hear Taneyev letting his hair down in this folk-dance-like movement! The best symphony of all in No. 4 (1896-98). To be continued.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,901 Posts
My two favorite Russian symphonic pictures are by Borodin (In Central Asia) and Mussorgsky (A Night on Bald Mountain). A number of posters on this thread have identified these two composers as favorites.
But do you like Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain or Rimsky-Korsakov's arrangement? The latter is what is usually played and by far the best known. The composer's original is substantially different and quite bizarre. Stokowski's version is also worth checking out.

In the Steppes of Central Asia is such a beautiful work that is not played nearly enough anymore. And are you aware of different versions of it? Not that Borodin had anything to do with it, but some Soviet music idiot decided it needed sleigh bells. There have been several recordings of that monstrous perversion. Most surprisingly was Charles Gerhardt did it that way in his Reader's Digest recording (once available on Menuet).
 
  • Like
Reactions: Roger Knox

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #114 ·
But do you like Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain or Rimsky-Korsakov's arrangement? ... In the Steppes of Central Asia is such a beautiful work that is not played nearly enough anymore. And are you aware of different versions of it? ...
mbhaub, Good questions and I will get to them shortly. Fortunately these two works are outstanding and not long, so it is both worthwhile and feasible to consider other versions.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #115 ·
If you like those composers (! sure do!) there's another who is quit obscure but well worth seeking out: Alexander Sergeievich Taneyev (1850-1918). This isn't the well-known Taneyev, but his uncle. The only music of his I've heard is on a Marco Polo disc from 1988. It has the Symphony no. 2 and Suite no.2. Both are in the Russian National mold and are thoroughly enjoyable for what they are. The symphony in particular doesn't ramble on.
A. Taneyev and S. Taneyev.

mhaub, Thanks for mentioning Alexander Taneyev. Both Taneyevs are late romantic composers, but Alexander's Symphony No. 2 (1903) is more colourful and popular in style with neither the contrapuntal sinews nor the striving for the heights of Sergei's four. I especially like the pensive slow movement. It is not fair to rate him in comparison to Sergei who was a genius. Like you I find the work enjoyable and will add Alexander Taneyev to the list of Valuable Composers. In addition to the Marco Polo recording that is in the catalogue, there also is a 2021 re-release of the Symphony No. 2 and Suite No. 2 by the Philharmonic Hungarica/Werner-Andreas Albert on Amadis.

Among his symphonies Sergei Taneyev's crowning achievement is No. 4 in C Minor (1896-98). It is difficult to maintain a polyphonic (many-voiced) texture together with clear and dramatically-conceived symphonic form but Taneyev did it splendidly. The first movement is energized from the beginning by stretto (close imitation of themes). Relief comes with the lyrical second theme. Again avoiding too much bombast, the development section thins out and the recapitulation barely sneaks in. The expressive slow movement begins with a long noble melody in A-flat major; notice especially a labored, ingeniously-harmonized ascending passage leading to a high pastoral section later on. The pastoral mood recurs with the Scherzo's opening: an oboe melody is joined later by the flute and clarinet. Taneyev carries Beethovenian syncopation to further levels of ingenuity and so do surprises in phrasing and harmony. Brass instruments build up the action, with calls suggesting the hunt and changes of direction the chase. The Finale is march-like at times, exciting and never rigid. At the beginning of this thread I included Sergei Tanayev among the Favored Composers but after hearing his Symphony No. 1 I dropped him a notch. Now he is once again one of the Favored!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,901 Posts
Just a sad note. For some reason I felt a desire to put on Tchaikovsky's 6th, the Pathetique. After another day watching the horrific events unfolding in Ukraine, the 6th seemed the only thing. I listened to the symphony with new ears; the finale was heartbreaking and devastating in a way it never was before. I'm rehearsing the 2nd ~ the Little Russian ~ and it seems so inappropriate. No time for happiness.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Roger Knox

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #117 · (Edited)
The orchestral output of Anatoly Liadov (1855-1914) includes miniatures belonging to several genres. Instrumental timbre, texture, and mood are among the features that make them memorable. Surely the fable-tableau The Enchanted Lake (1909) is the most distinguished, with harmonies shifting as string trills and tremolos, pitched percussion, and subtle winds and brass enter and exit, leaving a luminous impression. The key word is "enchanted" and to me it connects with the world of Russian symbolism, which was a prominent artistic movement at the time of composition. Also drawn from the supernatural is Baba-Yaga (1905), a short musical picture of the witch from Russian folklore that is represented here by a contrabassoon. Kikimora (1909) is a legend for orchestra again depicting witches. It is harmonically advanced with chromatic characteristics based on the minor third interval, and in the fast section on the augmented triad. The ballade About Olden Times (1906) and the symphonic picture From the Apocalypse (1912) have a more rhetorical style of expression. There are a number of recordings of these and other Liadov orchestral miniatures in the catalogue; notable among them is that by the BBC Symphony/Sinaisky (2011) on Chandos. Another composer for the Valued Listening group.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #118 · (Edited)
Just a sad note. For some reason I felt a desire to put on Tchaikovsky's 6th, the Pathetique. After another day watching the horrific events unfolding in Ukraine, the 6th seemed the only thing. I listened to the symphony with new ears; the finale was heartbreaking and devastating in a way it never was before. I'm rehearsing the 2nd ~ the Little Russian ~ and it seems so inappropriate. No time for happiness.
Thank you. Yes what is happening in Ukraine is almost beyond words. Your word "devastating" struck me -- the connection of the physical and the emotional and Tchaikovsky's Pathetique. As for you rehearsing the Little Russian Symphony No. 2, I think "Little Russia" is what Ukraine was called at that time. And the symphony includes three Ukrainian folk songs.

I'm winding up this thread soon and will get onto other things. There will be nothing political here and I'm distressed too.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #119 · (Edited)
I'm winding up this thread soon and will get onto other things. There will be nothing political here and I'm distressed too.
Shouldn't have said I'm winding up the thread; it will remain open and I'll continue to post and welcome other posts and opinions. Read an article about how far boycotts of things Russian should go. My opinion is that we shouldn't remain indifferent in the current situation, but it's political & therefore banned by TC in this forum.

There is a possible value in holding past Russian cultural achievements as a contrast to the present, but I do respect others who disagree with that notion. Will continue with Arensky and maybe Catoire, plus more on different versions of In Central Asia and Night on Bald Mountain.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,371 Posts
Discussion Starter · #120 ·
I have read different opinions about the symphonies of Anton Arensky (1861-1906) on TalkClassical; for me both works are successful and enjoyable. He wasn't trying for a towering achievement like that of Taneyev in the Symphony No. 4. Arensksy was known for the elegance and instrumental effectiveness of his music; the symphonies draw on those strengths but also on his abilities in melody, harmony, and creation of mood. Symphony No. 1 in B Minor (1883) opens in crisis with slow low brass tones. The allegro begins with a skipping motif followed by the major-key second theme. The Andante pastorale movement is in graceful 6/8 time, with attractive sonorities followed by a more ominous section punctuated by brass entries. The Scherzo is in 5/4 meter (3+2), appearing some years before the famous 5/4 waltz of Tchaikovsky's Sixth. The Finale based on a folk-like theme has interesting harmony and use of suspensions, ending happily. Arensky's later Fantasia for Orchestra: Marguerite Gautier (1886) based on La dame aux camellias by A. Dumas is also notable for its harmony.

The cyclic Symphony No. 2 in A Major (1889) is more concise than No. 1 and its four movements are connected. The energetic opening movement has many syncopations and a catchy motif with the rhythm "BOP de-de bop bop BAH__bop," which recurs in the finale. The slow Romance begins with a horn melody, then a long theme for solo cello. The flute joins in with counterpoint and the mood becomes nocturnal. There are mixed meters in the following charming and light-footed Intermezzo, which frames a more rustic and full-bodied Trio section. An effective fugue closes the Finale, where several previous-stated themes recur. Arensky composed orchestral music in other genres and his Piano Concerto has a particularly beautiful slow movement; he is a Favored Composer.
 
101 - 120 of 149 Posts
Top