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Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades (1890) - 2.85 MB
Pushkin's original story was rewritten dramatically for Tchaikovsky's
opera, termed by Richard Taruskin "an early landmark of Russian
Symbolism" (see handout [PDF]). Synopsis
Herman is a an army officer who falls in love with Liza, the granddaughter
of a Countess who was taught the "secret of the three cards," and
was subsequently known as the Queen of Spades. She has revealed the
secret to two men, but if she reveals it to a third, she will die.
Herman becomes obsessed with learning the secret, and it costs him
his possessions, Liza and, ultimately, his own life. (In Pushkin's
original story, the love affair with Liza, although still an important
plot event, is subsidiary to Herman's obsession with the secret of
the cards. Herman is ultimately driven mad, but does not die, while
Liza goes on to live happily.)
For the curious, here's a link to Pushkin's original story; and here's a link to a fuller synopsis of Tchaikovsky's opera.
Below, I have provided MP3 tracks for all the excerpts discussed on the handout except one: Herman's love aria (the CD I have bundles it together with the entire preceding scene; not efficient or our purposes). However, Amazon.com has streaming audio of Herman's love aria in both RealPlayer and Windows Media formats. To hear the 60-second excerpt, follow directions in the table below.
|1. ACT I: Overture
(belongs to late 19th century timeframe)
|2. ACT I: Herman's love aria
(first, "innocent" appearance of "Three Cards"
|Click here and play
Disc 1, Track 4
3. ACT I: Liza/Polina duet
(evokes Pushkin's time - early 19th century)
4. ACT II: Intermezzo (Polonaise style)
(evokes Catherine's time - late 18th century)
|5. ACT II: Herman at the Ball
("After the show wait for me in the hall..." --
sinister restatement of "Three Cards" theme)
|6. ACT III: By the Winter Canal
(source of Bely's chapter heading, "Tu-Tum: Tum, Tum!"
- see Petersburg, p. 83.)
Stravinsky, Petrushka (1911) - 2.85
This first "tableau" of Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka,
based on the traditional Russian puppet theatre, depicts a Shrovetide
(i.e., Mardi Gras) Fair, with crowds of people coming and going. (Here's
to a synopsis of the ballet, complete with pictures of the original
sets by Alexander Benois!) Compare Stravinsky's use of multiple idioms
(especially folk and "popular" ones) to create a collage effect
of many voices juxtaposed, interrupting and overlaying one another,
to Blok's similar use of assorted "voices" in The Twelve
-- where "street" Russian jostles with high diction, political
sloganeering, folklore, and chastushki (short, rhymed lyrics,
often topical and generally non-serious in tone, derived from folk practice
but, in pre-Revolutionary Petersburg, often used to comment on political
or social events). See also the neo-Primitivist
paintings of Larionov and Goncharova.
Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring (1913)
- 6 MB
Again, the mp3 file represents the first scene of Stravinsky's ballet.
Here, Stravinsky has gone beyond the folk-oriented primitivism of Petrushka
into a full-blown "primalism." His driving yet jagged rhythms
evoke an imagined past that lies beyond the mediaeval Russian past preserved
in folk culture: it lies far back in a mythic, universal, originary
time (the time of Kruchenykh's "wild tribes" and Khlebnikov's
"transparent cavemen"). The crudeness of the "non-refined"/"non-aestheticized"
folk culture is traded in for the barbarity of a pagan, pre-national
culture. (Compare to the Cubo-Futurists' quest for a transrational language
and to the non-objective visual experiments of Kandinsky
Shostakovich, From Jewish Folk Poetry, Op. 79a (1948):
#1: Lament for a Dead Baby - 1 MB
for lyrics in Russian and English)
#11: Happiness - 0.75 MB
for lyrics in Russian and English)
The songs in "From Jewish Folk Poetry" are highly coloured and reflect
Gasparov calls "the paradoxical combination of hilarity and pathos"
that characterised Soviet artists' portrayals of Jewish life and, one
could argue, Babel's portrayals of almost everything (the Russian Formalist
Shklovsky wrote of Babel that "he speaks in the same tone of the
stars above and of gonorrhoea"). The timing of the cycle is also important:
Shostakovich composed it in 1948, the year in which anti-Semitism became
official policy in the USSR, and in which Shostakovich himself came
under attack official attack for the second time. (The cycle was too
subversive to be safely performed in public at that time; it eventually
received its premiere in 1955, at the beginning of the Thaw.) Richard
Russia Musically) suggests that Shostakovich's "appropriation
of Jewish folklore...was a way of identifying himself and and his colleagues,
creative artists in Stalin's Russia, with another oppressed minority."
In other words, Jewish culture became a metaphor for creativity crushed
and mutilated by the totalitarian state; a slight but significant departure
(and one presaged by Babel) from the image Jews had long enjoyed in
literature as perpetual victims.
"Happiness" is the last song of the cycle; it is interesting
because although it would seem that Shostakovich intended it as a sop
to the authorities ("Look! Happy Jews! Bravo, USSR!"), by the time of
the premiere, its final lines had acquired an ironic ring in light of
the so-called Doctor's Plot (1953), in which six prominent Jewish physicians
were arrested on charges of conspiring to kill high-ranking Politburo
officials at the behest of "an international Jewish bourgeois organization."
The line "Our sons have become doctors!" now sounded ominous rather
than joyful; the "star" that "shines over our heads" in the last line
now seemed to promise retribution rather than a chance to flourish.
Shostakovich, Antiformalist Rayok (1948-1968; lyrics here [PDF]) - 7.83 MB
The musical selection for "Jester Day" (Kharms/Zoshchenko), Shostakovich's cantata is a biting satire of the "musical activism" of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The basic facts about the piece (together with numerous links for further research) are available at Wikipedia. Fleshing out the historical background, Nikolai Kachanov explains:
Antiformalist Rayok [...] is an extraordinarily daring musical satire on the absurd structures of the Soviet bureaucracy. The word "rayok" in Russian means "little paradise," used ironically here in reference to the "heaven" attained by these buffoonish Party officials for their service to Stalin. It also evokes the title of an earlier Russian musical satire, written in 1870: Mussorgsky's Rayok (or The Puppet Show), which ridiculed members of the musical establishment ("puppets") who had criticized Mussorgsky and the "Mighty Handful" composers. Mussorsgky's Rayok satirizes the relationship between the artist and the authorities, using direct musical and verbal quotations. Shostakovich's Antiformalist Rayok continues this tradition but on a much bigger scale: here it becomes a political satire.
The St. Petersburg Musical Archive continues the story and explains the sources of biting humour in the piece (the reason it's paralleled with Zoshchenko and Kharms):
The work on [Rayok] started in May 1948 as a direct response to the events of the early months of that year. These events were the Resolutions of the Communist Party Central Committee of the 10th February, and numerous meetings (some of them lasting for weeks), rallies, and press publications denouncing those belonging to the "anti– national, formalistic line in music."
It is hard to over–emphasize the pain of the blow caused to Shostakovich by the events. The author of the Seventh "Leningrad" Symphony, which had told the whole world of the horrors of war and of heroic Russian people, and which was performed with enormous success in dozens of countries by the most prominent conductors and orchestras, was ruthlessly and pointlessly criticized in public not only by Party bosses, but also by fellow composers, musicologists, and performers. He was called a composer with "an underdeveloped sense of melody", a maker of "disgusting" music, "cacophony", and "brain–twisters".
Shostakovich was dismissed from the faculty of the Conservatory of Leningrad "as personnel reduction"; the Soviet Union's largest orchestras and performers ceased to play his music (to be on the safe side). Shostakovich offered excuses, extended "thanks for the criticism," promised to reform, and assured that he "will try to compose music that is clear and close to people." He issued an oratorio titled "Song of the Woods," a number of patriotic mass songs, and music to war movies. And in the meantime, he was secretly working on [Rayok], in which he sneered at his degraded critics and colleagues, letting loose his biting irony and sparkling wit.
[Rayok] is the only large work written by Shostakovich to his own words. The plot of [Rayok] is a meeting of 'music figures and figuresses' dedicated to "Realism and Formalism in Music". The Host successively gives the floor to three speakers. The delighted house acclaims the "experts'" speeches. The literary base of the text are the actual declarations of Party leaders of the time (Numberone [Yedinitsyn] clearly resembles Stalin, Numbertwo [Dvoikin] resembles Zhdanov who was the mastermind of the events of 1948, and Numberthree [Troikin] sounds like Shepilov), their typical speech habits, even wrong accents in words. [RJS note: Supposedly, the germ of the whole piece was the speech Shepilov made at the 1948 meeting, in which he recited the names of the "classics" whom Soviet composers should strive to emulate: "Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-KorSAkov..." (the correct pronunciation is "Rimsky-KORsakov"). At this moment,a friend recalled, Shostakovich, who had seemed to be dozing off, suddenly woke up and muttered, "Why, it's a minuet! GLIN-ka, Tchai-KOV-sky, RIM-sky-Kor-SA-kov..." He went home and wrote out this "minuet," and the rest of the piece followed.] The role of various citations in the [Rayok] music is important. For example, during the speeches of Numberone and Numbertwo we hear a continuous flourish traditional for such kind of meetings; the speech of Numberone is mainly based on the melody of the Georgian folk song Suliko so much loved by the ethnic Georgian Stalin; the final episode of Numbertwo's speech features the popular Caucasian dance Lezginka; the address of Numberthree starts with the tune of the Russian folk song Kamarinskaya, followed successively by intonations of Tikhon Khrennikov's song from the popular movie "True Friends", the Russian folk song Kalinka, and finally, in the scene with chorus, the famous chanson couplets from Planquette's comical opera The Bells of Corneville (Les cloches de Corneville).
The first version of [Rayok] was ready by the summer of 1948. Shostakovich showed it, in secrecy, to just a few of his closest friends. The sociopolitical changes of the 'Khruschev Thaw' in the late Fifties—early Sixties justified hopes for a public performance and publication of the opus, so the composer completed the second, refined version, with an enhanced role for the choir, and with a number of remarks and notes directly related to the behavior of the performers. With the ban on performance of the Thirteenth Symphony of Shostakovich in 1962, and a line of loud political trials in the Soviet Union, the hopes for a public performance of [Rayok] were dumped, but all this urged the composer to issue the third, and last, version of the opus, in which Numberthree's speech was extended and amended. According to the composer's close friends, [Rayok] in its final version was completed in 1968.
Dmitri Zhitomirski has more (scroll down to the words "10th February 1948," just over halfway-down the page).
Not "music" as such, but here's an MP3 of Nabokov reading his poem, "An Evening of Russian Poetry." Recorded at
the 92nd Street Y, April 5, 1964. (You can stream the whole evening's readings [1 hour] in RealAudio format and peruse a number of other interesting resources from The Times's Nabokov archive here.)
Music from Doctor Zhivago:
- Scriabin's symphonic poem Prometheus (1908-10; 8.2 MB) is just such a "cosmogonic symphony by the composer B -- with the spirits of the planets, voices of the four elements, etc." as Nikolai Nikolaevich Vedeniapin complains of in the quoted excerpt from his diary, p. 42. A theosophist by conviction, Scriabin was a confirmed Symbolist by aesthetics. (Interesting note: Scriabin's family and Pasternak's were neighbours in 1903; Scriabin was Pasternak's musical mentor when the latter thought of becoming a composer, and Pasternak later -- after abandoning his own musical aspiraitions -- wrote a memoir of Scriabin.)
- Music from the "January, 1906" musical evening held at the Gromekos' (p. 54; this is the event during which news comes of Lara's mother's attempted suicide).
- "...a violin sonata by a young composer, a pupil of Taneyev's..."
To the best of my musical sleuthing ability, the only likely piece I can track down that fits this description is Nikolai Medtner's Sonata No. 1 in B minor for violin and piano. The official composition dates of this work are 1909-1910, but it's possible that an early sketch for it (what we would now call a "beta version") was performed at such an intimate gathering as early as 1906 -- or that the discrepancy in dates is just another of Pasternak's efforts to muddle or obfuscate chronology.
Click here (or right-click and "Save as...") for an MP3 of the first movement (2.36 MB).
- "...a trio by Tchaikovsky..."
This must be his Trio in A minor, Op. 50 -- first performed (in 1882) "in memory of a great artist," after the funeral service for Nikolai Rubenstein, founder of the Moscow Conservatory.
Here's a short excerpt from the second movement (331 KB).
- Not strictly "music from Doctor Zhivago," but here is a beautiful setting of the Beatitudes (see pp. 49-50, 53) by Rachmaninov -- composed in 1910, "between the Revolutions" so to speak, and right in the middle of the Russian choral Golden Age. The setting brings out something interesting about that Gospel text (Matt. 5:3-12): although each line begins "Blessed are..." and the conclusion says to "Rejoice and be glad...," it's not a triumphant but rather a melancholy text; Rachmaninov sets it (largely) in a minor key. I think of this setting when I think of Lara thinking "This was about her" (49).
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