Considered to be ‘the father of modern Russian music’, Mikhail Glinka’s nationalistic style would impact on all Russian composers who were to follow him, including such legendary composers as Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.
In a conversation with the Director of St Petersburg’s Imperial Theatre, it was suggested to Glinka that he write an opera based on the poem, Ruslan and Ludmilla by Pushkin. Pushkin was to be the librettist, however he was killed before work began on the opera. The overture is full of operatic, Rossini-esque energy, with a greater depth of strong, Russian nationalistic pride.
©Andrew Doyle 2016
(Soloist: Benjamin Kopp)
With a rich, orchestral accompanying palette that includes a large string section, double winds, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum and cymbals, the writing for the piano soloist needed to be masterful. Equal to this challenge, Sergei Rachmaninov completed composition of this concerto in 1901, and was himself the soloist for its premiere in Moscow in November of that year.
The last three years of the 19th century were a period of great upset for Rachmaninov, and despite a tour to London in 1898 and other regular performances, he composed no new works between 1897 and 1900. All his life, he was prone to anxiety and depression, and it was at the urging of his family that he visited Dr Nikolai Dahl, known for using hypnosis to cure alcoholism, as well as being a talented amateur violinist.
Dahl set Rachmaninov a goal of returning to composition by composing a new piano concerto, and a tour of Europe in 1900 inspired the composer to sketch this new concerto. Upon return to Russia, no longer the character that Stravinsky had dubbed the ‘six and-a-half-foot scowl’, he completed the 2nd and 3rd movements by autumn, and had completed the concerto by the following summer. The premiere was a triumph, and Rachmaninov went on to perform it around the world, cementing its place as one of the greatest piano concertos of all time.
©Andrew Doyle 2016
(Soloist: Anthony Heinrichs)
The Bright Seraphim (commissioned by Anthony Heinrichs with the generous financial support of Pyrmont New Music) is a piccolo trumpet concerto in the sense that it is for small trumpet and orchestra and in the sense that it is a short work. Viewed in traditional concerto form, The Bright Seraphim lacks a first movement. Instead, it opens with a reflection on silence inspired by a verse in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Coleridge)
This seraph band, each waved his hand,
No voice did they impart –
No voice; but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.
It closes with a hymn to joyful noise inspired by lines from Blest Pair of Sirens (Milton)
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row
Their loud uplifted angel-trumpets blow,
The Bright Seraphim is part of a series of recent pieces by Jim Coyle concerned with angels, and finishes with the exuberant optimism that is characteristic of much of his music.
©Jim Coyle 2016
As World War II drew to its end, with the Soviet army pushing into Germany, Shostakovich informed the Russian media that he was composing a Victory Symphony. He announced that it would be a large scale work with soloists and chorus, but wished to avoid any comparison with other famous ‘choral ninth symphonies’.
The premiere produced mixed responses, as the finished product was nothing like its introduction. It was much shorter than his previous symphonies. In fact there are single movements in his fourth, seventh and eight symphonies that are longer than the entire ninth! Shostakovich commented that, ‘musicians will like to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it’, by composing a work in complete contrast to the momentous offering that he had promised previously. The New York World-Telegram famously wrote, ‘The Russian composer should not have expressed his feelings about the defeat of Nazism in such a childish manner’, reflecting the views of many critics, including the Soviet party who censured the symphony in 1948 for its failure to reflect the true spirit of the people of the Soviet Union.
Often alluded to Shostakovich’s ‘Classical’ symphony, this work is brief in length and form (compared to his other epic symphonies), and frequently takes on a light, chamber music quality. The first movement is in textbook, classical sonata form, with a quirky piccolo theme featuring, and true low-brass fashion, the trombone responds with a brief, but fortissimo statement. A mournful, soaring clarinet solo introduces the second movement, evolving into a beautiful passage of wind chamber music. The third, fourth and fifth movements are played attacca, announced by intense brass, which ebbs and flows, until again the brass threaten us in the largo, with sad bassoon interjections. The second bassoon solo introduces the theme for the finale, which whilst often having a distinct dance-feel, reminds us of the Soviet victory march that it was originally intended for.
©Andrew Doyle 2016