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2.110530 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - RUSSIA and UKRAINE: St. Petersburg, Sebastopol, Odessa (NTSC)
A Musical Tour of Russia and Ukraine
St Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great as the new capital of the Russian empire. It was renamed Petrograd and then Leningrad, before reverting to its original name. The marshy ground of the Field of Mars was drained in the 19th century to provide an area for military manoeuvres. It was later redesigned as a form of war memorial. The Summer Gardens were laid out on the initiative of Peter the Great, later to be redesigned on a less formal pattern by Catherine the Great. The Church on Spilled Blood, with its brightly coloured onion domes and ornate façade, was built to mark the place where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1883. The Marïinsky Theatre takes its name from the wife of Alexander II, the Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna. Under the Soviet regime it became the Kirov, but has now reverted to its original name. The triumphal Narva Arch, initially a wooden structure, later rebuilt in stone, was erected to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon in 1812. The Tikhvin Cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery contains the graves of many important Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Zelenogorsk lies on the Gulf of Finland, some miles from the city. Penaty, named after the household gods of Rome, is the dacha of the artist Ilya Repin, whose studio is preserved as a museum. Repino, some 30 miles to the north-west of St Petersburg, is named after him. Yelagin Island lies in the delta of the River Neva. Yelagin Palace, once the property of a nobleman, was acquired by Alexander I for his mother and rebuilt in neo-classical style by Carlo Rossi.
Music Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto, Op. 35: I. Allegro moderato
In 1877 Tchaikovsky had contracted an imprudent marriage which led to immediate separation and the composer’s breakdown and apparent attempt at suicide. The patronage of a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, whom Tchaikovsky was, by agreement, never to meet face to face, allowed him to resign from his position at Moscow Conservatory, and at first he chose to recover from the disturbances in his life by a period spent abroad. It was in March 1878 that he began work on his Violin Concerto, helped in his task by the practical assistance of the young Conservatory violinist Kotek, drawing some inspiration from Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, which they played through together. The new concerto was offered to Leopold Auer, the leading violinist in Russia, but he rejected it as unviolinistic. The first performance, instead, fell to the young violinist Adolf Brodsky, who played it in Vienna two years later, to the disapproval of at least one influential critic. Auer later took the concerto into his own repertoire. The first movement of the concerto opens with a brief introduction, interrupted as the soloist leads to his first theme. The second subject is followed by a development which seems about to return to the first subject, but, instead, offers a new theme in its place. An exciting cadenza leads back to the principal theme once more, a reworking of the exposition and a brilliant conclusion. [Recommended recordings Naxos 8.550153 and 8.557690]
It was only towards the end of his life that Tchaikovsky found a suitable refuge for himself in a house he rented in 1892 at Klin, 55 miles north-west of Moscow. He was unable to spend much time at Klin, but after his early death in 1893, from whatever cause, his brother Modest arranged for rooms in the house to be preserved as a memorial to the composer, some of whose possessions are to be seen there. Sebastopol offers a distinct contrast, with the nearby remains of the ancient Greek colony of Chersonesus. The name of what became a base for the Russian navy, leased from Ukraine after the latter’s independence, is familiar from the Crimean War, when it was defended against siege, as in World War II.
Music Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto, Op. 35 –
The original slow movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto seemed less satisfactory in this context and was replaced by the present Canzonetta. Introduced by wind instruments, it allows the soloist a typically Russian melody, the substance of the movement, before the intense nervous energy and brilliance of the sparkling finale.
Odessa owes its name and its creation to Catherine the Great, who expanded the Russian empire to the south and had a new town built on an earlier village. Odessa soon became important as a Black Sea port and its further development was in good part due to the Duc de Richelieu, the first governor of the city in the early 19th century, who imparted a certain French character to the place. It was in Odessa that Pushkin spent a year of exile, a stay commemorated by a statue to the poet. The Potemkin Steps, with a statue of the Duc de Richelieu at their head, were given additional fame in Eisenstein’s film The Battleship Potemkin, about the mutiny of 1905.
Music Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings, Op. 48 – I. Pezzo in forma di Sonatina
Tchaikovsky wrote his Serenade for Strings in the winter of 1880-81 and dedicated it to the cellist Konstantin Albrecht. Perhaps first conceived as either a symphony or a string quartet, the Serenade has something of symphonic structure in its movements, related by key. The first of these opens with a slower introduction, followed by the two subjects on which the movement is based. The opening returns in conclusion. [Recommended recordings Naxos 8.550404 and 8.554048]
The country chalets and houses, known as dachas, provide city-dwellers with a break from urban life, with spring allowing trips to the countryside and summer offering further country respite.
Music Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings, Op. 48 – II. Walzer
In the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade we are reminded of his prowess as a composer of ballet. The waltz melodies of the movement bring with them admirably calculated contrasts of key and movement in music that never ceases to be suavely lyrical.
The River Neva offers an evocative sight, with its buildings bordering the river, its churches and palaces, seen in silhouette against the night sky, of short duration in summer at this northern latitude.
Music Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings, Op. 48 – III. Elégie
The Elégie of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade is more obviously Russian in inspiration. Here the composer’s genius for melody is coupled with a remarkably deft handling of string texture and a subtle manipulation of what is, in effect, a simple scale.
The bridges of St Petersburg offer a study in themselves. The Lion Bridge, a suspension bridge built in 1825-26, has sculpted lions holding the bridge cables. The Lieutenant Shmidt Bridge has cast-iron sea-horses in its railings, the Egyptian Bridge reflects fashions of 1826 and the Anichkov Bridge of 1839-41 has sculptures of men taming wild horses at each corner. These bridges cross the various rivers and canals that make the city a northern Venice.
Music Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings, Op. 48 – IV. Finale (Tema russo)
The Finale of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade has an opening that leads gently from the key and mood of the preceding Elégie to a Russian melody, based on a descending scale, a provenance that is emphasized, finally illuminating the origin of the opening bars and the genesis of the whole work.
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