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8.550224 - TCHAIKOVSKY: Manfred Symphony / Voyevoda
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840- 1893)
Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky must be regarded as the most popular of all Russian composers, his music offering certain obvious, superficial attractions in its melodies and in the richness of its orchestral colouring. There is more to Tchaikovsky than this, and it would be a mistake to neglect his achievement because of what sometimes seems to be an excess of popular attention.
Born in Kamsko-otkinsk in 1840, the second son of a mining engineer, Tchaikovsky had his early education, in music as in everything else, at home, under the care of his mother and of a beloved governess. From the age of ten he was a pupil at the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, completing his course there in 1859 to take employment in the Ministry of Justice. During these years he developed his abilities as a musician and it must have seemed probable that he would, like his contemporaries Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, keep music as a secondary occupation, while following another career.
For Tchaikovsky matters turned out differently. The foundation of the new Conservatory of Music in St. Petersburg under Anton Rubinstein enabled him to study there as a full-time student from 1863. In 1865 he moved to Moscow as a member of the staff of the new Conservatory established by Anton Rubinstein's brother Nikolay. He continued there for some ten years, before financial assistance from a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, enabled him to leave the Conservatory and devote himself entirely to composition. The same period in his life brought an unfortunate marriage to a self-proclaimed admirer of his work, a woman who showed early signs of mental instability, and could only add further to Tchaikovsky's own problems of character and inclination. His homosexuality was a torment to him, while his morbid sensitivity and diffidence, coupled with physical revulsion for the woman he had married, led to a severe nervous break-down.
Separation from his wife, which was immediate, still left practical and personal problems to be solved. Tchaikovsky relationship with Nadezhda von Meck, however, provided not only the money that at first was necessary for his career, but also the understanding and support of a woman who, so far from making physical demands of him, never even met him face to face. This curiously remote liaison only came to an end in 1890, when, on the false plea of bankruptcy, Nadezhda von Meck discontinued an allowance that was no longer of importance, and a correspondence on which he had come to depend.
The story of Tchaikovsky' s death in St. Petersburg in 1893 is now generally known. It seems that a member of the nobility had threatened to complain to the Tsar about an alleged homosexual relationship between Tchaikovsky and his son. To avoid open scandal a court of honour of Tchaikovsky's old school-fellows met and condemned him to death, forcing him to take his own life. His death was announced as the result of cholera, and this official version of the event was, until relatively recently, generally accepted.
As a composer Tchaikovsky represented a happy synthesis of the West European or German school of composition, represented in Russia by his teacher Anton Rubinstein, and the Russian nationalists, led by the impossibly aggressive Balakirev. From Rubinstein Tchaikovsky learned his technique, while Balakirev attempted time and again to bully him into compliance with his own ideals. To the nationalists Tchaikovsky may have seemed relatively foreign. His work, after all, lacked the primitive crudity that sometimes marked their compositions. Nevertheless acceptance abroad was not universal. Hanslick, in Vienna, could deplore the rivial Cossack cheer?of the violin concerto and other works, while welcoming the absence of any apparent Russian element in the last of the six symphonies. In England and America there had been a heartier welcome, and in the latter country he had been received with an enthusiasm that exceeded even that at home.
Byron, above all other English poets of the early nineteenth century, exercised a fascination over the European imagination, seeming to writers such as Goethe or to Mazzini to be the epitome of the age. The French composer Berlioz had, in Harold in Italy, drawn inspiration from Byron Child Harold, and his visit to Russia in the winter of 1867 and a performance of the work had suggested to Vladimir Stasov, mentor and inspiration to the Five, the group of Nationalist Russian composers, the possibility of a similar orchestral work based on Byron's poetic drama Manfred.
Stasov sketched a possible programme for such a composition, and proposed to Balakirev that he should attempt the work. The latter thereupon urged Berlioz, now near the end of his life, to undertake such a composition, providing him, without acknowledgement to Stasov, with a plan for the work. Berlioz was unable to oblige him.
It was some fifteen years later that Balakirev was to renew proposals for a symphonic poem on the subject of Manfred, this time to Tchaikovsky, who had been bullied by Balakirev into the composition of Romeo and Juliet in 1870. Your Francesca suggested to me that you would be able to tackle this subject brilliantly - provided, of course, that you make an effort and criticize your own work strictly", Balakirev wrote, assuming once again the habit of command, after a break in relations with Tchaikovsky of a decade. This was in 1882. Tchaikovsky, however, rejected the notion, having no copy to hand of Byron's poem, and finding the outline proposal uninspiring.
Two years later Tchaikovsky was to meet Balakirev in St. Petersburg. his own religious doubts and uncertainties receiving some answer from the latter's newly found brand of Christianity. The subject of Manfred was again raised, and Tchaikovsky, summoned to the deathbed of his friend, the young violinist Kotek, in Switzerland, took the opportunity of reading Byron's poem. In 1885 he embarked on the work of composition, and the symphony was completed in September of the same year, to be performed in Moscow for the first time the following March. The next year he could describe it as his best symphonic work, yet by 1889 he was writing of it as .an abominable piece", and planning its destruction. The composer ambivalence towards his own work was characteristic.
Goethe, in an article written in 1808, described Byron's Manfred as a derivative of his own hero Faust. For Tchaikovsky, as for Byron, Manfred represented the figure of the outsider, an outcast from society, a role in which the composer, haunted by his own homosexuality, saw himself. In the first movement of the symphony Manfred in a Gothic gallery in his Alpine castle seeks self-oblivion, haunted by memories of forbidden love. He calls up seven spirits to his aid, one of which takes the shape of his beloved Astarte. At this Manfred falls senseless to the ground.
The second movement, the third in Stasov original outline, evokes the spirit of the Witch of the Alps, appearing in a rainbow through the spray of a waterfall, but imposing conditions on Manfred in his quest that he is unwilling to fulfil, so that he must continue fatal and fated in his suffering.
There follows a pastoral Andante con moto, a colourful picture of rural Alpine simplicity, the counterpart of Act II, Scene l of Byron work, where a chamois hunter offers Manfred what comfort he can, his wine seeming to the latter blood that mingled as he and his beloved "loved each other as we should not love."
The final movement opens in the subterranean hall of Arimanes, in the form of a globe of fire, surrounded by spirits and Nemesis and the Destinies. The spirit of Astarte is summoned, an ideal vision, who announces Manfred's coming death. The phantom disappears, and the last scene brings Manfred's death, an equivocal end. In the words of the Abbat, in Byron's poem:He's gone - his soul hath ta'en its earthless flight;
Whither? I dread to think - but he is gone.
The Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz occupies a position of the greatest importance in the history of nineteenth century Romantic nationalism. Born in Lithuania, he spent some years in comfortable political exile in Russia, but was for the last 25 years of his life, until his death in 1855, resident largely in Paris, a member of the Polish 幦igr?group that formed part of the circle of George Sand, Chopin's mistress and lecturing at the College de France on Slavonic literature, mingled with his own increasingly eccentric notions about the Messianic role of Poland in world history. Contemporary enthusiasts compared him with Goethe and with Byron, and his work apparently provided inspiration for Chopin's Ballades as well as texts for songs for other composers. Pushkin, one year his junior, took Mickiewicz as a source for his ballad The Voyevode, the basis of Tchaikovsky's work.
Tchaikovsky sketched his symphonic ballad The Voyevode in the autumn of 1890, while he was staying with his brother Anatoly in Tblisi (Tiflis), but there were to be some delays in orchestrating the piece, completed only after his visit to Paris, en route to the United States of America, in 1891, and his discovery of a new instrument, the celesta, put to better known use in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The story of the ballad concerns a Voyevode, a noble warrior, who surprises his wife in infidelity and bids his servant shoot her: in error the servant kills his master instead. Sinister in effect, the work may reflect in some measure the composer's sombre reaction to the breach of relations with Nadezhda von Meck, whose letter of apparent rejection he had received in Tblisi in October 1890. The Voyevode was performed for the first time in Moscow on 18th November 1891 in a programme that included Grieg's new Piano Concerto. Tchaikovsky conducted, but, in spite of the good reception given to the work, resolved to destroy it, fearing, with his usual diffidence, that his powers were declining. The score was later reconstructed from the orchestral parts.
Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
Lenard's work with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for OPUS operas by Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.
For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies by Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov.
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