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8.553247 - RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Snow Maiden / GLINKA: Overture
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804 - 1857)
Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 - 1908)
Glinka, the older of the composers represented in the present Russian festival, was born on his family's estate near Smolensk and brought up at first by his grandmother. His schooling in St. Petersburg brought him into wider contact with Western music and his later career, initially with a government sinecure in the Ministry of Communications, allowed him to pursue a somewhat irregular course of musical activity as a composer and as a drawing-room performer. Travel to Italy and later to Germany gave him an opportunity to broaden his experience still further, and to acquire, through lessons with Siegfried Dehn in Berlin, some technical competence as a composer.
In 1834, on the death of his father, Glinka returned to Russia, already entertaining thoughts of composing really Russian music. By 1836 he had completed an opera that he had at first called Ivan Susanin, later to be known as A Life for the Tsar. The work, based on historical events of 1612, when the Russian Susanin was instrumental in saving the new Romanov Tsar from the Polish army, established Glinka's reputation as the leading Russian composer of the time. Promoted to the position of Kapellmeisterto the Tsar, he proceeded to write a second opera, Ruslan and Ludmilla, based on a poem by Push kin, a Persian fairy-tale in which the heroine, Ludmilla, is abducted by a wicked dwarf, but is finally rescued by her beloved Ruslan. At its first performance in 1842 the work was not well received, but grew in favour as time went on. The brilliant overture remains a popular concert item.
Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov originally intended a naval career, following the example of his elder brother. He showed some musical ability even as a very small child, but at the age of fourteen he entered the Naval Cadet College in St. Petersburg in pursuit of a more immediately attractive ambition. The city, in any case, offered musical opportunities. He continued piano lessons, but, more important than this, he was able to enjoy the opera and attend his first concerts.
It was in 1861, the year before he completed his course at the Naval College, that Rimsky-Korsakov met Balakirev, a musician who was to become an important influence on him, as he was on the young army officers Mussorgsky and Cui, who already formed part of his circle. The meeting had a far-reaching effect on Rimsky-Korsakov's career, although in 1862 he set sail as a midshipman on a cruise that was to keep him away from Russia for the next two and a half years.
On his return in 1865 Rimsky-Korsakov fell again under the influence of Balakirev. On shore there was more time for music and the encouragement he needed for a serious application to music that resulted in compositions in which he showed his early ability as an orchestrator and his deftness in the use of Russian themes, a gift that Balakirev did much to encourage as part of his campaign to create a truly Russian form of music. In 1871 he took a position as professor of instrumentation and composition at St. Petersburg Conservatory and the following year he resigned his commission in the navy, to become a civilian Inspector of Naval Bands, a position created for him through personal and family influence.
Rimsky-Korsakov's subsequent career was a distinguished one. At the same time he accepted the duty of completing and often orchestrating works left unfinished by other composers of the new Russian school. As early as 1869 Dargomizhsky had left him the task of completing the opera The Stone Guest. Twenty years later he was to perform similar tasks for the music of Mussorgsky and for Borodin, both of whom had left much undone at the time of their deaths.
Relations with Balakirev were not always easy and Rimsky-Korsakov was to become associated with Belyayev and his schemes for the publication of new Russian music, a connection that Balakirev could only see as disloyalty. There were other influences on his composition, particularly with his first hearing of Wagner's Ring in 1889 and consequent renewed attention to opera, after a brief period of depression and silence, the result of illness and death in his family.
Rimsky-Korsakov was involved in the troubles of 1905, when he sided with the Conservatory students, joining with some colleagues in a public demand for political reform, an action that brought his dismissal from the institution, to which he was able to return when his pupil and friend Glazunov became director the following year. He died in 1908.
The opera Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) is based on a play by Ostrovsky, itself following a Russian folk-tale. Rimsky-Korsakov was fascinated by this vision of ancient Russian paganism and began work on the music during the summer of 1880, which he and his wife spent in a comfortable rented country-house at Stelovo, completing a rough draft of the score by August, after a mere three months. The orchestration was made during the following months in St. Petersburg, where it was first performed a year later, on 10th February 1882.
The Snow Maiden, daughter of Spring and Winter, is safe from the power of the sun, her father's old enemy, as long as she lives without love. With snow running in her veins, this is not difficult, until her proud mother endows her with more nearly mortal characteristics. She chooses to live a mortal life and a merchant, Mizgir, falls in love with her, abandoning his own beloved. When the Snow Maiden returns his love, she falls victim to the sun, and Mizgir kills himself. In the music Rimsky-Korsakov draws widely on Russian folk-song, as, for example, in the Dance of the Birds in the Prologue. The suite includes a processional for the fairy-tale Tsar Byeryendyey and a dance of the clowns for his entertainment.
The Golden Cockerel, Rimsky-Korsakov's last opera, generally known under the French version of its title, was completed in September, 1907, but not staged until 1909. The work had aroused the suspicion of the authorities in St. Petersburg, and the composer had, in any case, been on uneasy terms with the royal family. The Tsar himself had personally expressed his dissatisfaction with the completed opera-ballet Mlada and the opera Christmas Eve and had asked for something more cheerful than the opera Sadko for the Imperial Theatres.
To The Golden Cockerel there was the added objection that the piece might be regarded as subversive, a satire on the Tsar himself and his handling of the war with Japan. Based on a poem by Push kin, the story tells of the miraculous golden cockerel, given by the Astrologer to old King Dodon, a bird that crows at any sign of danger. At the start of the opera, introduced by the Astrologer as a moral tale, the King and his council discuss how to deal with imminent foreign attack. The King's elder son suggests staying safe in the capital city to talk the matter over, while the enemy waits outside, a proposal that wins the applause of the council. The King's younger son suggests that the army should be disbanded and then suddenly mobilised again, to take the enemy by surprise, a plan that is also welcomed. The Astrologer's answer is the golden cockerel, a bird to give warning of danger, a gift for which he will claim a future reward. In the end the King, defeated in battle, takes the exotic Queen Shemakha, as his wife. The Astrologer re-appears to claim payment, demanding the hand of the Queen of Shemakhan. The King angrily refuses and strikes the magician dead, to be killed in his turn by the golden cockerel.
Important themes of the opera include the melody of the golden cockerel and the more exotic theme associated with the Queen, who later is to test the King's manliness in ridiculous fashion by forcing him to dance, and to return with him in processional triumph to his palace. The Wedding March and the Introduction to the opera were first performed in a concert in St. Petersburg in February, 1908, in a programme that included the first performance of Faun and Shepherdess by Rimsky-Korsakov's pupil Igor Stravinsky. The opera was staged only after the composer's death, in Moscow on 7th October, 1909.
The opera Mlada was written in 1889 and 1890 and first staged in St. Petersburg on 1st November, 1892. The libretto was extended and developed by Rimsky-Korsakov from an earlier collaborative composition, an opera- ballet, tackled together with Borodin, Mussorgsky, Cui and Minkus in 1872. Here again the composer returns to ancient pagan Russian legend in a work of some extravagance. Mlada herself, a dream-figure, is betrothed to Yaromir, but at her wedding is murdered through a poisoned ring, given her by Voyslava, daughter of a prince who wishes to bring about Yaromir's downfall, a devotee of the infernal goddess Morena. The intervention of the spectral Mlada prevents the embraces of Yaromir and Voyslava, who is eventually killed by the man she had hoped to deceive and claimed by the goddess Morena. The suite from Mlada includes a Russian dance, Redowa, a Lithuanian dance, an exotic Indian dance, part of the dream scene in which the truth is revealed to Yaromir, and a final procession.
Rimsky-Korsakov's own Russian Easter Overture, written in 1886, avowedly orchestrated in the style of Glinka, is based on liturgical themes, a description that does little justice to the lyricism and excitement of the work, seen rather as a fantasy than a formal overture. Tsar Alexander III, who had little taste for Russian music of this kind, forbade any repetition of the piece in his hearing, after he had heard its first performance. The programme of the work is explained by the inclusion of quotations from Psalm LXVIII and from St. Mark's account of the Passion in the score.
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
In 1962 Donald Johanos was appointed music director and principal conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and in 1970 he became associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. His guest conducting engagements include the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York, Lisbon's Golden Festival, the Paris Opera and performances with orchestras including the Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and the National Symphony. His international appearances have included Amsterdam, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong and Mexico.
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