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8.570596 - RUSSIAN OBOE (The)
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The Russian Oboe

 

The name of Johann-Heinrich Luft may be remembered today only among oboists who may have used his studies for the instrument. He was, however, a figure of some importance in nineteenth-century Russia, the reputed founder of Russian oboe-playing. Born in Germany in 1813, Luft moved to St Petersburg in about 1830 and from 1840 to 1860 held a principal position as oboist in the Imperial Theatre orchestra. His Fantaisie sur des thèmes russes nationaux, Op. 12 ("Fantasy on Russian Folk Themes"), was published in Paris and dedicated to Louis Maurer, a violinist and later director of the French Opera in St Petersburg. The fantasy, which calls for considerable virtuosity, testimony to Luft's proficiency as a player, has an introductory section leading to a cadenza and a theme with two variations, an Adagio and a brilliant conclusion. Fuller details about Luft and his compositions for oboe may be found in an informative article by Charles-David Lehrer (Journal of the Inter-national Reed Society, No. 17, 1989).

Originally intended for a career in the navy, following family tradition, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov was eventually able to find a compromise between music and the sea, when he left active service and took up an appointment as inspector of naval bands. He was one of the group of five nationalist Russian composers, Vladimir Stasov's Mighty Handful, dominated at first by Balakirev, and including Borodin, Mussorgsky and Cui. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his Variations in G minor for oboe in early 1878, scoring it for solo oboe and wind band. It was written for use in a concert given at the naval base of Kronstadt by the United Bands of the Navy Department, and the composer intended to provide more interesting and unusual repertoire for the bands and, at the same time, to practise his own skill at writing for a solo instrument. In his autobiographical My Musical Life he remarks on the indifference of the audience to the names of composers on these occasions, the only passing interest being in the achievement of the performer. The oboist for that performance was Ranishevsky. The dramatic variations are on a song by the earlier nationalist composer Glinka, 'Chto krasolka molodaya'(Why do you cry, young beauty).

Reinhold Glière was born in Kiev, the second son of a maker of wind instruments who had emigrated from Saxony and married the daughter of his Polish master. Glière's violin teachers in Kiev included Ševcˇik and in 1894, at the age of twenty, he entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied the violin with Hřimalý, and other subjects with Arensky, Konyus, Taneyev and Ippolitov-Ivanov. It was Taneyev who found him two private pupils, Myaskovsky and the eleven-year-old Prokofiev. He taught at the Gnesin School, studied conducting for three years in Berlin, and eventually returned to Kiev, where he became director of the Conservatory. In 1920, after the Revolution, he moved back to Moscow, teaching at the Conservatory there until 1941 and interesting himself in the music of the various eastern Soviet republics. His Pieces, Op. 35, for various instruments and piano, were written in 1908 and the two pieces included here explore the lyrical qualities of the oboe.

Born in St Petersburg in 1884, Boris Vladimirovich Asafyev studied in the historical-philological faculty of St Petersburg University and graduated in 1910 at the Conservatory, where he was a composition pupil of Lyadov and had studied orchestration with Rimsky-Korsakov. He played an important part in the musical and cultural life of Russia after the Revolution, winning a reputation first as a critic and then as a musicologist, holding a professorship at Leningrad Conservatory from 1925 until 1943, when he settled in Moscow, continuing there his varied career. In the 1930s he had established himself as a composer, particularly of ballets which had proved acceptable to the political authorities. His own wider musical interests, which had extended to the work of leading composers outside Russia, underwent some modification after the Pravda attack on Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936 and towards the end of his life his attitude to the condemnation in 1948 of composers whose work he had praised and encouraged was inevitably ambiguous. His Oboe Sonatina of 1939 is a work of immediate charm, classical in the clarity of form of its four movements.

Nikolay Tcherepnin, also a native of St Petersburg, was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov. After the completion of his studies in 1898 he embarked on a career as a teacher and conductor, in the latter capacity at the Mariinsky Theatre and, notably, in Paris, where he superintended the first performance there of Rimsky-Korsakov's Le coq d'or. He conducted for several seasons with Diaghilev's Ballets russes, opening the first Diaghilev Paris season with his ballet Le pavillon d'Armide. In 1918 he became director of the Tbilisi Conservatory in Georgia, but in 1921 returned to Paris, where he continued his career as a conductor and as a composer, writing ballet scores for Pavlova and composing in a style that seems to blend the Russian element of his training and background with French influences. Both these traits can be heard in the two Sketches, excerpts from a series of works for wind instruments.

Marina Dranishnikova's Poème is said to have been inspired by an unhappy love for an oboist. Written in 1953, the work is a challenging one, not least for its shifts of key and its changing figuration. The composer's reputation has been largely overshadowed by that of her father, Vladimir Alexandrovich Dranishnikov, a friend and contemporary of Prokofiev, conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

Nikolay Borisovich Gorlov belongs to a similar generation of Russian composers. His Suite was published in 1969 and opens with an attractive movement under the title Sonatina. The Vocalise that follows is darker in mood and the Suite ends with a demanding Scherzo.

Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble-Bee is known in a multitude of arrangements, all demanding considerable virtuosity. Taken from the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, it there forms an entr'acte between the first and second scenes of the third act. The flight illustrated is that of the Tsarevich Guidon, who, on the desert island where he has landed, preserved from drowning, is now about to take revenge on his wicked aunts by stinging them.

Keith Anderson

 


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