About this Recording
8.572400 - TCHAIKOVSKY, B.: Andersen Fairy Tales Suites / 4 Preludes for Chamber Orchestra (Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra, Ershov)
English 

Boris Tchaikovsky (1925-1996): Suite: Andersen Fairy Tales
Suite: The Swineherd • Suite: Galoshes of Fortune • Four Preludes for Chamber Orchestra

 

“I consider him to be a genius…I do think that one day people will come to know that two great Russian composers bore the same name…”
Mstislav Rostropovich, on Boris Tchaikovsky

Musical creativity in Russia flourished in the second half of the twentieth century with a host of composers who are becoming ever more familiar in the West—Mieczysław Weinberg, Herman Galynin, Galina Ustvolskaya, Boris Tishchenko. Among this distinguished company is the Moscow-born Boris Tchaikovsky, who rose to become one of the most revered composers of his generation. Tchaikovsky and his contemporaries emerged in the decade of post-Stalin liberalisation when the creative restraints of the past were being relaxed and a more open attitude toward Western musical trends was adopted. For some composers this led to a full-fledged embrace of the avant-garde. For others, like Tchaikovsky, it presented an opportunity for the expansion and enrichment of their prevailing musical language.

Tchaikovsky could not have received better training than at the Moscow Conservatory, where he was taughtby three of the then most prominent composers of instrumental music, Vissarion Shebalin, Dmitry Shostakovich and Nikolay Myaskovsky. His education at that institution was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. During Stalin’s post-war cultural purges Tchaikovsky was branded as one of the “contaminated” students of the officially reprimanded Shostakovich, himself dismissed from his teaching post for writing music that was deemed unacceptable by the regime. It is a tribute to Tchaikovsky’s character that he did not participate in the state-sanctioned condemnation of Shostakovich. He graduated, not totally unscathed, from the Conservatory in 1949. Two early works, a Sinfonietta for Strings and a Piano Trio, both of 1953, gained notice for their striking individuality.

In the liberal climate of the 1960s, Tchaikovsky modernised his musical language with a more concentrated style of expression marked by accentuated rhythms and a more sophisticated harmonic vocabulary. At the same time his music remained deeply connected to its lyrical roots and guided by the aesthetic principles inherited from his teachers. He went on to enjoy a long and illustrious career focused on instrumental composition and fresh approaches to its formal organization. He produced a distinguished body of work that includes four symphonies; a Chamber Symphony and other instrumental works; a concerto each for cello, clarinet, piano, and violin; six string quartets; the cantata Signs of the Zodiac; and much more. His works continue to be played by major orchestras around the world and an ever-expanding catalogue of recordings is available. The current recording is the third issue of Boris Tchaikovsky’s music on Naxos (the previous issues bear catalogue numbers 8.557727 and 8.570195).

The music for Four Preludes for Chamber Orchestra was originally conceived in 1965 as a song cycle for soprano and piano to words by the future Nobel Prize poet Joseph Brodsky. In accordance with his own words, Tchaikovsky admired the poet’s work for its echoes of the Russian Silver Age, which dates from the first two decades of the twentieth century, for its being lyrical without politicization. In his choice of Brodsky’s texts we can also see Tchaikovsky’s solidarity with the then abused poet, who at the time became a victim of institutional anti-Semitism. Just as Brodsky’s poetry was banned, so was Tchaikovsky’s song cycle. In fact, the ban on the music was officially declared only two days before its scheduled première, to be given by Galina Vishnevskaya, its dedicatee. The work had to wait until 1988 for its world première in Boston, and until 1989 for its Russian première in Moscow.

In 1984 Tchaikovsky boldly took another approach to the ban. Using the Brodsky settings as a short score, he recast the music in purely instrumental terms. The resulting work is the Four Preludes for Chamber Orchestra, scored for two each of oboes, bassoons, French horns, and trumpet, together with piano, strings, timpani, glockenspiel, and vibraphone. Why ’preludes’? “As I think about it”, said the composer, “the genre of musical preludes—as happens very seldom in symphonic music—has fairly strong associations with the images of poetry. And of course, the images and their compositional links, as they apply to my Brodsky songs, are preserved in my Four Preludes.” Tchaikovsky took pride in the fact that not one note of the original manuscript was altered in the new setting. With its sparing yet richly nuanced instrumentation, it more than captures the trenchant contradictions, the beguiling wit, the fleeting moods of the original songs. The Preludes also embody the complex rhythms and asymmetries of Brodsky’s verse, wherein, typical of the composer’s style, short musical phrases are threaded into a continuous and supply expressive lyrical fabric. The Four Preludes is a little masterpiece of tone painting.

The music to the first Prelude was originally written for the poem Dialogue, a reflection upon a man’s life, his grave, and the crows that hover in the wind. The music, fittingly, consists of a ruminative dialogue between two ideas, a halting theme, fragments of which are echoed in staggered counterpoint; and a rhythmically pulsing figure that rises and falls in guarded tones. The often shifting tempo markings and time signatures yield to the expanding and contracting breath of each phrase. The themes freely alternate with each other, rising in turn to peak moments. In one striking passage the oboes, in parallel octaves over rustling strings, briefly take flight with a mysterious cantilena variant of the first theme.

The music of the second Prelude was originally set to the poem entitled Lyrics, which predicts a set of dire events: acacias drying, taxes rising, limbs breaking, and finally, rather waggishly, the narrator’s own marriage. The music is similarly saturated with bitter-sweet turns and is based on a single theme cast in two parts. The first part, a chirping vamp of oscillating sixteenth notes in the strings, also serves as an accompaniment to the second part, a set of self-mocking, twisting declarations in the woodwinds. The scathing punctuation marks by the piano and glockenspiel further underscore the spirit of irony.

The third Prelude is based on Brodsky’s Farewell and Forget, an exhortation to abandon past regrets and to persevere through the hardships ahead. It is a sensitively written chorale scored for strings without double-bass that forms the emotional centre of the work and highlights Tchaikovsky’s eloquent palette of harmonies.

The fourth Prelude was originally conceived as a setting of the verse Stanzas, a rather disquieting memoir of the historic Vasilievsky Island, located on the Neva River in St Petersburg, where the poet ruefully portrays his soul’s release upon death. A single theme is heard in three consecutive utterances in constantly shifting moods. The oboes, rising and falling in equivocal half-steps, deliver the first two statements, after which the strings offer a more sagacious point of view. The theme then dissolves into a shimmering tutti sonority that brings the work to a wistful conclusion. The première of Four Preludes took place in 1985 with the St Petersburg Chamber Orchestra conducted by Edward Serov.

Even less known in the West are Tchaikovsky’s many works for the stage and cinema. In these genres we find the composer taking particular pleasure in writing for young people. His more than thirty film scores include several fiction films for children and three children’s cartoons. Likewise, fully half of the two dozen radio plays for which he composed music were written for children. Taking after the examples of Mussorgsky and Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky remarked that music written for the young should not be intentionally ’lightweight’, or, for that matter, occupy a separate category. Tchaikovsky’s guiding principle when writing music for children was that it simply should be “the best it could be”. That credo is reflected in the Andersen scores to which the remainder of this disc is devoted.

Between 1954 and 1958 Tchaikovsky wrote incidental music for five radio productions (directed by Alexander Stolbov with scenario and songs by Sergey Bogomazov) based on the stories of the nineteenth-century Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The manuscripts lay hidden until 2003, seven years after the composer’s sudden death, when they all were recovered through the efforts of the Boris Tchaikovsky Society. Composer Petr Klimov and conductor Kirill Ershov compiled three suites from the music. Two of them, Galoshes of Fortune (1958) and The Swineherd (1954), contain almost the complete music written for the respective tales, the exception being two songs from Galoshes of Fortune (which would have broken the consistency of the suite). From the other three radio shows the compilers took all the orchestral music that do not contain vocal parts to assemble the suite entitled Andersen’s Tales.

In these suites we find the lighter side of Tchaikovsky’s muse represented with sparkling wit, meticulous craftsmanship, and robust melodic invention. The material in each of the movements of the two major suites refers to common thematic links, thus endowing the music with a certain compositional integrity. The music is so spirited and vividly conceived it almost tells the story without benefit of the text. When toward the end of his life, Tchaikovsky was asked which of his incidental scores he favoured the most, he replied, “I would highlight the music for the Andersen fairy tales. I love this music”.

Andersen’s The Swineherd tells of the extraordinary efforts of a lovesick Prince to gain the attentions of a Princess. The title derives from the disguise the Prince assumes in order to gain employment in the kingdom of his beloved. The Introduction [5] sets the mood with a graceful waltz for harp, glockenspiel, and strings (in fact, this waltz was used as the Introduction in all of the remaining Andersen radio productions, with the exception of the Galoshes of Fortune). The Prince’s first offerings to the Princess are two special gifts. One is an uncommonly beautiful rose—tenderly portrayed for harp and strings in track [8], The Rose—that blossoms but once every five years upon the grave of the Prince’s father. The other is a silver-throated nightingale whose beguiling song is captured on the piccolo against a backdrop of harp and strings in track [9], The Nightingale. Both the rose and the nightingale are also portrayed in track [6], In the Garden. The Minuet [7] depicts the great hall where the Princess commingles with her ladies-in-waiting as she notices the large cases containing the rose and the nightingale. Upon discovering that neither of these gifts is artificial, the Princess fails to be impressed. Undeterred, the Prince, now as swineherd, crafts a kettle hung with bells, so that when the kettle boils the bells play the classic melody, Ach! du lieber Augustine (Jingles [10]). The kettle has the added feature of informing its owner of all the food that is being cooked at that moment throughout the city, a charm that is represented by the lively polka in track [11] (The Magic Kettle). The kettle pleases the Princess, who agrees to accept the gift, rather reluctantly, in exchange for the Swineherd-Prince’s demand of ten kisses. The Swineherd-Prince, now encouraged, then assembles a musical ratchet which, when swung around, plays “all the waltzes and jig tunes that have been heard since the creation of the world”. The musical abundance of the instrument is captured in the final three numbers [12][14]. The Waltz [12] and The Ratchet [14], in addition to presenting new material, recapitulate the theme heard in the Introduction. The Princess, delighted by the ratchet, agrees to the Swineherd’s fee of a hundred kisses. The Emperor, who by chance witnesses this amorous transaction, becomes outraged, and banishes both the Princess and the swineherd from his empire (in the radio production this action is accompanied by The Ratchet). The Prince, who is no longer a swineherd, returns to his kingdom and leaves the Princess behind, saying: “You refused an honest prince; you did not appreciate the rose and the nightingale; but you did not mind kissing a swineherd for his toys; you have no one but yourself to blame!”

Galoshes of Fortune presents a similarly fantastic tale about a pair of magic boots that are handed from person to person, each time granting its temporary owner the power to be transported to whatever time, place and condition of life they wish for. The suite begins with a graceful harpsichord waltz (Introduction [25]), setting the scene for a party being held in Old Copenhagen. Two fairies arrive at the house, one of whom produces the magical galoshes, whose associated theme presented here [26] reappears in various instrumental guises in almost every number in the suite. After an interlude, again featuring the solo harpsichord [27], night falls as Councilman Knapp discovers the galoshes, dons them, and pines for the medieval days of King Hans’s reign. So transported [28], he is horrified at the primitive living conditions and finds difficulty understanding the archaic dialect. At a local tavern he encounters a group of revelers [29] serenading the evening. Tchaikovsky’s vocal setting at this point, adorned by gleeful stringed glissandi and derisive trombone slides, may recall certain passages from Shostakovich’s lighter music:

Come, executioner – start sharpening the axe,
Cut down the malefactor’s head!
Knock down the lock from his doors,
Bring the cloth and the tin.

He sold his soul to Satan –
The soul swam in the dark.
Let his house burn down –
To frighten the Devil!

A Night Watchman, represented by the bassoon, is the next subject to don the galoshes [30]. He ponders the night sky, imagines a journey to the moon, and suddenly finds himself hurtling through 260,000 miles of open space [31]. From the Moon’s surface the Watchman observes crowds of strange human-like creatures milling about [32]. Tchaikovsky’s accompaniment, calling for flexatone, vibraphone, celesta, and harp over a string backdrop, presents a musical scenario that is just as otherworldly. After The Dash Back to Earth [33] the Watchman finds himself in a hospital bed where his boots are removed by a Medical Intern. The romantic mood of the Intern is captured with a tender serenade scored for mandolin, harp and strings [34]. The next night the Intern attends the theatre, depicted in the suite by a merry dance whose melodic notes fall on the upbeat [35]. He hears a song about a pair of eyeglasses that enables anyone who wears them to read the future from people’s faces. He becomes intrigued by the patrons sitting in the front row and wishes he could look directly into each of their hearts. The Galoshes, of course, take his wish literally. He is instantly reduced to microscopic size and finds himself navigating through the ventricles of each of the front row patrons: a wealthy man, represented by a blustering tuba solo; then his wife, depicted by fanciful strains on the piano and harp [36]; a Lady, by the vocalise [37]; a selfish man [38]; and finally an Officer, represented by a military march [39]. The Galoshes of Fortune eventually come into the possession of a clerk who, admiring the winged creatures around him, wishes he could turn into a little lark. And so he does as the suite features a dance for piccolo and strings [40]. A theological student is the next owner of the Galoshes, as he makes a wish to travel: across the Swiss Alps (The Journey [41]) and eventually into Italy (Tarantella [42]). But as the sun sets and the student witnesses the torments of the flesh among the destitute members of society, he makes a wish to set himself free from the shackles of physical existence. And so the Galoshes comply as the student lies in his coffin awaiting the quiet sleep of death, as the Mourning Music [43] depicts. But only temporarily. The two fairies return, reclaim their Galoshes, and the story ends as merrily as it began.

The Andersen Fairy Tales suite consists of extracts from The Brave Tin Soldier (1956) [16][17][23][24], the well-known Emperor’s New Clothes (1955) [18][21][22], and from the score to the radio show entitled Andersen Fairy Tales (1955) with The Snail and the Rose-Tree [15] and The Darning-Needle [19][20]. The bright melodies and original instrumentation of the suite again capture the fantastic moods and images of these tales.


Louis Blois


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