About this Recording
8.553248 - TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: 1812 Overture / KHACHATURIAN, A.I.: Spartacus

Aram Il'yich Khachaturian (1903 - 1978)
Spartacus - Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Suite No.1 in D Major, Op. 43
Marche Slave, Op. 31
1812 Overture, Op. 49

While exercising firm political control over the diverse regions of its vast empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics also followed a policy of encouraging arts that had their source in the culture of the people, harnessed to the ends of Socialist Realism. In spite of occasional brushes with the authorities, the music of Aram Khachaturian remained firmly rooted in the cultural traditions of Armenia and of the Caucasus. Born in Thilisi in 1903 and of Armenian extraction, he enjoyed earlier study, from the age of nineteen, at the Gnesin Institute, followed, seven years later, by entry to the Moscow Conservatory, where his composition teacher was Miaskovsky in a protracted course of study that continued until 1937. He had by this time won very wide acclaim for his Piano Concerto and first symphony celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the foundation of the Soviet Armenian Republic. A specifically Armenian element remained of importance in his work, although there were occasions when, under the pressure of official condemnation, he excused perceived tendencies to formalism by claiming that critics had urged him to avoid what might have appeared a national limitation to his reputation and creativity. In 1948, together with Shostakovich, Prokofiev and others, he was criticized for deviation from the proper path for Soviet music. He had no need to take this official disapproval too seriously. Essentially his music had proved satisfactory in its use of Armenian material and in its popular appeal: formalism was not a charge that could be proved against him.

The Great Patriotic War had provided Khachaturian with an opportunity to prove his loyalty to the principles of communism chiefly in his ballet Gayane and a second symphony. It was the third symphony, a symphonic poem in garish celebration of victory, that misfired, to earn Zhdanov's official censure. Thereafter Khachaturian turned his immediate attention to film-scores, disregarding Khrennikov's warning that this was not to be used as a means of escape from justified Soviet criticism. After the death of Stalin in 1953, he was able to speak openly in favour of greater freedom for artists. His plea was controversial, condemning, as it did, the official direction of composition practised under Stalin in recent years and the resulting mediocrity. It was in the years immediately following that he won some success with his score for the ballet Spartacus, based on the exploits of a hero who had appealed to Karl Marx as representative of the proletariat of the ancient Roman world. The score was awarded a Lenin Prize in 1959, but proved more generally acceptable on the stage in a revised version of 1968.

Khachaturian's career after the war was, after 1953, generally successful. He exploited his gifts as a conductor, particularly of his own compositions, and continued to write music that was imbued with the spirit of Armenia that he had inherited by birth, so that this element in his work becomes more than mere superficial exoticism. Whatever views he may have been compelled to express on "technicism" in the Composers' Union meetings of 1948, he possessed a technical command of musical resources, deft in orchestration and felicitous in melodic invention and in the use of melodies of ethnic origin. He continued composing even into his final years, during which he wrote unaccompanied sonatas for cello, for violin and for viola, completing the last of these in 1977, the year before his death.

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840, the second son by his second wife of a mining engineer, manager of a metal works. At home he showed musical precocity and in 1848 he had his first experience of school in St. Petersburg. Two years later he entered the School of Jurisprudence, where he remained for nine years, later entering the government service. In 1863 he resigned from his position in the Ministry of Justice and became a student at the newly established Conservatory in St. Petersburg, following this with appointment to the staff of the new Conservatory in Moscow. He remained on the staff of the Moscow Conservatory until 1878, when a pension from a rich widow, with whom he corresponded for years but whom he never met, gave him independence to continue a career as a composer. He died when he seemed at the height of his powers, in 1893.

This bald account of the course of Tchaikovsky's life ignores aspects that caused him a great deal of misery. The departure of his beloved governess in 1848 and the death of his mother in 1854 moved him deeply, affecting a nature that had already proved morbidly sensitive and diffident. Tchaikovsky was well enough liked by his contemporaries at the School of Jurisprudence and was never one to withdraw from social contact. Nevertheless, as a musician, he was easily depressed by harsh criticism and remained intensely critical of what he wrote.

In 1868 Tchaikovsky had written a symphonic poem Fatum and this had elicited from Balakirev, in St. Petersburg, harsh and detailed criticism. Balakirev was the leader of the group of nationalist composers, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cesar Cui, Borodin and Mussorgsky. He had taken over the direction of the Russian Music Society concerts in St. Petersburg after the resignation of their founder, Anton Rubinstein in 1867. In 1869 he was dismissed by the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, and Tchaikovsky gallantly published an article deploring this. Tchaikovsky's defence of Balakirev and his ready acceptance of the criticism of Fatum led to the renewal of Balakirev's influence over him, and it was from him that the idea of writing an orchestral work on the subject of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet came. Balakirev was always ready to offer criticism of the music of his contemporaries, but was equally generous with ideas.

In the aftermath of his marriage Tchaikovsky had taken refuge abroad in the autumn of 1877. The following year he was again in Russia, resolved to leave the Conservatory, not least because of hints in the press about his private life. In May he was at the estate of Nadezhda von Meck, where he returned in August, busying himself with the composition of a suite, allegedly in the style of Franz Lachner, a contemporary and friend of Schubert in Vienna, a composition on which he continued to work at his brother-in-law Lev Davidov's Verbovka estate. Later progress on the suite was interrupted, to be continued abroad, in Florence, where his patroness had provided an apartment for his use. The suite underwent various changes, before it took its final shape. Tchaikovsky had second thoughts about the prevalence of duple rhythm throughout, and then about the number of movements. Eventually it assumed its present form, with a first movement an Introduction and Fugue, followed by a B flat major Divertimento, opened by the solo clarinet. The third movement Intermezzo, in D minor, has a melody for violin, flute and bassoon based on the ascending scale. This is followed by a miniature March, originally described by the composer as March of the Lilliputians, a movement he attempted to withdraw, until persuaded to retain it. The suite continues with a Scherzo and a final Gavotte. In the whole work and the chosen form he had enjoyed a freedom that the symphony would not allow, finding himself able to write the kind of music that found further expression in his ballets. Ironically the most popular of all the movements, both at its first performances in Russia and subsequently, has been the March that Tchaikovsky had once hoped to discard.

About the 1812 Overture Tchaikovsky was diffident, describing it, in a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck, as "without any serious merits". The overture was written in response to an official commission from Nikolay Rubinstein and was to celebrate the opening of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, an event timed to coincide with the Moscow Exhibition of Industry and the Arts and the silver jubilee of the Tsar.

Since the building of the Cathedral was designed to commemorate the events of 1812, when the armies of Napoleon had been forced to retreat from Moscow, Tchaikovsky chose to make his overture a graphic description of the conflict, with the French represented by the Marseillaise and Russia by an Orthodox chant and a folk-song, and, in final victory, by "God save the Tsar". The piece, therefore, aptly honoured a royal occasion as well as a religious and patriotic one. The inclusion of cannon in the scoring has made the overture a popular spectacle.

The Marche Slave, Opus 31, was completed early in October 1876, in response to a request from Nikolay Rubinstein for a work to be played at a Moscow concert in aid of victims of the Turks in the Balkans, where Montenegro and Serbia had declared war against Turkey, and Russian pro-slav feelings were running high.

The original title of the work was the Serbo-Russian March, and Tchaikovsky used in it fragments of three Serbian melodies, with a reference to the Russian Imperial anthem before the re-appearance of material of the opening in a final, third section. The anthem appears in fuller form at the climax of a march that was well calculated to appeal to the patriotic emotions of the day.

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