About this Recording
8.573343 - TISHCHENKO, B.I.: Symphony No. 8 / Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra (Osmanov, Mazhara, St. Petersburg State Symphony, Serov)

Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko (1939–2010)
Symphony No. 8 • Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra • Three Songs to Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva


The works of Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko (1939–2010) hold a unique place in contemporary Russian music. In a century of radical musical innovations, almost to the point of negating individual compositional voices, Tishchenko’s music remains instantly recognisable. His works demand great concentration from the listener, and he establishes, within just a few bars, his own highly personal approach to music-making. In this way, his artistic integrity, and sense of responsibility as a musician, are as clear in his oeuvre as it was in his personal demeanour.

Tishchenko spent his entire career in St Petersburg (or, as it was until the composer’s fifty-second year, Leningrad). He began serious musical study at the Rimsky-Korsakov School of Music when he was 14. Here he learned composition with Galina Ustvolskaya, whose influence on Tishchenko was particularly profound, and can be heard in his early compositions—including his opus one, a set of piano variations which formed his entry submission for St Petersburg Conservatory.

Once at the senior Conservatory, from 1957–1962, Tishchenko continued to study the piano (with Abraham Logovinsky), as well as taking composition classes with Vadim Salmanov, Victor Voloshinov and Orest Yevlakhov. He remained at the Conservatory for a further three years of postgraduate studies, when Dmitri Shostakovich took over as his teacher. This was a decisive moment for Tishchenko’s compositional development: Shostakovich was a crucial influence upon the younger man, and was to be the dedicatee of his Third and Fifth Symphonies (the latter dedicated in memoriam); and in time, it was Tishchenko who would take up the mantle of Russia’s greatest symphonist, following Shostakovich’s death in 1975.

Given his fine abilities as a performer, Tishchenko was able to perform and promote his own music while still a student, giving performances of his First Piano Concerto and Third Piano Sonata in the early 1960s. He joined the staff of the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1965 on completion of his studies, and became a professor of composition in 1986. Over the course of his career, he composed in virtually all major genres, including symphonic works, concertos, chamber music, a cappella vocal pieces and film scores. However, certain genres were clearly of particular importance to him—above all, the symphony. He composed twelve symphonies, eight of which are numbered (the other four having descriptive titles), completed between the ages of 22 and 69. Each symphony is carefully individuated from its predecessors and successors, though many include substantial monologues for particular instruments, and dramatic use of extreme contrasts. Tishchenko is also extremely economical in terms of thematic material, deriving his movements from brief motifs and gestures. Many of these techniques are also evident in his concertos, in which the roles of soloist and orchestra are often combined—indeed, the Second Violin Concerto is also known as the ‘Violin Symphony’.

Tishchenko even retains the scope and scale of symphonic drama in his chamber works, with several of the string quartets and piano sonatas seemingly more like symphonies for their respective forces. This is achieved in part through stretching the traditional roles of the instruments: using extremes of dynamic range, combining unison playing and thick clusters, and thus also widening the emotional gamut of these pieces. Such dramatic dynamism permeates his output: from his vocal works to his ballets (he preferred ballet to opera, and produced scores for a diverse range of scenarios) and film scores.

A wide range of musical styles and models inspired Tishchenko over the course of his career. His use of traditional forms is tied in part to his sense of historical continuity, and his sustained interest in the music of Western Europe—particularly that of J.S. Bach and Monteverdi (whose L’incoronazione di Poppea he orchestrated). His Russian heritage is perhaps more apparent in his dramatic works, which often call on the sounds of Orthodox chant and communal, celebratory music (for example in the ballet Yaroslavna (The Eclipse), and scores for the films Suzdal and The Tale of Igor’s Campaign). He also looked further afield to the rhythmic and harmonic variety of non-diatonic music—particularly the musics of India, China and Japan—as well as Russian folk music. And of course, his contemporaries and immediate predecessors were also hugely influential, primarily Béla Bartók, Alban Berg, Sergey Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky. His traditionalist leanings thus served to keep this melting pot of styles and models within familiar formats—he did not simply innovate for the sake of it, and his works feature everything from aleatoric ideas and twelve-tone writing to Renaissance allusions and pop rhythms.

The Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra was written in 2006 and dedicated to the composer’s friend and supporter Jacques (originally Yakov) Ioffe for his sixtieth birthday. This is a four-movement opus, encompassing a range of styles and approaches that are comprehensible without being simplistic, and rich in their emotional depth. By setting up a texture with two soloists, Tishchenko is not only able to alternate the latter with the ensemble, but also to allow the violin and piano to stand together as a duo. Thus the opening movement, the Fantasia, begins with the solo violin and occasional rhythmic beats in the very low register of the piano, before the two begin a chamber-like duet, lyrical and increasingly impassioned. It is only later that the strings join them. Both aleatoric writing and free improvisation are used over the course of the movement. This is followed by a highly rhythmic Rondo, dance-like and witty. This time both the pianist and the violinist are afforded extended solo passages, and the alternations between the strings and the solo duo towards the end of this movement are almost reminiscent of a Baroque concerto grosso approach to ensemble writing. The Interlude is given to the string orchestra alone: a slow, contemplative and lyrical movement in which the strings are divided into twelve voices. Here, moments of extreme emotional tension are brought about by a kind of chromatic tightening between parts, the voices closing in on each other step by step, before falling into a downward chromatic scale in unison octaves. The movement ends on a minor chord before the piano immediately begins the Romance on a major chord, spreading simple harmonies over which the solo violin plays a floating cantabile melody. This music is based on elements of a Russian popular romantic song, which is spun out and gradually rises higher and higher in the instrument’s register until it fades away altogether, the harmonies unresolved beneath it, as if disappearing into the distance.

Symphony No. 8 was one of Tishchenko’s last completed works, written in 2008 when he was already seriously ill. The piece was composed to form a pair with Franz Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759, and is intended for performance immediately after Schubert’s work, without a break. This accounts for its orchestration; and the composer also makes reference to Schubert’s symphony in both his approach to writing for the ensemble, and the configuration of certain sections. The low string pizzicati, scuttling violins and clarinet solo of Schubert’s first movement are echoed in the pizzicato strings and clarinet writing that open Tishchenko’s work. This gives way to a bouncing dance rhythm in the strings, and somewhat ominous interjections from the brass (particularly the trombones). The second movement Andante is long-breathed and lyrical, once again looking to Schubert for models of instrumentation—though where Schubert’s middle section has a clarinet solo, Tishchenko gives his to the oboe, over syncopated strings. This, of course, is where Schubert’s symphony ends. Tishchenko’s Allegro finale is an earthy dance movement, full of rhythmic play and syncopation. A series of imitative gestures across the orchestra leads to a mighty climax, after which the music seems to play itself out. In the final few seconds, there is a blazing tutti chord of B major—the key in which Schubert’s incomplete work would have ended.

The vocal cycle Three Songs to Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva was composed almost forty years earlier, in 1970—three years before Shostakovich wrote his own settings of some of Tsvetayeva’s poetry. Set for mezzo-soprano (as Tsvetayeva’s own voice was described as veiled in ‘the bitterness of home-grown tobacco’, which she ‘smoked, and smoked, and it was like weeping’), the cycle unites three poems written at different times during her career, but linked by the themes of love, loneliness, hope and separation.

Tishchenko’s settings are a curious combination of popular song and Russian romance, with no little debt to Shostakovich in the grotesque wit of the first number, The Window. Here the music is glib and satirical, the ‘cries of parting’ in the second verse mocked in overwrought romantic harmonies. The Leaves Have Fallen is more earnest, restless and circling as the protagonist is unable to get away from her memories and is drawn again and again to the same melodic lines and obsessive rhythms. In The Mirror, a simple harp accompaniment opens and closes the song, wistful and melancholy. The songs were orchestrated by Tischkenko’s pupil Leonid Rezetdinov in 2014.

Yuri Serov,
edited by Katy Hamilton

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