About this Recording
8.573685 - SVIRIDOV, G.V.: Russia Adrift / Snow is Falling / Music for Chamber Orchestra (Shkirtil, St. Petersburg State Symphony, Serov)

Georgy Sviridov (1915–1998)
Snow is Falling • Music for Chamber Orchestra • Russia Adrift


Georgy Vasil’yevich Sviridov was born in Kursk Oblast, about one hundred miles from the Russian border with Ukraine, in 1915. Following early musical training at the music school in Kursk, he moved to St Petersburg (then Leningrad) to study at the city’s Central Music Tekhnikum from 1932–1936. In 1935, he scored his first success with a cycle of songs to texts by Aleksandr Pushkin: his settings, lyrical and simple in their harmonies and texture, gave them a freshness that was to become characteristic of Sviridov’s approach.

The following year, Sviridov entered the Leningrad Conservatory, where his teachers included Dmitry Shostakovich. He continued his studies there until 1941, and Shostakovich’s compositional approach was to leave a significant imprint on his young student’s works of the 1940s. In 1956, Sviridov moved to Moscow, where he remained until his death in 1998. He was to become a celebrated figure of the Soviet regime, and among the various honours bestowed upon him were the Lenin Prize, and the titles of National Artist of the Soviet Union and Hero of Socialist Labour. He was also a committee member of the Composers’ Union from 1962–1974, acting as its head from 1968–1973, having taken over this leading role from Shostakovich.

A prolific composer—his output includes film scores, incidental music, symphonic suites, and other instrumental works—Sviridov is particularly important as a composer of vocal music. In addition to several thousand songs, he wrote many choral works for both small ensembles and large-scale forces—such as the Poem in Memory of Sergey Yesenin (1955–56, setting the lyric poet Yesenin’s own words); Oratorio Pathetique (1959) and Songs of Kursk (1964), all of which call for orchestra and chorus. His choice of texts in each case is significant: evidently a wellread man, he sought out poetry that reflected, in the broadest sense, the character and image of his native country. From the folk texts (and indeed folk melodies) of Songs of Kursk to the words of Yesenin, Pushkin and Pasternak, Sviridov’s careful settings of Russian poetry seem calculated to conjure images of his native land, and the pivotal moments of its history.

The writings of Boris Pasternak (1890–1960) were of particular importance to Sviridov throughout his career; though in the first instance it was not as a source for musical settings that the composer looked to his texts, but rather as a source of consolation and thought-provoking ideas. Sviridov regularly referred to Pasternak in his diaries as, for example, after his observations when reading Doctor Zhivago (initially banned from publication in Russia upon its completion in 1957): ‘Some deep (though not always comprehensive) thoughts from Pasternak on life, on Man and his calling, on the times, on what outrages the 1917 Revolution has inflicted upon Man…’. The small cantata Sneg idyot (Snow is Falling) was written in 1965 after decades of contemplating Pasternak’s poetry—and it was the first time that the writer was to inspire a composition from his younger contemporary.

Sviridov selected three poems for this cantata, all written during the last few years of Pasternak’s life: Snow is Falling (1957), Soul and Night (both 1956). The texts are all heavily descriptive—of the falling snow, the passing night, and the state of the soul—but they each mention, too, the artist himself. Whether contemplating the role of the creator, or urging himself to keep writing, the speaker/maker is present in these poems, and this evidently appealed to Sviridov. The work was both completed and published in 1965, issued by Sovetskaya Muzyka (Soviet Music) magazine; and it was premiered on 21 December 1966 in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

The musical idiom of Sneg idyot is heavily reliant on repetition and relatively simple, often modal, harmonic progressions. In the first movement, Snow is Falling, we are in a still and hypnotic world: sopranos and altos sing their words on a single note, while the orchestral writing largely alternates between just two chords. Within its dreamy string texture, a glockenspiel sounds the passing bars, and a flute solo dances past, again constructed from a repeating figure. This circular construction is also used in Soul, a minor-inflected, almost chant-like movement which uses low strings and clarinets and flutes towards the bottom of their register. After such contemplative writing, Night comes as something of a surprise: a boys’ chorus perform a light, lively tune to the accompaniment of bounding chords and a tapping snare drum. Despite the philosophical musings of the text, there is something childish and folk-like about Sviridov’s setting. ‘Work on, work on creator—’ the boys sing cheerfully, ‘To sleep would be a crime— / Eternity’s own hostage / And prisoner of Time.’

From the following decade, Sviridov’s Music for Chamber Orchestra, composed in 1964, draws on the thematic material of an early Piano Concerto. Scored for piano, strings and horn, much of the piece still bears traces of a concerto—or at least concertino—texture, with a prominent role given to the piano in contrast to the occasional splashes of colour added by the horn. There are traces of Shostakovich’s influence in this work, particularly in the compound harmonies and sometimes angular lines of the first movement. The second movement, a dramatic scherzo, makes effective use of short, strong gestures and silences. The finale, a slow movement, gradually builds in intensity to an impassioned climax, which I see as the ‘development and interaction… of human woe [and] vivid compassion’, before fading at last to its whispering, major-key conclusion. The piece is dedicated to Rudolf Barshai, founder and leader of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.

Otchalivshaya Rus’ (Russia Adrift), a cycle to the poems of Sergey Yesenin, was written in 1977. This was a bold choice of title in an age of ‘developed Socialism’, and Sviridov took it from Yesenin’s The Dove of Jordan, here presented as the fifth movement of his piece, under the title Russia Adrift. Yesenin (1895–1925), a poet of the Revolution, was a controversial figure and both Stalin and Khruschev banned some of his works. Sviridov largely chose texts written around 1917, which evoke the Russia of the early twentieth century: the beauty of the landscape, mysticism and religious faith, and political uncertainty. Sviridov interpreted these poems in his diaries as follows:

Autumn and I Have Left Behind My Beloved Home—landscape and lyrics Open the Gates, O Guardian Angel…—legendary fabulous horse, a symbol of poetical creativity Silver Path—eternal path of an artist, path of man Russia Adrift—Russia as a bird in flight, Russia in her space flight, as a flying swan Simon, Peter… Where Are You?—fragment of an ancient legend Where Are You, O My Father’s House?—picture of revolutionary turmoil, ruin of the fathers’ home Beyond the Hills of the Milky Way—outer space where ancestors’ souls fly in a whirl of cosmic flames The Sound of the Deadly Horn—advent of an iron guest, tragic monologue, feeling of ruin of the patriarchal peasant lifestyle An Owl Cries in Autumn—the poet again, eternity of poetry, eternity of advent of a poet I Do Believe in Happiness! and O Motherland, O Happy and Eternal Hour!—limitless belief in the Motherland, in her best spiritual powers, a solemn hymn, belief in regaining the Motherland.

Sviridov’s work, along with the late vocal cycles of Shostakovich, is considered a keystone of twentiethcentury Russian vocal repertoire. Written for voice and piano, Russia Adrift was premiered by Elena Obraztsova and Sviridov himself in 1977; and soon afterwards the composer raised the idea with my father, Eduard, of producing an orchestral version. In the end, it was Leonid Rezetdinov (b. 1961) who orchestrated the work, and Eduard was not able to conduct its first performance. I dedicate this performance to the memory of my father, who died soon after this recording was completed.

Yuri Serov
Edited by Katy Hamilton

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