|Thursday January 17th, 2008|
|Instituto Internacional Madrid|
Preludes Op 17
El Amor Brujo (transcription for piano: JLNieto)
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906 –1975) was a Russian composer and pianist, and a prominent figure of 20th-century music. Shostakovich achieved fame in the Soviet Union under the patronage of Soviet chief of staff Mikhail Tukhachevsky, but later had a complex and difficult relationship with the government. Nevertheless, he received accolades and state awards and served in the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR (1947–1962) and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union (from 1962 until his death). A poly-stylist, Shostakovich developed a hybrid voice, combining a variety of different musical techniques into his music. Shostakovich’s music is characterized by sharp contrasts, elements of the grotesque, and ambivalent tonality; the composer was also heavily influenced by the neo-classical style pioneered by Igor Stravinsky, and (especially in his symphonies) by the post-Romanticism associated with Gustav Mahler. Shostakovich was in many ways an obsessive man: according to his daughter he was “obsessed with cleanliness”; he synchronised the clocks in his apartment; he regularly sent cards to himself to test how well the postal service was working. Elizabeth Wilson’s Shostakovich: A Life Remembered (1994 edition) indexes 26 references to his nervousness. Mikhail Druskin remembers that even as a young man the composer was “fragile and nervously agile”. Yuri Lyubimov comments, “The fact that he was more vulnerable and receptive than other people was no doubt an important feature of his genius”. In later life, Krzysztof Meyer recalled, “his face was a bag of tics and grimaces”. In his lighter moods, sport was one of his main recreations, although he preferred spectating or umpiring to participating (he was a qualified football referee). His favourite football club was Zenit Leningrad, which he would watch regularly. He also enjoyed playing card games, particularly patience. He was fond of satirical writers such as Gogol, Chekhov and Mikhail Zoshchenko. The influence of the latter in particular is evident in his letters, which include wry parodies of Soviet officialese. Zoshchenko himself noted the contradictions in the composer’s character: “he is … frail, fragile, withdrawn, an infinitely direct, pure child … [but he is also] hard, acid, extremely intelligent, strong perhaps, despotic and not altogether good-natured (although cerebrally good-natured)”. He was diffident by nature: Flora Litvinova has said he was “completely incapable of saying ‘No’ to anybody.” This meant he was easily persuaded to sign official statements, including a denunciation of Andrei Sakharov in 1973; on the other hand he was willing to try to help constituents in his capacities as chairman of the Composers’ Union and Deputy to the Supreme Soviet. Oleg Prokofiev commented that “he tried to help so many people that … less and less attention was paid to his pleas.” When asked if he believed in God, Shostakovich said “No, and I am very sorry about it.”
Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872 – 1915) was a Russian composer and pianist. Scriabin, who was influenced by Frédéric Chopin, composed early works that are characterised by tonal language. Later in his career, Scriabin developed a substantially atonal and much more dissonant musical system, which accorded with his personal brand of mysticism. Scriabin was influenced by synesthesia, and associated colours with the various harmonic tones of his atonal scale, while his colour-coded circle of fifths was also influenced by theosophy. He is considered by some to be the main Russian Symbolist composer. Scriabin was one of the most innovative and most controversial of early modern composers. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia said of Scriabin that, “No composer has had more scorn heaped on him or greater love bestowed.” Leo Tolstoy described Scriabin’s music as “a sincere expression of genius. Scriabin had a major impact on the music world over time, and influenced composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, and Nikolai Roslavets. However Scriabin’s importance in the Soviet musical scene, and internationally, drastically declined. According to his biographer, “No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death.” Nevertheless, his musical aesthetics have been reevaluated, and his ten published sonatas for piano, which arguably provided the most consistent contribution to the genre since the time of Beethoven’s set, have been increasingly championed. Rather than seeking musical versatility, Scriabin was happy to write almost exclusively for solo piano and for orchestra. His earliest piano pieces resemble Frédéric Chopin’s and include music in many genres that Chopin himself employed, such as the étude, the prelude, the nocturne, and the mazurka. Scriabin’s music progressively evolved over the course of his life, although the evolution was very rapid and especially brief when compared to most composers. Aside from his earliest pieces, the mid- and late-period pieces use very unusual harmonies and textures. The development of Scriabin’s style can be traced in his ten piano sonatas: the earliest are composed in a fairly conventional late-Romantic manner and reveal the influence of Chopin and sometimes Franz Liszt, but the later ones are very different, the last five being written without a key signature. Many passages in them can be said to be atonal, though from 1903 through 1908, “tonal unity was almost imperceptibly replaced by harmonic unity.”
“El Amor Brujo” is a ballet composed in 1914-1915 by Manuel de Falla to a libretto by Gregorio Martínez Sierra. The work is distinctively Andalusian in character with the songs in the Andalusian Spanish dialect of the Gypsies. The music contains moments of remarkable beauty and originality; it includes the celebrated “Danza ritual del fuego” (Ritual Fire Dance), “Canción del fuego fatuo” (Song of Wildfire, or Song Of The Will-o’-the-Wisp) and the “Danza del terror” (Dance of Terror). El amor brujo was commissioned in 1914 as a gitanería (gypsy piece) by Pastora Imperio, a renowned flamenco gypsy dancer. It was scored for cantaora voice, actors and chamber orchestra and performed at the Teatro Lara, Madrid, on 15 April 1915, unsuccessfully.