Russia Arts and Music Part II

By | February 14, 2022

To the group of the Five, which had – thanks to a bit of everyone – affirmed important Russian values ​​in European music, destined not only to survive, but also to exert an influence on other national schools, it can be said that two musicians were opposed: Anton Rubinstein and Petr Tchaikovsky, whose musical thinking was heavily influenced by the West. The music of the first of them (piano, orchestral, theatrical, in which the last one distinguished Il Demone, dated 1854), rather Germanizing, has now fallen into shadow. More vital is that of Tchaikovsky, who despite his Italo-Franco-Russian eclecticism and his frequent rhetorical emphasis sometimes finds happy lyrical expansions. And in fact even today his VI symphony, the violin concerto, etc. are often performed. But the fame of Tchaikovsky himself, who for some time obscured the name of a Musorgsky, has nevertheless fallen considerably in comparison with that enjoyed today not only by the author of the Boris, but also by a Borodin and a Rimsky-Korsakov, in the whom the world loves the most genuine expressions of the Russian people.

After the generation of the Five, Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky, the two currents tend to get confused, in the work of some pupils of Rimsky-Korsakov, such as A. Glazunov and N. Čerepnin, authors of symphonic music and ballets of a fairly composite style.. The other pupil of Rimsky, Anatolij Ljadov, more faithful to the trends of the Five, author of many piano pieces and delicate orchestral pictures, inspired by popular legends. Another musical center of great importance had meanwhile developed at the Moscow Conservatory under the action of Tchaikovsky who taught there for a long time, and then of his pupil Sergio Taneev (1856-1916) who, in turn, became a teacher, taught music to a whole generation: in which Alexander Skrjabin (1872-1915) stands out, a musician of mystical tendencies, concretized in orchestral and piano music of increasingly original writing. Its influence is now widespread in Russia. Strong contrast with this figure constitutes Sergio Rachmaninov (born in 1872), famous pianist and composer of a lot of music, for his instrument, stylistically pure, original and rather elegant, but not without seriousness of thought and strength in the realization. Other composers of this Muscovite generation have come to fame: Reinhold Glière, Nikolaj Metner, Sergio Vasil′enko and Giorgio Catoire, almost all stylistically close to the eclectic position (between vague ethnicist nostalgia and prevailing Germanizing academicism) of A. Glazunov. With the Skrjabin, the most commonly followed masters are the Glazunov and the Metner.

According to remzfamily, the path followed by the greatest artist that Russia has had after Musorgsky is quite different: I. Stravinskij (born in 1882). This name reached its first fame as a musical exponent of the “Russian Ballet” illustrated during its supreme flowering (from about 1909 to the time of the World War) by the company of Nizinsky, Fokin, Fokina and Karsovina. But Stravinsky’s art, which began under the sign of the refined harmonic-timbral preciousness that already at the master Rimsky-Korsakov gilded the supple melodic phrases of popular derivation or aspect (Oiseau de feu, Rossignol), took on unexpected strength and marked personality – especially in the rhythmic element – in the Petru š kaof 1911, to the point of crossing every limitation of values ​​in the Sacre du Printemps of 1913, which definitively crushes the last barriers of formalism under an unprecedented impact. Folk dance celebrates its supreme triumph by alternating its short, incisive themes and cutting rhythms. Here Stravinsky’s musical values ​​already surpassed the contingency of contemporary taste as well as the fate of Djagilev’s theater, and marked a new, broad advance to music from all over the world. From the Sacre onwards the master continues to trace new paths: in Noces (1917) and in the Histoire du Soldat(1918), still uses popular themes, but is increasingly absorbing the essential values ​​for the structural line. He seeks a bare and linear art, reduces the orchestra, from the gigantic masses of the Sacre, to the 4 pianos and percussion of the Noces, to the few instruments of the Histoire. This is followed by chamber compositions (or with phonic means that have long been the property of chamber music) in which the popular theme – together with folkloristic “colorism” – is abandoned and in which values ​​that are in a certain way not only extra-national are sought. – in the declared intentions – extra-individual, in a sort of nostalgia with the formal values ​​of the so-called classical eras. The way is now directed towards an exclusively architectural conception, from which the lyrical values ​​of the individual are believed to be excluded. Stravinsky, however, comes to confirm – with the lyrical reality of compositions such as the Symphonie de Psaumes(1930) – the artistic resources of the new start. With Stravinsky, Russia has given the world a historical personality of central importance, whose evolution has been and is followed by most of the young musicians of all countries and especially of Western countries; less followed, if ever, precisely at home, where the prevailing influence of Skrjabin on the one hand and the Glazunovs and Metners on the other was noted. The best known Russian musician abroad is after Stravinsky, the fruitful and eclectic Sergio Prokofiev, whose rhythmic power qualities often recount him to the Stravinsky of the “Russian” period while the grace of his melodies, a little “elegant”, may recall the best Tchaikovsky. Stylistically he is unstable and from one work to another he seems to change address almost for pleasure. Next to him can be placed Aleksandr Čerepnin, son of Nikolaj Čerepnin mentioned above, also stylistically uncertain but gifted with ease and structural security.

In the revolutionary period other figures took shape: NJ Mjaskovskij, a very fruitful symphonist (up to now 10 symphonies), whose skriabinism of intention and structure cannot hide an intimate nostalgia for Tchaikovsky. Romantic music, full of labor and anguished or dark tones, but not without a certain vigor, and – in the opinion of many – of real greatness. Nikolaj Roslavec, composer of chamber music very daring in the technical bases, and Samuel Feinberg, whose piano sonatas carry forward the Skriabinian currents with energy.

Among the names of young people the following often occur: Aleksandr and Grigorij Krein, Leonida Sabaneev, Aleksandr Šensin, Adrian Šapošnikov, E. Pavlov, Aleksandr Boschmann, Sergio Euseiev, Ivan Šišov, Anton Djanov, Leonida Polovinkin, Vladimiro Krjukov, Vasilij Širinskiji V. Šebalin, Aleksandr Veprik, Aleksandr Abramskij and Aleksandr Mosolov, the latter of whom is known everywhere among the other symphonic compositions, the orchestral painting The Steel Foundry.

Russia Arts and Music 2