Denis Matsuev (the biography) >>
1812 Triumphal Overture
"For me there is nothing more antipathetic than writing for any celebration whatsoever. Just think, my dear friend, what, for example, can one write for the opening of an exhibition apart from banalities and loud general sections? However, I have not the spirit to decline the request and, like it or not, I must grapple with this unpleasant task," wrote Tchaikovsky in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck in September 1880 soon after he began work on his 1812 Triumphal Overture, initially commissioned for the opening of the Industry and Arts Exhibition. Another reason for composing the overture, ultimately the main one, lay in the opening of the Church of Christ the Saviour, built to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of victory over Napoleon, hence the title 1812. This triumphal overture was first performed in the church on 20 August 1882 before it was fully consecrated. "The overture will be very loud and resonant, but I will write it without any warm feeling of love and so, probably, it will be of no artistic value," wrote the composer to von Meck in October 1880. But, two years later in a letter to publisher P. I. Yugerson, Tchaikovsky changed his own opinion of the overture: "I truly do not know if my overture (1812) is good or bad, but probably (excuse my magniloquence) the former. The 1812 Triumphal Overture is a piece of programme symphony music and became one of Tchaikovsky's most popular works during his lifetime. The work's drama is laid out like a brief retelling of the Patriotic War.
The introduction, based on a theme of the church chant Preserve, Oh God, Thy People (in varying versions performed by orchestra or chorus), is a beginning, a recollection of the declaration of war at church services; the subsequent orchestral episode, full of dramatic commotion, is the reaction to the storm of disaster; the introduction of marching and war themes is the start of military manoeuvres. The French anthem La Marseilleise is the temporary triumph of Napoleon's brief seizure of Moscow. The subsequent lyric Russian themes (a motif from the duet of Vlasevna and Olena from Tchaikovsky's opera The Voivode and the folk song At the Gates, the Gates of the Priest) symbolise Russian warfare; the extensive battle episode is the fighting of the Russian army and the fleeing French; once again comes the theme Preserve, Oh God, Thy People, but this time in a triumphant, nationalist style. Finally to the thunder of cannons, in the very finale there is a theme from the Russian national anthem God Save the Tsar as a confirmation of the ultimate victory of Russia's forces. It should be noted that in his overture Tchaikovsky used themes from Russia and France's national anthems of 1882 and not of 1812. La Marseilleise only became Frances official national anthem in 1870, and the anthem God Save the Tsar was written by A. F. Lvov in 1883. However, for Tchaikovsky's contemporaries it was these very themes, beyond doubt, that made the programme more comprehensible and accessible.
Sergey Rakhmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto was written at a time when his talent had finally been freed of doubts, self-restrictions and external obstacles, had fully matured and strengthened. Starting with the 2nd Piano Concerto in 1901, brilliant new compositions, frequently more than one, appeared every year. This phenomenal burst of creativity was not impeded even by Rakhmaninov's intensive performing and conducting commitments. The 3rd Piano Concerto was written in the summer of 1909, when the composer was 36 years old, and there seems to be something non-accidental even in the numbering of the piece - Opus 30, as though symbolising a new phase of maturity. Indeed, from 1909 onwards Rakhmaninov's career took a new turn in Russia (his conducting of concerts and his organisational work in the Russian Music Society) and abroad (his first, highly successful tour of the USA). And in the music of the 3rd Piano Concerto one can distinctly hear not only the maturity of a Master, but also a new scope, breadth, freedom...
The concerto was first performed in New York on 28 and 30 November 1909 during Rakhmaninov's American tour (the conductor was Walter Damrosch). The Russian premiere, performed by the composer, took place in Moscow on 4 April 1910 (conducted by Yevgeny Plotnikov). The concerto is dedicated to the outstanding Polish pianist Jozef Hofmann, whom Rakhmaninov met during a tour of Russia (their acquaintance subsequently continued in the USA). Hofmann expressed his feelings for the composer most vividly in this heartfelt epitaph:
Rachmaninov was made of steel and gold:
Steel in his hands, gold in his heart.
I cannot think about him without tears.
I not only admired him as a great artist,
But loved him as a man.
The 3rd Piano Concerto is one of the composer's most "Russian" works. It is often called a "concerto-song" or a "poem about the Motherland". The musical narrative - dramatic, with tragic episodes - is always lyrically painted, and can be likened to a "struggle between light and shade". The "conquest of the world" in the Finale is a genuine hymn of joy that found a particular resonance in the atmosphere of Russia at the end of the first decade of the 20th century. The middle movement, the Intermezzo, is an enigma and, to a large extent, a portent of the future (not only the "denouement" of the Concerto, but also the composer's later works) - a very personal expression, music which is, in a fantastic way, an interweaving of the present and memories of the past.
Tenth Symphony in E minor, Op. 93 (1953)
Eight years separate this symphony from its predecessor, the Ninth. For Shostakovich this was an unusually long break: it was, of course, caused by the notorious Party resoloution of 10 February 1948, which labelled Shostakovich's music as "anti-proletarian formalism". By the summer of 1953, however, Shostakovich, already sensing an air of freedom, again turned to his favourite genre. The Tenth Symphony, completed towards the end of October of that year, is autobiographical in the highest sense of the word.The gloomy subject of the introduction is the thematic "grain" from which, as out of the ground, germinate and grow melodic shoots and suckers. The waves of dynamic growth lead to a vast culmination. When the tension falls and relief ensues, the mood of the opening pages of the score returns. The second movement rushes past in a stupefying cruel whirlwind - one of the most "malevolent" scherzos in Shostakovich's symphonies. The third movement is the lyrical centre of the symphony, a concentration of the composer's profoundly personal opinions. It is no coincidence that the "monogram theme" D-Es-C-H (D. SCH - the initial letters of the composer's name and surname in German) is heard here for the first time. This symbolic motif binds the shape of the symphony as a whole.
The finale is preceded by a short introduction, the threads for which are drawn from the symphony's other movements... Initially childishly naive, the joyous music gradually develops "muscles", surrounded by sinister reminders of the Scherzo. And when the avalanche of the relentless, malicious onslaught threatens to swallow up the joy that has been attained, we hear the composer's angry cry of protest: at the culmination the same "monogram theme" D-Es-C-H is declaimed by the orchestra. And at the peak of the rejoicing, like the voice of fate it intrudes once again, reminding us of the illusoriness of human happiness.