St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Strauss. Bach. Shostakovich. Tchaikovsky
Violinist and conductor: Artist of the Month Igor Gruppman

Richard Strauss. Metamorphosen for stringed instrument ensemble
Johann Sebastian Bach. Violin Concerto in A Minor
Dmitry Shostakovich. Chamber Symphony (Quartet No 8, orchestrated by Rudolf Barshai)
Pyotr Tchaikovsky. String Quartet Souvenir de Florence

Mariinsky Theatre Stradivarius Orchestra

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor was composed around 1730 for concerts by the Collegium musicum, the student’s music society of the Faculty of Law at the University of Leipzig. If we recall that Georg Philipp Telemann was once a student in this faculty and that subsequently all of Bach’s elder sons received further education, then the difficulties of the concerto are not surprising. Many professionals could have envied these student amateur musicians their music-making abilities.
While still relatively young, Bach discovered the violin concerti of Antonio Vivaldi, who was but seven years older than he. The German composer was stunned by the energy of his Italian colleague and the new tasks that he had set for performers. Bach held firm to Vivaldi’s model of the three-part concerto his whole life, but his works stand out for their larger scale, their more vivid thematic material and the complex, intense polyphonic structure. As Richard Strauss said, “polyphony is a gift with which Satan endowed the Germans…”

The string sextet Souvenir de Florence was written by Tchaikovsky in the summer of 1890 on his return from Italy where he had been working on The Queen of Spades with tremendous enthusiasm.
The title does not indicate the creation of “local colour”. This memory concerns not so much the city itself as the time that Tchaikovsky spent there and the frame of mind he was in. One of the musical themes of the sextet, at least, was born during the composer’s sojourn in Florence.
The sextet was conceived much earlier, back in 1887, when Tchaikovsky had given a promise to dedicate a new work to the St Petersburg Society of Chamber Music which was headed by Karl Albrecht. The composer resolved to try his hand in this genre, new to him, halfway between chamber and orchestral music. Although he was already at the height of his fame, he approached this new and complicated task as a student. “You see, this is my first experience of expanding beyond the confines of a quartet,” he wrote modestly to Albrecht. Initially organising a private hearing, Tchaikovsky took a further two years to develop the work before giving his agreement for the official premiere and the work’s publication.

Anna Bulycheva

Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet enjoys a popularity rare for a work that is so academic in terms of genre. The reason is the programme, which Shostakovich exhaustively expounded in a letter to Isaak Glikman, telling his friend of his arrival in July 1960 at a resort in Saxon Switzerland near Dresden: “I watched materials of the film Five Days, Five Nights directed by Lev Arnshtam. I settled in very well to create the right artistic surroundings. The artistic conditions justified themselves: I composed my Eighth Quartet there. However much I tried to execute my tasks in rough for the cinematic film, I have as yet been unable to do so. And instead of that I wrote an ideologically empty quartet that no-one needed. I considered that if I ever die then it is extremely unlikely anyone would write a work dedicated to my memory. And so I decided to write one myself.”
Shostakovich wrote this musical “auto-epitaph” literally a few days after he had been unable to avoid joining the CPSU (although he had refused to join the party several times, it having destroyed the lives of so many people). In the music, the programme is expressed just as clearly. The quartet opens with a monogram there (D-Es-C-H), which runs through all five parts, in places even becoming importunate. The composer’s self-portrait is completed using themes from his First, Eighth and Tenth Symphonies, the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, his Piano Trio and Cello Concerto. The themes come with “hints” of Wagner’s Trauermarsch and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony as well as the revolutionary song Tormented by Grievous Bondage. Officially, the quartet is dedicated to the memory of victims of fascism and war. There are different versions of the Eighth Quartet for various performing ensembles. Rudolf Barshai’s orchestration was given the title Chamber Symphony.

Age category 6+

Any use or copying of site materials, design elements or layout is forbidden without the permission of the rightholder.