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National Trends

  • Germany and Italy were both fragmented since the Middle Ages. The rise of nationalism in the second half of the 19th century led to the unification of both into modern nation-states

  • 1848—the revolts of 1848 initiated the Risorgamento, which climaxed in the wars of 1859-1861. Italy’s northern provinces were dominated by the Hapsburgs. The Sardinian army expelled Austrian rulers from northern Italy, and dismantled the Papal States. Italy’s southern providences were dominated by the French Bourbon Monarchy, which was defeated by Garabaldi.

  • 1860s—under the leadership of Bismarck the German States of Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Hesse and other small states were unified into the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm

  • Nationalism in music was expressed by composers’ use of folk melody, modal or non-diatonic harmony, folk rhythms/meters, or subject matter drawn from folk tales or national legends. Nationalistic composers resisted the cosmopolitan musical language which had been cultivated in the Austro-Hungarian musical tradition.

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)

  • Virtuoso pianist and composer

  • Founded the Saint Petersburg Conservatory

Nikolay Rubinstein ((1835-1881)

  • Pianist

  • Brother of Anton

  • Founded Moscow Conservatory in 1866

Glinka (1804-1857)
The pioneering work of Mikhail Glinka paved the way for the Mighty Five. Glinka.

  • Son of a wealthy merchant

  • Music education was minimal, due to the lack of a conservatory in Russia

  • Glinka associated himself with writers and poets

  • Inspired by the example of Bellini and Donizetti, Glinka composed the first completely Russian opera

  • Major works:

  • A Life for the Tsar (1836). A pro-government historical drama, it was the first Russian opera sung throughout. A Life for the Tsar used modal scales, quotation or paraphrasing of folk songs, and a folk-like idiom.

  • Russlan und Lyudmilla (1842). Russlan is based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). It is most notable for the use of the whole-tone scale to represent the villain Chernomor (an evil dwarf). After its failure, which disappointed the composer greatly, Glinka abandoned his quest and turned to more European subjects (for example A Night in the Gardens of Spain).

The Mighty Five (Mighty Handful)
In the words of the founder, Balakirev, the Mighty Handful:

  • Was a close-knit circle of young composers

  • Emphasized self-education over conservatory study

  • Studied the masters

  • Enthusiastic with the music of Schumann, Liszt, Chopin and Berlioz

Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) was the founding father and spiritual leader of the Mighty Five. He was born in Novgorod (the historic city associated with the Nevsky saga). At eighteen, he met Glinka in Saint Petersburg and took his advice to heart. Balakirev made his debut on piano in 1856. The group he gathered around him (Mussorgsky, Cui, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov) established themselves in opposition to Rubinstein as the bulwark of Russian nationalism in music. Balakirev formed the Free School of Music in 1862.
Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) was a Russian composer and chemist (a notable one). Borodin was Georgian by birth, the illegitimate son of a nobleman who had him registered as a serf. In his work as a chemist, he discovered an effect with “aldehydes” which is named for him. His most notable work is the (incomplete) opera Prince Igor, based on a libretto by the composer and completed by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. It was premiered posthumously in 1890. The famous Polovetzian Dances from Act II are a concert-hall favorite.
Caesar Cui (1835-1918) was of French, Russian and Lithuanian descent. He was an army officer and had a notable career. He composed eight operas, all of which have fallen out of the Western repertoire. As a critic, he wrote over 800 essays. Originally a progressive, he eventually turned reactionary. He sharply worded criticisms of Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff did damage to those composers. His last reviews were intended as humor, with titles such as “How to Be Modern Composer of Genius without Being a Musician”, in which he attacked Richard Strauss.
Modest Musorgsky (1839-1881) was the most innovative of the Mighty Five (Handful), Musorgsky descended from a family of wealthy landowners. Musorgsky received lessons as a boy and was able to play John Field’s Piano Concerto at age nine. Musorgsky intended to pursue a military career. He became a clerk in the civil service. He fell under the influence first, of Dargomizhsky and Stassov, and later, Balakirev. Later, he heard and helped edit Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar. The emancipation of the serfs led to the family’s loss of economic position and Mussorgsky’s impoverishment. He worked as a low-grade civil servant to stave off poverty. Alcohol abuse led to seizures and an early death.
Musically, Musorgsky’s music:

  • Is essentially tonal

  • Often juxtaposes distantly related harmonies, used for coloristic purposes

  • Repetition of large blocks of material rather than development

Musorgsky’s most important works include: He did the majority of the work while sharing rooms with Rimsky-Korsakov. Other important works include:

  • Boris Godunov, based on a libretto by the composer which he drew from the Pushkin play and Karamizin’s history. It includes the notable Coronation Scene

  • A Night on Bare Mountain (1867)

  • The Sorochinsky Fair

  • Songs and Dances of Death

  • Pictures at an Exhibition, composed in 1874 as a piano suite. Musorgsky was inspired by a posthumous exhibit of over 400 paintings and drawings by his friend Viktor Hartmann, an architect. The exhibit was arranged by Vladimir Stasov, and from it Mussorgsky selected ten pictures as inspiration. He introduced the work with a “Promenade” in which he depicted himself walking to the exhibit (“my physiognomy can be seen in the interludes” is what Mussorgsky wrote to Stasov). In the original suite, a variation on this promenade appears between most of the movements, showing the viewer’s changing attitude as he strolls through the exhibit. Interestingly, the promenade theme is gradually absorbed into the pictures, appearing prominently in Con mortuis in lingua mortua and the Bogatyr Gate.

Michael Touschmaloff, a Russian conductor, was the first to orchestrate Mussorgsky’s piano suite. He was assisted by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Touschmaloff omitted three of the picture movements and all but one of the Promenades. Ravel’s famous orchestration restored all but one of the Promenades. Wikipedia lists 28 orchestral arrangements of “Pictures”.

Rimsky-Korsakov “completed” several other of Mussorgsky’s works after the composer’s death. Though well-meaning, Rimsky was a much less original thinker than Mussorgsky, and some of his “corrections” fail to understand Mussorgsky’s true intent.
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). Perhaps the most thoroughly trained and professional of the Mighty Handful, Rimsky had a successful Naval career before embarking on his musical one. He met Balakirev in 1861 and began to concentrate on music. Rimsky was largely self-trained, but received an appointment to teach at the Moscow Conservatory in 1871. In Russia he is best known for his 15 operas, which include Sadko, May Night, The Tsar’s Bride, Snowmaiden, The Golden Cockerel and, The Maid of Pskov. Rimsky had synaesthesia (visualization of color while hearing tones) which may have influenced his orchestration.
Rimsky’s most famous orchestral works include Scheherazade (1888), Capriccio Espagnol and The Great Russian Easter Overture. He briefly lost his position at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1905 by supporting the students against the government of the Tsar.
In his opera The Golden Cockerel (1906-1907), Rimsky alternates a diatonic/modal style which represents the everyday world with a chromatic/fantastic style which represents the supernatural world.
Rimsky experimented with scales based on equal division of the octave (see p. 511 in text). Those scales include the whole-tone scale (six-note scale) and the octatonic scale (created by overlapping two diminished-seventh chords).
He died of a heart condition. His daughter Nadezhda married another Russian composer, Maximilian Steinberg. It was for this wedding that Stravinsky composed “Fireworks” as a wedding gift.
Rimsky is important for his:

  • compositions

  • completion of numerous works by members of the Mighty Handful and others

  • treatise “Principles of Orchestration”

  • autobiography

  • numerous students who achieved greatness, Stravinsky among them

Other Nationalists
Eduard Grieg (1843-1907). Grieg is the most famous Norwegian composer of the 19th century. His major works include a Piano Concerto (closely modeled on Schumann’s Piano Concerto), the incidental music to Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, and various piano works, chamber music and songs. Grieg came to the attention of Franz Liszt, who read Grieg’s Piano Concerto at sight, impressing the audience with both his performance and the work. Grieg achieved fame but not wealth during his lifetime. His biography was the subject of a Hollywood movie which, together with the catchy tunes from Peer Gynt, has made him famous.
Grieg identified himself with the Norwegian national cause to seek independence from Sweden. Grieg wrote that Norwegian musical tradition was “a lving presence in all I give forth.”
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

  1. British composer

  2. His first major orchestral work, Enigma Variations, is probably his most popular and successful piece

    1. Elgar was 42

    2. Full title: Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma)

    3. Portrait of the composer’s friends

    4. The theme has been shown to be derived from “Hail Britannia”)

    5. Work was premiered by Hans Richter

  3. Elgar practically ceased composing after the death of his wife in 1920

  4. Other works include:

    1. Pomp and Circumstance Marches

    2. Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2

    3. The Dream of Gerontius (1900 choral work)—inspired by Wagner’s Parsifal, based on a poem by the Catholic poet John Henry Newman

    4. Violin and cello concerti

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