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Five Operas and a Symphony

Five Operas and a Symphony: Word and Music in Russian Culture

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Five Operas and a Symphony
    Book Description:

    In this eagerly anticipated book, Boris Gasparov gazes through the lens of music to find an unusual perspective on Russian cultural and literary history. He discusses six major works of Russian music from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, showing the interplay of musical texts with their literary and historical sources within the ideological and cultural contexts of their times. Each musical work becomes a tableau representing a moment in Russian history, and together the works form a coherent story of ideological and aesthetic trends as they evolved in Russia from the time of Pushkin to the rise of totalitarianism in the 1930s.Gasparov discusses Glinka'sRuslan and Ludmilla (1842), Mussorgsky'sBoris Godunov (1871) andKhovanshchina (1881), Tchaikovsky'sEugene Onegin (1878) andThe Queen of Spades (1890), and Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony (1934). Offering new interpretations to enhance our understanding and appreciation of these important works, Gasparov also demonstrates how Russian music and cultural history illuminate one another.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13316-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: In the Shadow of Literature
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    Russian music has a characteristic sound. A reasonably experienced listener instantly recognizes the distinct “Russianness” in a piece of Russian art music, from Yevstignei Fomin’sLand Coachmen at the Post Station(1787) to Sofia Gubaidulina’sDe profundisfor bayan (1978); the few exceptions only confirm the rule, since they are obviously deliberate. The same can be said of Russian traditional folk and modern popular songs, as well as of the liturgical singing of the Russian Orthodox Church. The phenomenon is not unlike one’s being able to recognize a “Mediterranean landscape,” whether it is actually situated in Greece, in the Caucasus,...

  5. 1 Sound and Discourse: On Russian National Musical Style
    (pp. 1-22)

    The Russian folk melody “Glory” became popular in the nineteenth century, not least because of Beethoven’s use of it in one of the Rasoumoffsky quartets; it appears in op. 59, no. 2 in the middle part of the scherzo, marked in the score as “thème russe” (example 1.1a). The theme was subsequently used by Rimsky-Korsakov as the leitmotif of Tsar Ivan the Terrible inThe Maiden of PskovandThe Tsar’s Brideand, most famously, by Musorgsky in the coronation scene ofBoris Godunov. In Beethoven’s and Musorgsky’s works the theme appears as a chorale as well as in a...

  6. 2 Farewell to the Enchanted Garden: Pushkin, Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila, and Nicholas’s Russia
    (pp. 23-57)

    In the summer of 1840 Glinka let his friends know of his decision to leave St. Petersburg, ostensibly for good. As he wrote in his memoirs: “I wanted to leave Petersburg. I was not exactly ill but not exactly in good health either: my heart was heavy from all the disappointments, my mind preoccupied with vague gloomy thoughts.”¹

    His disappointment with his career, personal life, and creative plans was the more bitter in that it stood in remarkable contrast to shining expectations that had accompanied the première of his first opera,A Life for the Tsar,a little more than...

  7. 3 Eugene Onegin in the Age of Realism
    (pp. 58-94)

    When, in May 1877, Chaikovsky made the momentous decision to write an opera based on Pushkin’s novel in verse, he was convinced from the very beginning that it would be unfit for, or unacceptable to, “big” opera houses. This “modest work,” which he refused to call an opera, preferring the subtitle “Lyrical Scenes” instead,² was meant for small audiences and a private atmosphere. At the composer’s insistence,Eugene Oneginwas initially produced not by an opera house but by the Moscow Conservatory studio (1879). Only two years later, in 1881, wasOneginperformed at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow; a...

  8. 4 Khovanshchina: A Musical Drama, Russian-Style (Wagner and Musorgsky)
    (pp. 95-131)

    In the summer of 1872, barely a month after he had finished extensive revisions ofBoris Godunovfor its expected production at the Mariinsky Theater, Musorgsky conceived another historical opera or, as he called it, “people’s musical drama.” Once again, its subject was drawn from the tumultuous history of seventeenth-century Russia, this time closer to the century’s end. In a letter to his mentor Vladimir Stasov, Musorgsky reported gathering materials for his new project into a notebook on whose cover he had written a word he had apparently coined himself:Khovanshchina(literally, “Khovanskyism”).

    The way Musorgsky proceeded with his new...

  9. 5 Lost in a Symbolist City: Multiple Chronotopes in Chaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades
    (pp. 132-160)

    When Brahms’s First Symphony appeared in 1876, critics and the public dubbed it “Beethoven’s Tenth.” Expectations of the advent of a new Beethoven were running as high in the German-speaking world, as were expectations of a new Gogol in Russia (nobody waited for a new Pushkin or a new Goethe: national cultural piety is fed by expectations of a new messiah but worships only one God). The music of the symphony itself provoked this catchy label: it was permeated by reminiscences of Beethoven’s symphonies in general and his Ninth in particular. Especially poignant was the chorale that opened the last...

  10. 6 A Testimony: Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony and the End of Romantic Narrative
    (pp. 161-184)

    Shostakovich finished his Fourth Symphony in the fall of 1936, soon after the official denunciation ofLady Macbeth of Mtsensk.¹ In the increasingly ominous atmosphere, amid the flood of denunciations and criticism of his music that followed, the composer eventually decided to withdraw his new symphony from rehearsal (or so the official story, never disclaimed by the composer, went; in fact, it was the administration of the Union of Soviet Composers that made this decision in his name).² Its première had to wait twenty-five years, until 1961.³ Nevertheless, it was the Fourth Symphony, more clearly than any other Shostakovich work...

  11. 7 “Popolo di Pekino”: Musorgsky’s Muscovy in Early Twentieth-Century Europe
    (pp. 185-208)

    Giacomo Puccini’s last opera, written (but left unfinished) amid the tumults of the early 1920s—the destruction of the old world order sealed by the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires, the boisterous cultural atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties, the nascence of Russian communism and Italian fascism—showed a significant transformation of his style.¹ It is true that for critics who like to station themselves at an imaginary blackboard to chalk down every triad a twentieth-century composer allowed to slip into his score,Turandotstill fell short of the standards of “modern music.”² Viewed from a somewhat broader aesthetic...

  12. Epilogue “Prima la musica, dopo le parole”: Musical Genealogy of a National Anthem
    (pp. 209-218)

    During the first twenty-five years of its existence, the Soviet Union did not have a national anthem. The very idea recalled the insignia of the past that had been obliterated by the revolution. The need to have music for ceremonial occasions was satisfied by the “Internationale” (music by Paul Degeiter, words by Eugène Pottier), originally written in 1871 to celebrate the creation of the Second Socialist International and now adopted, in Russian translation (by Arkady Kots, 1902) and with the requisite correction of tenses (“This is our last and decisive battle” instead of “This will be . . .”), as...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 219-254)
  14. Index
    (pp. 255-268)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-270)