Spring Flood: Russian and German Romances

Spring Flood: Russian and German Romances


>>David Plylar: Good
evening everybody. It’s nice to see so
many people here already for our pre-concert talk. My name is David Plylar,
I’m with the Music Division of The Library of Congress. And we’re in a real big treat as
always with our concert tonight, but with Gerald Finley
and Julius Drake, and our pre-concert
speaker Dr. Harlow Robinson. I’m just going to give a
brief introduction of him and then I’ll let him
get the talk underway and tell us a bit more
about what we’re going to be hearing tonight. Matthew’s distinguished
university professor Dr. Harlow Robinson is a specialist
in Soviet and Russian Cultural History
and has written widely on Soviet film and
the performing arts. His major publications
include Sergei Prokofiev, a biography which has
appeared in five additions. The Last Impresario, he Life,
Times and Legacy of Sol Hurok, and Selected Letters
of Sergei Prokofiev, which he edited and translated. His book Russians in Hollywood: Hollywood’s Russians
was published in 2007. He’s also contributed
numerous essays, articles, and review to the New York Time,
Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Opera News, Opera Quarterly,
dance, playbills, symphony, and other publications. As a lecturer he’s appeared
at the Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic,
Metropolitan Museum of Arts, Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln
Center, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Music Center
Opera, Guggenheim Museum, San Francisco Symphony,
The Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Aspen Music Festival
and the Bard Festival. He has also worked
as a consultant for numerous performing arts
organizations and as a writer and commentator for PBS, NPR and the Canadian
Broadcasting System. Professor Robinson has
served as Vice President of the American Association
of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. He’s a frequent visitor to
the former USSR and Russia. He has received fellowships
and grants from the NEH, American Council of
Learned Societies, Fulbright and the Whiting Foundation. Professor Robins teaches courses
on Russian cultural history, the history of Russian
cinema, the image of Russia in American culture, and Prague, Vienna and Budapest
from 1867 to 1918. In March of 2010, Professor
Robinson was selected by the Academy of Motion
Pictures of Arts and Sciences as an Academy Film Scholar. As part of this prestigious
honor he received a grant from the academy’s
Institutional Grants Committee to support his research
on the career of Oscar Winning
Director Lewis Milestone. Please join me in
welcoming Harlow Robinson. [ Applause ]>>Harlow Robinson: Thank you
so much it’s a great pleasure to be here, thank you
David for inviting me. And you know, I have worked at this wonderful
library in the past. In fact, it was very
important to me when I was writing my two
books on Sergei Prokofiev about the biography
and the collection of letters that I did later on. Because here in the music
division there’s quite a lot of Prokofiev material. And in fact, in this very series
Prokofiev wrote his first string quartet as a commission for
the Coolidge Series in 1930. So, this is a really
wonderful tradition here that I’m very happy
to be part of. The letters between Prokofiev
and Koussevitzky are housed in the music division. And that was really an
important source for me on tracing Prokofiev’s career
in America after he came here and worked with the
Boston Symphony in the 1920s and the 1930s. So, anyway, it’s a
great pleasure to be. Guten Abend. Dobry vecer. So, this evening, yes, we’re having a German,
Russian evening. Historically the Germans and
Russians have not gotten along that well as you all know, particularly in recent
centuries. But musically, a very,
very close relationship. German music was
a huge influence on the evolution
of Russian music. Many German musicians
were imported to Imperial Russia
beginning back at the time of Peter the Great and onward, to create a professionalized
musical life in Russia. And many German composers,
of course visited Russia and many Russian
composers and writers lived in Germany, studied in Germany. So, obviously there’s’
a very close connection. And there’s several threads
in the program tonight, the wonderful program
of Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky , and Rachmaninoff. One is Goethe, because actually,
nearly half of the songs that are going to be performed
this evening are settings of text by Goethe All
of the Beethoven songs, all but one of the
Schubert songs, and one of the Tchaikovsky
songs, None but the Lonely Heart. So, Goethe is one
point of reference for the entire program. And another is actually
Beethoven. Of course, we’re hearing
four songs of Beethoven, there’s also a very
unusual song by Rachmaninoff that you’re going to hearing
this evening called Fate Sud’ba, which uses the opening motif
from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, which Rachmaninoff believes
as so many others have, that this is a representation
of Fate. And there’s even some
reference to Beethoven in one of the Schubert songs
An der Mond, An de Mond, although I was speaking
with David beforehand, there’s an introduction to one
of the versions of that song that is a citation from
the Moonlight Sonata, because it’s a song
about the moon. But, in fact, it seems like
that may have been a spurious addition later on, it’s
not entirely clear. But anyway, Beethoven and
Goethe are two touchpoints for this program. As you know, the
relationship between text and music is always
a very complex one. In many ways a difficult
marriage, who is leading, the text or the music,
as in opera? But of course, in the case of
songs it’s even more so because in opera we have the
visual aspect whereas with songs we have only
the text and the setting. And songs, as s serious concert
genre really didn’t emerge until the early 19th century. Beethoven and Sherbert, Schubert
were really the pioneers in this area. Russian serious art
songs came somewhat later as I’ll describe a little bit
more in detail in a moment, in the, really in the
19th century starting in the mid-19th century
and then Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff followed
by Prokofiev, Shostakovich in the Soviet era wonderful
settings by composers like Sviridov and others. But once again it was really
Germany that led the way in many ways for what
became of Russian Songs. And how does the music
illustrate the text? This is something we
always are looking at when we listen to songs. Is it very literal
representation? In some cases, you
will hear that in some of the songs this evening like
the representation of tears in one of the Schubert songs. The Spring Flood, which I
have named my talk tonight, Spring Flood, which is actually
the last song on the program. And you know I just endured
a Boston winter so it’s great to be thinking about spring. It’s so lovely to be somewhere where there’s actually
some green and flowers. And this Rachmaninoff
song is also about the joy of spring coming to Russia. And we know that this is
a very important topic in Russian music,
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and in many other works of
literature and music in Russia, the coming of spring,
the coming of Easter. And so, you know, all these
songs they tell stories, they’re all kind
of short stories. Some are very dramatic and actually describe
dramatic action like Schubert’s song Erlkönig. Other songs describe
states of mind, which I must say
mostly are depressed. In, there’s the song The Flea
is one exception tonight. Generally speaking, most of
the songs are in minor keys and they deal with things
like crying and loneliness, and heartbreak and separation. And this is something Goethe,
of course, was very good at. And why would they
turn to Goethe? Why did so many composers
turn to Goethe? Well, of course Goethe and
let me show you my next slide where I have the — — the composers, by the
way, here they are Beethoven. So, we spend 160 years
from Beethoven’s birth to Rachmaninoff’s death
in Los Angeles in 1943. Schubert a little bit later,
Tchaikovsky in the middle of the century, Rachmaninoff
spanning two centuries and actually ending his career
of course, in the United States. And the poets, there
are actually, yeah, seven different poets good to
the earliest of them and the one to whom most of these,
or for, on which most of these songs were based. One song by Vasily, based
on a poem Vasily Zhukovsky who was a court poet
during the late 19th century and the early — — late 18th and early
19th century in Russia. And then some important
Romantic Russian poets Tyutchev, A.K. Tolstoy. Not Leo, related but
a different fellow who was primarily a playwright
actually, but also wrote poems. And Fet, who wrote lots
of poems about nature. Apukhtin who was sort
of a decadent poet, not a very well-known figure
but his poems have been set by a number of Russian
composers. Strange fact about
Apukhtin is that he suffered from incurable obesity and
basically couldn’t move. Sort of like the
character in [foreign word], if you know Gunther Rouff’s
[phonetic] novel [foreign word]. Merezhkovsky, who
was a symbolist poet. And Rachmaninoff
was very interested in the poems of Merezhkovsy. Russian Springtime,
you see snow. And of course, that
was very true, I mean, any of you who have
been to Russia. I remember many spring
times in Russia snow in May. And, but it starts to happen,
the water starts to melt, the snow starts to melt. That’s of course, the
most important thing in the Rachmaninoff
song [foreign words], Springtime Waters. So, let me tell you a little bit
more about Schubert, Beethoven, Schubert and then move on to, I want to focus a bit
more on the Russian songs. David actually asked me to
do that, because I think many of you are more familiar
particularly with the Schubert songs and the
Beethoven songs, but maybe not so much with the
Tchaikovsky songs and the Rachmaninoff songs. Beethoven, he’s not really
known as a composer of songs, he did write quite a few,
mainly based on text of Goethe. Although it was, after-all,
Beethoven who brought a chorus into the Symphonic genre
with his 9th Symphony. He’s not especially known for
creating melodies in song, he didn’t like to present
specific images in his music. He actually said, “When
sounds stir within, I always hear the
full orchestra. I know what to expect
of instrumentalists, who are capable of
almost everything. But with vocal compositions I
must always be asking myself, can this be sung?” So, he wasn’t maybe a natural
vocal composer maybe, Beethoven. Also, Goethe was not
the happy with some of Beethoven’s settings
because he repeated, he would repeat lines and so on. And this is another big issue of
course in the settings of poems by relatively well-known poets. And almost all composers of
songs, lieder, as we call them in German, romance
[phonetic] in Russian. They did take liberties with
the text and repeat phrases. And you see this a
great deal particularly in Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. There is some literal
illustration of feelings in the Beethoven songs,
particularly in [foreign words] where the Thirty-second notes
create the immediate image of tears flowing. So, we’re hearing four songs
by Beethoven at the beginning. And then we’re hearing
eight by Schubert. Now Franz Schubert
of course was the one who really created
this lieder repertoire. He wrote scores and
scores of songs, of course he wrote
other things too in a remarkably short lifetime. But it was really Schubert who made songs a
serious concert genre. Before that, they
were really kind of considered an amateur
form not really that serious. They were called Haus Musik,
music of a rather low status. Schubert started writing songs
very early in his career, he was only 17 when he
wrote the wonderful song that concludes the first
half of the [foreign words], which tells this amazing story,
kind of a fairytale story of a father with a sick
child on a horse galloping, and there’s three different
voices talking to each other, he was 17 when he wrote it. So, in Schubert, we also see that the voice doesn’t
always carry the melody. There’s a lot of interplay
between the piano and the voice, and of course that’s
a whole ‘nother aspect to consider in these songs. What’s the role of the piano? How intrusive is it? Is it merely accompaniment
or is it to become more active
participant in telling a story? And I think especially
you’ll notice when we get to the Rachmaninoff songs, the piano becomes
much more important. And after all, Rachmaninoff
was a very gifted virtuoso. So, it’s no surprise and he often would
accompany the singers in the songs that he wrote. So, it’s not a surprise
that the piano parts in the Rachmaninoff songs are
often particularly complex, in Spring Waters you
see that, for example. Schubert tried to convey this
idea of immediate experience through music to
represent the inner movement of experience in sound. And most of his songs, there
are also songs that deal with methodology here that we’re
going to be hearing tonight. With the passage of time, many
of them are quite metaphorical. And the Erlkönig, which
ends this Schubert set. Now, let me talk more about
Russian songs and sort of the evolution of
Russian romances. In his book in 1896, the Russian
composer and critic Cesar Cui, who also wrote songs,
stressed two points. The first was that in the
Russian national tradition the link between folk song and art
song, which was called romance, romance [phonetic], which
came into the Russian language from Spanish, that the
relationship between folk song and art song had always
been particularly close. Now of course in Schubert’s
songs we also hear influence of folk song, but it’s more
so in the Russian tradition. And this was quite
conscious on the part of these Russian composers, the
members of the Mighty Handful who believed that for Russian
music to become distinctive, it needed to draw on Russian
folklore and folk tradition. So, this is something we
here even in Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, and
certainly in songs by composers like Rimsky-Korsakov,
Mussorgsky , for example. So, close connection between
folk song and art song in the Russian tradition. “Folk song,” Cui
wrote, “Was the cradle of the contemporary art song. When collective creativity
passed into individual creativity
and found expression in artistically refined and
technically complete form.” Secondly, Cui emphasized the
unusual reverence felt by the, towards the text by Russian
composers, who tended more than their Western
counterparts to regard poetry and music as equal partners. The word gives definite form
to the feelings expressed and the music strengthens
this expression, providing sonic poetry that
goes beyond what words can say. Both elements merge together and with double strength
act upon the listener.” And it was this organic unity
of poetry and music that Cui saw as the ideal of the
Russian romance. And one that he encouraged
his colleagues in the group of composers known as the Mighty
Handful, the [foreign words], Mussorgsky, Borodin, Balakirev,
Rimsky-Korsakov and Cui, this was their sort of
idea, their doctrine. By the time Cui wrote his book, there already had been 100
years of Russian songs. At first this label romance, was applied to a vocal
composition written by a Russian composer
to a French text, with the French language of
course, being very much in vogue in Russia around 1800,
especially in Catherine’s Court. Lyrical songs with instrumental
accompaniment usually with keyboard and written to Russian text were called
something different, not romance but [foreign words]
pesnya, Russian songs, [foreign word] pesnya. So, by the early 19th century, as imported European culture
became more completely integrated into Russian
upper-class life, the term romance came to refer
to songs set to Russian text as well, so this was
sort of the evolution. This tradition which corresponds to the German lied also
incorporated elements of the Russian native genre
song, [foreign word] romance, which is a kind of urban
song, which was more popular and less sophisticated. As in many other areas
of Russian musical life, it was Glinka who led the way in professionalizing
the Russian romance, providing numerous models
for others to follow. The next generation was
especially concerned with reflecting the
smallest nuances of the text, and preferred a declamatory
style closely following the contours of the language. And of course, the
greatest practitioner of this style was
Modest Mussorgsky, composer of Boris
Godunov and other operas. Choosing vivid often
satirical text that disturb, deal with disturbing
psychological and social issues, he produced a number of brilliant song
cycles including Songs and Dances of Death. And Mussorgsky’s friend and collaborator
Stasiv [phonetic] wrote, “What kind of romances
are these? They are genuine scenes right
out of major operas with broad and deeply gripping stories, complete with scenic
interest and drama.” At the opposite pole from
Mussorgsky was Tchaikovsky. His many beautiful songs
stand stylistically and emotionally much closer
to the Western mainstream and the German lied tradition. Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky
did have a lot in common, maybe that’s why
these two geniuses, Russia’s greatest 19th century
composers couldn’t stand each other. Fated to be compared,
thrown into social and musical competition in
the glittering cultural arena of Zara [phonetic],
St. Petersburg. They evolved into bitter rivals
with radically different ideas about what Russian opera
should be and song. Their relationship
was not unlike the one between certain prima
donnas Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi come to mind, singing the same roles
around the same time. Divas don’t especially
like to share the spotlight and neither do composers. In Mussorgsky’s eyes Tchaikovsky
was pandering and insincere, his music too pretty
and European. Mussorgsky even referred
to Tchaikovsky by a mocking Turkish
nickname, [foreign words]. This was the same nickname used by a notorious pro
Turkish Polish nationalist who also happened to
be named Tchaikovsky. For his part, Tchaikovsky
found Mussorgsky “course, crude and rough,” and dismissed
his music as ugly and unrefined. And they did have very
different careers. Tchaikovsky to a much
more conventional path to musical success. In 1862 Tchaikovsky enrolled
in Russia’s first conservatory, the spanking new St. Petersburg
Conservatory and was a member of its first graduating class. Then he became a teacher at the recently opened
Moscow Conservatory, which guaranteed a reliable
income, a respectability and networking possibilities. Mussorgsky on the other hand,
was famously disorganized, had a very sporadic
education and drank himself to death, unfortunately. Although Tchaikovsky
enjoyed La Dolce Vita, he clearly possessed
better social skills and self-discipline
then Mussorgsky. And Tchaikovsky shunned
what he regarded as the confining
Russian nationalism of the Mighty Handful. Instead he embraced the more
international identity of a “European from Russia,”
to use the words of choreographer
George Balanchine, one of Tchaikovsky’s
great admirers. In his songs, Tchaikovsky was
influenced by such great masters as Schumann particularly
in Germany and his romances often resemble
full blown operatic arias. Afterall, remember
Tchaikovsky wrote a number of very important operas, Eugene
Onegin, The Queen of Spades, The Iolanta, Mazeppa,
and so on and so on. So, he, obviously his
operatic practice bled into his work in songs as well. And his songs tend to be
more symphonically developed than Mussorgsky’s. Building on the tradition on
the popular Russian genre song, Tchaikovsky adds
psychological depth and drama, and became a model for another
brilliant Russian composer of songs, Sergei Rachmaninoff. Tchaikovsky interestingly did
consider becoming an actor and he was very concerned with
conveying drama in his songs. Now, one has to say that most of Tchaikovsky’s
songs are very sad. I want to talk about this one, Only the Lonely Heart [foreign
words], which is based on, which is a setting
of a Goethe poem. This is Tchaikovsky’s
most famous song by far, Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt. It was translated into
Russian by May and it comes from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm
Meister’s Apprenticeship, and it also exists in several
instrumental arrangements. . And if you’ve ever,
if you follow scores, film scores for films
about Russia, this song shows up in so many. Very famously, actually in
Greta Garbo’s Anna Karenina, where it’s actually a kind
of a light motif, this song. And it’s used over and
over again in Hollywood. Of course, Tchaikovsky’s songs
and symphonies and even opera, operatic music was one
of the prime sources for film composers particularly
in the early years of Hollywood. And you know, Goethe, he was
fantastically popular in Russia by the way, as he
was everywhere. You know, Goethe
was really the sort of first best-selling author, his novel Werther was
a global best-seller. Napoleon supposedly read it
seven times and Lenin liked it. And one of the things that’s
important about Werther and other Goethe
writings of course, is that he writes very much about the individuals being
isolated from society. An individual who cannot find
his place in bourgeois society, Werther, of course, is all
about a hopeless romance that Werther has for a woman
who’s married to someone else, who’s respectable and nice but
clearly not the man she loves. And he’s, he suffers
from anguish over his position in society. And I think Tchaikovsky who
also had his own difficulties in establishing a
happy romantic life. He was gay at a time in Russia
where it was really impossible to express that very openly. And he tends to very much
sympathize with characters who cannot find love very
happily like in The Queen of Spades or Eugene Onegin. And this song is all about
suffering, that’s the word that keeps being repeated over
and over again in this song — [ Foreign Language Spoken ] “How I much I suffered,
[foreign words], how I am still suffering.” Suffering, suffering, suffering, I love my suffering is
basically what’s happening here. And it’s an interesting
song musically as well because it has a kind of unusual
off-center accompaniment. So, here let me play you
actually two different versions. And of course, these songs,
many of them, were written for one kind of voice but
they’ve been transposed for every kind of
voice you can imagine, and particularly in this case. And here I wanted to play
you two different versions, one is by a baritone like
we’re going to hear tonight like Nicolai Ghiaurov and the
other by a mezzo, Olga Borodina, who can also sing soprano. So, hopefully we’ll
get this to work here. [ Music ] [ Singing, Music ] [ Music ] [ Singing, Music ]>>Harlow Robinson: So, it’s all
about is, love being far away, suffering, suffering, suffering. “Ah, only one who’s
known longing to be together can know
what I’ve suffered.” [ Foreign Language Spoken ] I’m, I was thinking
about playing for you Frank Sinatra’s version, but I couldn’t find
a good recording. Maybe you’ve heard it, right? Everybody has recorded this
song in every kind of language, in every kind of arrangement. So, this is really a good
example of Tchaikovsky songs in that, it’s all
about a feeling, it’s all about a feeling
and conveying a feeling. And Tchaikovsky in all of
his music was, of course, a great master at that
in symphonies too. The emotion just comes
across so strongly. But here listen to a different
version sung by Olga Borodina. [ Music ] [ Singing, Music ] Of course, having a mezzo sing
it, a totally different color, the gender idea is totally
different, but it is a song that can be very easily sung. Of course, the, actually in Russian the verbs are
masculine [foreign words], not [foreign words], but she
still sings the original lyrics from the point of
view of a man’s voice. So, that’s one of the best
examples of Tchaikovsky, but I wanted to also,
he was capable of writing happier things. And one of, a good example is
this song Don Juan’s Serenade that we’re going to
hearing also tonight. And this comes from a poem by the Russian poem Aleksei
Tolstoy, who was actually kind of a friend of Tchaikovsky. And it’s a funny little song with a very strong Spanish
flavor, about Don Juan and wooing various women
in Granada and elsewhere. Tchaikovsky loved
Spain and Italy like many other Russian
composers, Glinka spent a lot
of time in Spain. And we have Spanish
capricho, Italian, capriccio Italian and so on. Lots of reference to Spain in Russian Music
generally speaking. But, so, here’s this Don Juan’s
Serenade, “Nightfall comes to the golden lands
of distant Alpujara’s, to the call of my guitar,
come out my darling.” And you’ll hear this
kind of Spanish flavor in the accompaniment
particularly. [ Music ] [ Singing, Music ]>>Harlow Robinson:
This is Ghiaurov. [ Singing, Music ]>>Harlow Robinson:
And actually, what he’s doing is calling
to duel anybody who’s going to come on to his girlfriend. So, as I said, most of his songs
are much more melancholy and are about feelings, but this
is kind of a little scene, almost a kind of operatic scene. The other two songs that
we’re hearing by Tchaikovsky, one is from a poem by
Tyutchev, [foreign words], As Over the Burning Ashes,
and it’s, Tyutchev was known as a philosophical poet. And it’s a poem really
about the creative process, so a poet looking at a manuscript that’s
burning up in the fireplace. And sort of saying, “This
manuscript is like me, my life burning away and my
work which is not important.” And then, the other song At
the Ball, [foreign words], also by Aleskei Tolstoy. It’s a nice little, sort of
monologue of someone who’s been at a party and seen
a beautiful woman and he’s very struck with her. And he’s saying, “Well,
do I love her or not? I’m not sure, but I think I do.” And that’s also an
extremely popular song that has been recorded by
many, many people that ends with this kind of enigmatic
unanswered question. And Tchaikovsky did not believe that he should necessarily
just respect the poem as it was written. He often, he omits lines, he
repeats lines, he repeats words. And he said, “Absolute accuracy of musical declination
is a negative quality, and its importance
should not be exaggerated. What does the repetition
of words, even of whole sentences matter? Under the influence of strong
emotion, a person repeats one in the same exclamation
and sentence very often,” Which is certainly true. So, poetic love, vivid, grief,
these are the main themes of Tchaikovsky’s songs. Now, Rachmaninoff, who was of
course younger than Tchaikovsky and still alive when,
Tchaikovsky was still alive when Rachmaninoff
was starting out. Tchaikovsky encouraged
Rachmaninoff a great deal. And Rachmaninoff wrote
many, many, songs. Outside Russia, we
know him primarily for his solo piano music
and symphonic works. The Rhapsody on A Theme of
Paganini, which seems to be on the Radio all the time. The three Romantic Symphonies,
the cinematic Symphonic Dances. But for Russians, his
extensive output as a composer of vocal music is
no less beloved. I mean, he did write operas,
cantatas, liturgies, songs. A serious and passionate admirer
both of the possibilities of the singing voice, and
the dark and supple beauty of the Russian language. Rachmaninoff counted numerous
singers among his closest friends and musical advisors. As a young man in his
early 20s, he conducted at a small Moscow opera
company where he worked with the legendary
bass Fydor Chaliapin. They too quickly became soul
mates and lifelong friends. And he wrote quite a few songs
specifically for Chaliapin, of course one of the greatest
basses who ever lived. And interesting that they
both ended up in America where they had a lot to do
with each other here too. And in his memoir Chaliapin
praised Rachmaninoff’s understanding of
the art of singing. “With Rachmaninoff playing or conducting the singer
could be absolutely relaxed. He could reveal the spirit of
the piece with subtle mastery. If a retard or pause were
needed he could provide it with exactly the right measure. When Rachmaninoff was
accompanying me at the piano, I would have to say, “Not I am
singing but we are singing,” which is a great tribute. So, Rachmaninoff wrote something
like 80, more than 80 songs for solo voice and piano. But interesting, he
didn’t write a single song after he left Russia in 1917. You may know Rachmaninoff
fled Bolshevik Russia, he had absolutely no
sympathy for the Bolsheviks or what he was, assumed
they would do to Russia. And of course, he came from
an aristocratic background, he was — — just not part of
that scene at all. And he left going through
Sweden, he lived in Europe, but then he really
settled in America where he toured all over. And he ended up living,
actually in Beverly Hills. So, for, I think it’s
a very interesting fact that for Rachmaninoff,
the language was so key. And somehow he couldn’t find
inspiration writing songs living in a non-Russian speaking place. So, all of his 83 songs were
actually composed before he, with he left, before he left. And these include
wonderful songs that have become
extremely popular. Now I think the one that’s
very unusual that you’re going to hear tonight is
this song Fate, Sud’ba, which is to words of Apukhtin. And it also has the
note, you know, inspired by Beethoven’s
5th Symphony. And this group of
songs, the Opus 21, they are among the most popular
of all of Rachmaninoff’s songs. And they came actually from one of Rachmaninoff’s
rare happy period. Stravinsky once described
Rachmaninoff as “A six and a half foot tall scowl.” And they both ended up in
Los Angeles as neighbors which is very interesting. So, finally, Rachmaninoff
produces kind of more or less a happier set of songs. And the song Fate, I don’t
think you could call it happy certainly, but it’s very
dramatic and different in that it tells a kind of story that has real social
significance. And that’s a little bit
unusual for Rachmaninoff. This poem by Apukhtin,
is, it personifies fate as a woman going around
knocking with her cane. And no matter who she
meets they have to succumb, whether they’re poor or
rich, or in love or whatever, that there’s no escaping fate. This also is a very Russian
idea, sud’ba, we are, or we have to yield to our fate, there’s nothing we
can do about it. And what’s fairly
interesting is, how the opening of the song quotes from
Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, the opening of Beethoven’s
5th Symphony, which has often been seen as
a representation also of Fate. So, here’s the opening bars of
the 5th Symphony of Beethoven and then I’ll play you
the opening of the song. [ Music ] [ Music ] [ Singing, Music ]>>Harlow Robinson: So,
the [foreign words], which is repeated
throughout the song, the sound of the cane
hitting the pavement, that’s fate announcing that,
“Hey, you’re not escaping me.” So, this was a song that
often sung by Chaliapin, here you heard it sung by Elizabeth Soderstrom,
who’s a soprano. And this theme of fate is one that Rachmaninoff often
addressed in other works such as the Gypsies and
, which was the source for his opera Aleko, “From the
Fates There is No Defense.” It’s the longest song that Rachmaninoff
ever wrote, actually. They once performed this
song for Leo Tolstoy in 1900 and Tolstoy afterward
was reported to have looked gloomy
and cross — — and called Rachmaninoff
aside to tell him that Beethoven was nonsense. Remember, this was
around the time that Tolstoy was writing
his denunciation of just about everything in Western
culture because it was decadent and not religious enough. Rachmaninoff was
annoyed by the remark and never saw Leo Tolstoy again, even though he worshiped
him as a writer. Rachmaninoff later told the
other Russian writer Anton Chekhov about the
incident, Chekhov said, “If Tolstoy was had an upset
stomach or having an off day for some reason, he was
apt to say stupid things.” So — — but, so Rachmaninoff was very
much part of this, you know, culture elite at the
turn of the century, this fantastic Silver
Age of Russian culture. This explosion of poetry and
art, and ballet of course, the beginnings of the
Diaghilev Balle Russe. Rachmaninoff came
out of this period and was very much part of it. He was very nostalgic
and homesick for Russia after he came to
live in America. He often talked about that
and he did get in trouble for bad-mouthing the
Bolsheviks public ally and he was never allowed
to go back to Russia, or actually, he didn’t want to. But they wouldn’t even play his
music in Russia for a long time. And actually, I remember
being in the Soviet Union with the Yale Russian Chorus,
we were performing there, and we went to hear another
chorus perform something. And actually, it
was a Rachmaninoff, part of the Rachmaninoff
liturgy, but sung without words. — as a tone poem, they
would do that sort of thing. So, Rachmaninoff was
on the wrong side of the political
divide, you know, after the Russian Revolution. So, now, also the Rachmaninoff
songs include this little song about the death of a bird
called On the Death of a Linnet. A linnet is a finch,
everybody always wants to know, “What is a linnet?” And, when this song
is performed. And this one was devoted,
dedicated to his first cousin and she remembered when she
was a girl, her mother took her to Red Square on Palm
Sunday every year and bought her a siskin,
a finch in a cage. Which Olga would take care
of until the warm days of late spring when they
went out to the country and set the bird free. Sometimes the bird didn’t
fly away but perched on a nearby branch and
sang a farewell song. When her siskin died
in its cage one year, Rachmaninoff shared
his cousin’s grief. And this song is about the
devotion between a pair of finches, and the
enduring power of love. And another interesting
song you’re going to hear is, Christ is Risen. Rachmaninoff was very
religious, he was very much part of Orthodox, Russian
Orthodox tradition. He wrote a liturgy; he wrote a
lot of other religious settings. And this is a poem, a
song based on a poem by Merezhkovsky the
symbolist poet. And really what it’s about is, if Christ were alive
today he would be appalled at what he would see. So, once again, there’s a
kind of social message here, we don’t really associate
Rachmaninoff so much with social messages, but this
song does seem to have one, it’s a more philosophical poem. It throws an ironic
light on Easter in order to shock the reader into seeing
the truth about the world. And you’ll hear these bell-like
chords in the piano which seem to be an attempt to
represent the church bells, which were such an important
part of Russian life, bells. And you know Rachmaninoff wrote
a wonderful vocal cantata called The Bells, yeah. Now — pardon?>>By Poe.>>Harlow Robinson:
By Poe, exactly right, by Edgar Allen Poe, who was
by the way, extremely popular in Russia with the, particularly
at the end of 19th century with the Russian
symbolist decadence. Now let me end with
Spring Waters. This is a, and it’s a wonderful
way to end this recital. Its’ a very aesthetic, early
Rachmaninoff song, set to verses by the poet Tyutchyev . Tyutchyev wrote a lot of
poems about nature with a kind of philosophical nature perhaps. He wrote this song
to repay a debt, money that had not belonged
to him was stolen from him on a train and wrote five
songs to poems of Tyutchyev to make the money
to pay it back. And in this poem, what’s so interesting it’s [foreign
words], Springtime Waters. And in this poem the
thought is heard as much as seen, the rushing waters. And I showed you that portrait
earlier of, the painting of Russian spring where’s
there’s still a lot of snow around. And what’s also interesting
about this song is that the piano part is
extremely difficult and very, I won’t say aggressive,
but it’s certainly present. It makes a very aesthetic
impression and often is placed at the end of a recital
or a recorded program. And the words that
are repeated are — [ Foreign Language Spoken ] — literally, spring is going, spring is on the way,
spring is coming. And this poem by the
way, has been set by more than 30 composers. But this is by far the
best known of them all. And the singer here is the
Polish mezzo Ewa Podle?, who you may know,
so it’s wonderful. [ Music ] [ Singing, Music ] [ Music ] [ Singing, Music ] [ Music ] [ Singing, Music ] [ Music ] [ Singing, Music ] [ Music ]>>Harlow Robinson: So, you can
hear how the piano part really sticks out at the end. And with the arpeggios and
chords, obviously the attempt to represent rushing waters
and the dynamism of spring. Actually, we see that
right now, don’t we? so, this seems like
a good place to end, thank you for your attention. [ Applause ]>>Harlow Robinson: Thank you. And we do have a couple
minute I think for questions. Yes? David? If anybody wants to ask any?>>David Plylar: If you could
just wait for a microphone?>>Harlow Robinson: Yeah.>>You mentioned Rachmaninoff
and Stravinsky living in Hollywood at the same time,
did they have much interaction?>>Harlow Robinson: They did
meet each other occasionally. Stravinsky went to LA
much earlier, you know, Stravinsky settled in
Los Angeles around 1939. You know, he came, Stravinsky
came first to America and he came first to Boston. But he said he couldn’t
stay in Boston because there were
only two seasons there, the Fourth of July and winter. So, very quickly he moved to
Los Angeles where he stayed until almost the end of his
life, and then he did move back to New York at the
end of his life. Rachmaninoff lived
primarily in Europe after leaving Russia in 1917. He was somewhat nomadic, he
had a house in Switzerland, but then he made so much
money touring America. He became very wealthy,
Rachmaninoff, touring as a pianist, which was
somewhat frustrating for him because he considered
himself a composer. His output as a composer
declined radically after he came to America, but he did become
very wealthy as a virtuoso and also conducting sometimes. And he did have a
close relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra. But he didn’t actually live,
move to Los Angeles permanently until early 1940s and
then he died soon after, he died in 1943. But he had a house up in
Beverly Hills not from where, Stravinsky lived just
above Sunset Boulevard. Yeah.>>I just wanted to
add, I’ve read a bit of a story how they
encountered each other. Apparently, it was
Stravinsky who reached out to Rachmaninoff
trying to invite him and his wife for dinner. But, because they’re music
[inaudible] aesthetic was so different he just wasn’t sure
what the reception would be. But apparently through a mutual
friend was able to arrange this. And Stravinsky had heard that
there was a particular kind of honey that Rachmaninoff
was very fond of.>>Harlow Robinson: Right.>>So, he arranged to
have a jar of that –>>Harlow Robinson: Right. — waiting for him when
he opened the door. And I don’t know if it was sort
of by almost unspoken agreement, they didn’t discuss
each other’s music, they spent the evening
discussing business and their challenges and
complaints, and so on. So, but –>>Harlow Robinson: Right. Yes, that’s true, I heard the
story about the honey too.>>Right.>>Harlow Robinson: Yeah. Stravinsky, although your,
of course their aesthetic was so profoundly different, but
Stravinsky did have a great deal of respect for Rachmaninoff
as one of the great men of Russian music, yes.>>Has Rachmaninoff’s
music found it’s place in modern, oh, sorry. Has Rachmaninoff’s
music found its place in modern Russian canon now?>>Harlow Robinson:
Oh, absolutely.>>Unlike your experience
in the Russian choir?>>Harlow Robinson: Yes. You know, especially since
the end of the Soviet Union, even before that during
the Glasnost period, started to hear more and more
Rachmaninoff, including a lot of his liturgical music. His symphonies are
heard all the time, his operas are performed there
also, some certainly more than they are in the West. So, yes, certainly he has
found his, and Chaliapin, of course, also, you know. They’ve restored
Chaliapin’s house, they actually brought him
back to be buried in Russia. So, a lot of these figures
who were on the wrong side of the revolution, they’ve
been very much welcomed back into the fold. In fact, this is something
that Putin has talked about a lot, you know? Bringing back the riches of
Russian culture that were spread around the world after the
Russian Revolution, yeah. [ Inaudible Comment ]>>Harlow Robinson: Yeah.>>I just wanted to make
a follow-up comment. You said that Rachmaninoff
symphonies were even under Glasnost. That’s not quite true I don’t
believe, though respectfully. I believe it was in 2003
that Yuri Temirankanov –>>Harlow Robinson:
Temirkanov, yeah. — yeah. First performed
the Symphonic Dances –>>Harlow Robinson: Oh. — in Petersburg
with, and I was there, with Shostakovich’s
Babi Yar, 2003, yeah.>>Harlow Robinson: Yeah. Well, that’s interesting
the Symphonic Dances — — I think that’s true, the
Symphonic Dances, after all, is a piece that he
wrote in America –>>And — — for the Philadelphia
Orchestra. — and his last piece.>>Harlow Robinson:
That’s right.>>And then after
he wrote that he –>>Harlow Robinson:
That’s right. — moved, I believe to
New, to Beverley Hills.>>Harlow Robinson:
That’s right. Yeah, so I think, particularly,
the music that he did compose after leaving Russia,
which was not a lot but definitely the Symphonic
Dances was one of those, yes. Yeah. Rachmaninoff’s music also,
you know, speaking of Hollywood, Rachmaninoff’s music turns
up all over the place in Hollywood movie scores. Sometimes stolen,
sometimes copied, you know? Russian, it’s hard to know
what Hollywood would have done without Russian composers,
actually. And including Shostakovich.>>David Plylar: So, we’re
out of time but please join me in thanking Professor Roberts,
Robinson for helping us. [ Applause ]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *