Sergei Prokofiev died on March 5th, 1953 from a cerebral haemorrhage. The unusual thing however, is that it happened on the same day that the death of Joseph Stalin was … Continue reading Was It Just A Strange Coincidence?
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Life and music
An adored only cild with a highly musical mother, Prokofiev had composed two operas by his 11th birthday. From 1905 he studied at the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he gained a reputation for being an arrogant and rebellious modernist composer. After the Bolshevik revolution Prokofiev left for what he believed would be a short trip. However, it would be an eighteen year sojourn for which two years were spent in the US. He soon become a popular pianist and got commission for The Love Of Three Oranges, the only one of his operas to win international fame during his lifetime. In 1921 his ballet Chout was a success in Paris, and not long after he moved to Bavaria and then Paris. As well as composing Prokofiev made many lucrative tours as a pianist in the US, Europe and the Soviet Union. He started to accept commissions from the Soviet Union and in 1935 Prokofiev returned to the Soviet Union, which was under control by Stalin. In the late 1940s he was criticised for being too formalist by the authorities.
I believe there to be much drama and emotion utilised in Prokofiev’s music. Whether people do criticise his later work for being too formalist during the Soviet Union. There is still a lot of vibrancy and vitality. Romeo And Juliet will has long been a concert favourite. The football team Sunderland AFC even use the ‘Dance Of The Knights’, taken from Romeo And Juliet as their entrance music.
Symphonic Poem: Also known as a ‘tone poem’, it is an extended symphonic work often describing landscape or literary works. One example would be Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Life and music
Thanks to Stanley Kubrick and 2001 A Space Odyssey, the opening passage of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss is firmly embedded in pop culture history. A lot of people may not realise that it is only a small part of Strauss’s thirty-five minute tone poem. Strauss seemed to lead a career that was never far from controversy. His operas such as Salome and Elektra caused scandal among critics because of their subject matter and possible decadent use of morals. Elektra did however, bring him in to contact with the poet Hugo Von Hofmannsthal with whom he would create five further operas. It was his tone poems which first gave Strauss his success. In 1908 he was able to build a villa at Garmisch in Germany because of his affluence. He soon became a recognised conductor and held a post as a conductor at the Royal Berlin Opera. Strauss later resigned in 1918 to become joint director of the Vienna Opera the following year. In 1933 when the Nazi Party came to power he was appointed president of the Reichmusikkammer. He however, lost the position two years later because of a collaboration with the Jewish librettist Stefan Zweig. Strauss spent much of World War II in Vienna, before returning to Garmisch where he died in 1949.
I must admit after the euphoric opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra I think the rest of the piece didn’t have the same sense of elation. Whether it is the fault of 2001 A Space Odyssey or not it failed to grip me. I personally found the tone poem Ein Heldenleben a more moving and evocative work. There seems to be a lot of deep sensuality and passion within Strauss’s music. This is perfectly encapsulated by the ‘Dance Of The Seven Veils’ taken from Salome. I haven’t listened to the whole opera Der Rosenkavalier however, the suite had much vibrancy and the waltzes that appear in the opera have become concert favourites.
The Nutcracker: Although The Nutcracker has long become a festival favourite it wasn’t met with such admiration when it was first premiered. Some critics remarked that the “Dance Of The Sugar … Continue reading
Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Life and music
The facts surrounding Tchaikovsky’s death have long been shrouded in mystery. There are some who believe he died of Cholera, where others believe it to be suicide to prevent a homosexuality scandal. Whether you agree with one theory or the other pieces such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker have long become concert favourites. The plot of Swan Lake was adapted into the film Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky.
Tchaikovsky was born into a large middle-class family in provincial Russia. He first studied law in St Petersburg and became a civil servant. Although Tchaikovsky studied music in private he showed little talent. However, he left his job to study at the St Petersburg Conservatory. His ability soon grew after being taught for five years by Anton Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky moved to Moscow where he enjoyed life in artistic and homosexual circles. At the age of 37 he entered into a marriage of convenience with a besotted student called Antonina Miliukova. They did soon divorce though because it affected Tchaikovsky’s emotional state and his ability to compose. He spent the next fourteen years being financially supported by a rich widow known as Nadezhda Von Meck whom he apparently never met. By his early 50s Tchaikovsky had fell into a depression and it wouldn’t be long before he died.
I find that there is much emotional depth and richness within a lot of Tchaikovsky’s music. Even when it becomes bombastic such as the cannon sounds used in the 1812 Overture. He still manages to combine the pomposity with moments that seem intimate. Other pieces such as the “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker I find overly whimsical. I am more fond of works such as Souvenir De Florence or Symphony No.4 because they have a lyrical quality as well as an emotional intensity.
Prince Igor: Borodin’s ‘Prince Igor’ remains a landmark of Russian opera. It was however, completed by both Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov because he failed to finish it before his death.