St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Massenet. Elgar. Debussy

Jules Massenet. Méditation from the opera Thaïs.
Edward Elgar. Violin Concerto.
Claude Debussy. La Mer

Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra

  The sea breathes, awaking lazily, flowing with tender colours of sound, lapping quietly;
its boundlessness can be felt in the slow expansion of the themes.
Arnold Alschwang

The Violin Concerto in B Minor was composed by Edward Elgar in 1910 as a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society in London. However, the first sketches of the concerto were crafted by the composer earlier, in 1905, after he had read an interview with the renowned violinist Fritz Kreisler, in which the latter spoke flatteringly of both Elgar himself and his works. Kreisler became the first interpreter of this extremely demanding concerto. The premiere took place on 10 November 1910 in London under the baton of the composer. The public was very enthusiastic about Elgar’s new work, despite its difficult nature and its length. The concerto lasts about fifty minutes and demands tremendous dedication from the soloist. Having studied the violin and being very familiar with the instrument, Elgar infused his concerto with highly varied virtuoso technical passages. The concerto is prefaced with an epigraph in Spanish taken from Alain René Le Sage’s novel Gil Blas: “Aqui está encerrada el alma de…” (“Here is carefully retained the soul of that…”). This epigraph forms yet another of Elgar’s enigmas, left behind in his works. Today, researchers believe that the woman to whom the concerto is dedicated was called Alice Stuart-Wortley. She was the daughter of English pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais and a good friend of Elgar’s, who called Alice “Windflower” in honour of the white flower that blooms in early spring.


The symphonic suite La Mer (1905) is not only the highpoint of Claude Debussy’s art, but a symbolic masterpiece, a “style icon”, as we say today, of musical impressionism. The impressionist painters developed a new painting technique based on the play of various short strokes and which stands apart for the particular flickering quality of the layer of colour, while Claude Debussy created his own totally unique fabric of sound. In counterbalance to classical music, where a work leans on a distinct division of relief and background (accompaniment), the French composer conceived the idea of blending the relief and the background in rather short but colourful sound images of the style. The brief melodies appear and disappear quickly, ceding to other similar melodies and defining the work no more than foam defines the waves of the sea underneath. The element of water forms an ideal metaphor for Debussy’s style. These objects of sound would later be called “style diagonals” by Pierre Boulaise, blending the classical division into a horizontal (the melody) and a vertical (the chord) and opening up the path for the timbre and sonorous movement in 20th century music. The effect that Debussy achieved is that of ephemera, a sketch, inspiration of every moment, a desire to sense and feel the fullness of every detail and every sound. This is linked to the composer’s definition of the genre of La Mer as symphonic sketches. The need for a structured classical composition scheme falls away: the composer regarding form in the same way as a rope of pearls, “threading” the sound images one after another.
The orchestral score of La Mer is one of the most complex pieces in the international symphony repertoire, and hearing this work performed live offers tremendous pleasure.

Daniil Shutko


As part of the Year of Russia and France 2010   As part of the Year of Russia and France 2010
Age category 6+

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