Anatoly Konstantinovich Lyadov
called his The Enchanted Lake
“a fairytale scene,” thus sharply defining the border between this work and the romantic symphony poem. Having already completed the score, Lyadov expounded in the most animated manner how he saw this northern woodland lake: “It is so picturesque and pure, with stars, and so mysterious in its depths. Most importantly there is no-one there, no requests and no complaints – just dead nature, cold, evil, but as fantastical as in a fairytale.” Generally there are never any people in Lyadov’s music and The Enchanted Lake
is no exception. When writing the “fairytale scene” the composer used sketches for the mermaid scenes from his aborted opera Zoryushka (Dawn)
after the play Night at the Crossroads
by Dal in which he brings to life an entire world of Russian folk mythology.
The makeup of the orchestra is surprisingly modest and there is not one single superfluous detail. The quivering strings bring to mind the woodland pages of Kitezh
. Just a few notes of the celesta depict the stars which become illuminated with the advance of night. The flickering dual notes of the flutes evoke their reflections on the surface of the water. The French horn issues mermaid-like calls... The Enchanted Lake
is dedicated to Tcherepnin, under whose baton it was first performed early in 1909.
Anatoly Konstantinovich Lyadov took the programme for the musical tableau From the Apocalypse (1910-1912) from the tenth chapter of The Book of Revelation: “And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire; and he had in his hand a little book which was open. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land; and he cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars; and when he had cried out, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices.”
Lyadov’s music features a rainbow, pillars of fire and peals of thunder (it seems he was the first person in history ever to augment the kettledrums to a triad). It is thought that the tableau From the Apocalypse stands alone among Lyadov’s works but, like all the rest of his music, “there is no-one there, no requests and no complaints.” And here the experience gained by the composer from his work at the Court Choral Capella finally found a use, as did his harmonisation of songs of church ritual and spiritual verse. In the middle section we can hear the melody of the spiritual verse The Day of Judgement. Its first words are “God will resurrect.” Lyadov stressed the similarity between the folk melody and the beginning of the Easter hymn God Will Resurrect as it appears in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Easter Festival overture. This is, undoubtedly, a tribute to his teacher’s memory.
The work is dedicated to its first performer, Alexander Siloti. Although Lyadov himself appeared as a conductor, his finest symphony music was generally presented to the public for the first time by others.
Piano Concerto No 2 was one of Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev’s favourite works. The composer first performed it at the end of the summer season in 1913 in Pavlovsk (when it was conducted by Alexander Aslanov). The premiere was accompanied by a “glorious” scandal: Prokofiev was labelled as both a cubist and a futurist. And he immediately composed a “cubist-futurist” and incredibly complex piano concerto as his calling card: he performed it in London for Diaghilev when they first met, and he selected it for his official debut abroad in Rome in 1915. When Prokofiev emigrated, the score remained in Russia (and has never been found to this day). In 1923 the composer revived it and soon had the concerto published.
Today it is hard to understand what could have scared away audiences in the bewitching first section. Could it be the massive cadenza of the soloist that slowly approaches its culmination, so complex that it is written over three lines (as if for three hands)? The second section, a scherzo, is one of the finest pieces in the “perpetuum mobile” genre. The piano part does not have one single pause! The start of the third section, an intermezzo, deserves the title of “futurist,” although the soloist performs a refined and fantastical theme. And the stormy, unbridled start of the finale is wisely balanced by the gentle middle section in the character of a nursery rhyme.
The premiere of the Fifth Symphony in D minor at the Leningrad Philharmonic on 21 November 1937 under the young Yevgeny Mravinsky was a huge success. Mravinsky held the score of the symphony aloft. Boris Pasternak reflected “Just think, he said everything he wanted to, and nothing happened to him!” What did Shostakovich say about his Fifth Symphony?
The first bars of the symphony are a unique epigraph that cast a glimmer of light on an unfolding tragedy. The philosophically deep, rhythmically tense main theme and the elegiac, light secondary theme are basically in the form of a sonata. As it develops the main theme transforms, acquiring characteristics of an evil, grotesque march. And only in the pathetique recapitulation does it regain its initial image. A short animated sectioncedes to a sad coda: it is as if the music dies out in the cold rising gammas of the celesta.
The second movement, Allegretto, is a scherzo; its somewhat crude “village” humour sets off the emotional and philosophical intensity of the first movement. The crown of the symphonic cycle is the third movement, Largo. It opens to a concentrated and quiet chorus of strings. Among the sad and elevated melodies the lyrical oboe solo stands out: it reaches heights of tragic pathos in the tense declamation of the cellos. Concluding the Largo, the theme of the oboe solo sounds conciliatory in the melting timbres of the harp and the celesta.
The Allegro non troppo finale explodes to the boom of the kettledrums and the energy of the brass. As the development of the main theme reaches its peak, the proud secondary theme slips in – first in the noble tone of the trumpet then in the powerful hymn-like song of the strings and woodwind.
As the finale develops, the themes vary freely. The recapitulation, which leads smoothly into the coda, signals the start of a sharp upsurge. Tense, at times tortuously painful, the falling and rising ends in a blinding light: the jubilant D major, transformed by the main theme against the incessant, drummed A of the strings and woodwind. But the beat of the “naked” kettledrums in the last bars of the symphony, like nails hitting the lid of a coffin, reveal the “double bottom” of the finale. Behind the outward appearance of celebration there lies genuine tragedy, behind the notorious “coming-to-be of personality” lies a deadly resistance of personality to a cruel age.