Sviridov’s Kursk Songs is a rare case of the composer turning to folkloric material – the melodies of his native region. The music of the cantata, like folk songs, is structured on diatonic tunes over a small range. In terms of its plot, the cycle is united by the theme of “the love and life of a woman”: love, marriage, giving birth, a husband’s betrayal and familial entrapment. The cantata concludes with the toast “Beyond the river, the fast-flowing river”, performed, in line with the composer’s remark, “with threatening boldness”.
In the setting of the orchestra and chorus there are echoes of Stravinsky’s Les Noces. In the second and seventh parts the chorus is fully engaged, while in the other parts soloists or groups are picked out, singing in unison (the lyrical melody of the altos in the first part and the archaic church melody of the basses in the third). Sviridov’s Kursk Songs, alongside Gavrilin’s Russian Notebook, Slonimsky’s Songs of the Freemen and other works of the 1960s provided the spark for the “new wave of folklore” in Russian music.
The four-movement Spring Cantata to verse from Nikolai Nekrasov’s poem Who Lives Well in Russia is dedicated to the memory of Alexander Tvardovsky. The incessant development of the first movement changes into songfulness in the second. This movement was composed in the style of wedding songs, and here the choral groups resound in a dialogue with no accompaniment. The third movement, Bells and Horns, on the other hand, is purely instrumental. It stands apart for its brilliant orchestration. The final movement is a sonorous choral benediction.
There is relatively little instrumental music in Sviridov’s legacy; starting in the 1960s the composer wrote primarily for chorus and for a voice and piano. Using the music for the film The Snow-Storm by Vladimir Basov after Pushkin’s eponymous tale, Sviridov compiled a suite – “musical illustrations”. All the movements are imbued with poeticised intonations of everyday genres. The Troika and the waltz that open the suite resound in the final movements Echoes of a Waltz and The Winter Road. The miniature sketch-like pieces Spring and Autumn and Pastorale frame the lyrical heart of the suite, the famous romance. In its initial phrase one can sense a quotation from the romance Don’t Leave, Stay with Me by Nikolai Zubov, which was popular in the 19th century. After the march, expertly stylised as military music for wind bands, comes the triumphant wedding scene.
Miniature Triptych for symphony orchestra is yet another example of instrumental music from Sviridov’s mature period. The title taken from pictorial art (a triptych being a three-part folding icon) matches the three-movement structure of the cycle. The kind of expression developed by Sviridov in choral music is here translated for the orchestra. The intonations of the famous refrain in the first movement match the choral fabric. The second movement, regardless of being so brief, focusses on the destructive power of nature (speaking about this music the composer mentioned an image of “a church tower being blown up”). The character of the finale is set by the bell chimes of the first bars, against the background of which the songful melody unfolds. The sharp break in the middle of the movement leaves a resonance – the gradually fading rejoinders of the winds against the background of the ostinato of the snare drum in incredibly peaceful dynamics.