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Listening to Russian classical music is always an unpredictable and interesting activity that can provoke new discussions and emotions. In this paper, attention will be paid to the concert devoted to Russian composers and their contributions to the growth of Russian art, music, and history. The choice of this performance is explained by the possibility not only to listen and enjoy the quality of music but also to learn something from Russian history, combine the heard pieces into one story, and be inspired for new evaluations.
There are several strong pieces with their unique elements in the program. This report will contain the analysis of four Russian compositions, including Cortege Solennel by Alexander Glazunov, A Song of India, and Russian Easter Overture by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Russian Sailor’s Dance by Reinhold Glière. The goal is to focus on each of the pieces, discuss the origins of composers, and investigate the major music elements and instrumental colors in the orchestra performance.
Chosen Pieces and Their Composers
In the program, there are four pieces and three composers for analysis. Cortege Solennel is a work created by Alexander Glazunov in 1894. It was performed in D major for orchestra, including such instruments as a piccolo, several flutes, oboes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, and other drums and strings. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is an author of the two pieces from the program – The Russian Easter Overture and The Song of India. The Song is a piece from a well-known Russian opera, Sadko, that was first performed in 1986.
The sound of a flute, as well as several types of strings and the instruments from a woodwind, introduces a sweet and peaceful melody. Another work, the Overture, is an example of a Romantic orchestra where flutes, oboes, horns, and trumpets performed the main role. This piece was created in 1888 and introduced as one of the best parts of many Russian symphony concerts.
The last but never least piece was the Russian Sailor’s Dance, created by Reinhold Glière in 1927. It was a part of the Red Poppy ballet that properly depicted the nature of Russian people, their traditions, and lifestyles. The presence of violins, a contrabass, and percussion promoted a strong piece of classical music and dance movements with a perfect arrangement of strings. Although it was not a final composition in the program, it was able to underline the nature of Russia and identify where its traditions ended, and a new era of orchestra music began.
Origins of Composers
All three composers originated from Russia, but each of them had its own history and impact on the development of Russian music. It can be said that Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the brightest representatives of Russian orchestra music and became a good teacher for his followers like Glazunov and Glière. All of them worked during the same period of time – at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
It was a romantic period where the strongest development of the genre of classical music was observed. Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the representatives of the Five in classical music, along with Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, and Borodin (Taruskin). He had a significant impact on Glazunov, who was a contributor to Russian ballet music several years later (Schwarz). Both Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov were born in Saint Petersburg (or its neighborhoods). Their purposes were to underline the worth of nationalism in the country, its strength, energy, and glory.
Compared to these two composers, Glière was born in Kyiv but emigrated to Russia with his family. He had German and Polish roots and became one of the teachers for Prokofiev and Miaskovsky (Jones 337). Being inspired by the work of ballerinas and the Russian quality of performance, he participated in the creation of famous ballet performances, including The Red Poppy. In the 20th century, the Russian Empire turned out to be a place where many professional composers created their masterpieces that left in people’s memories for a long period.
The chosen three pieces have specific elements of music that depict the nature of composers’ work and professionalism. Their combination helps to create an interesting story about Russia, its past, and the quality of life. For example, Cortege Solennel is music for a procession or, in this case, a Russian march with its confidence and persistence. From the very first seconds when the full band set the dynamics, it is proved that Russian classical music does not have clear standards and formats for rhythm. It is possible to understand that the composer chose tempo (the beat) between moderato and allegro.
Eliminate decrescendo of the brass is changed by a crescendo of the alto sax. The melody is conjunct as it seems that it is easy for musicians to play the piece, and no additional movements or changes are required to continue. The vertical arrangement of sound, harmony, is characterized by tension and resolution through a chord profession of four consonant chords. Its homophonic texture is perfectly introduced when a prominent melody of wind instruments is supported by the less harmonic accompaniment of the strings.
In The Song of India, almost the same elements of music are observed with the difference in tempo that is between andante and moderato-like. The author provides a listener with an opportunity to take a rest, look around, and enjoy the beauty of the context. Mezzo-piano dynamics with the elements of decrescendo promote conjunct melody, consonant harmony, and properly organized polyphonic texture. The Russian Easter Overture is characterized by rather confident crescendo dynamics and flexible rhythms with largo and allegro tempos.
Dissonance harmony of wind and string instruments is supported by counterpoint homophonic (homogeneous) texture. Finally, the Russian Sailor’s Dance is the piece where all the winds are played in unison, living space for tempo changes from largo to allegro the same way the Overture was organized. Crescendo dynamics and conjunct melodies enhance consonant harmony and homophonic texture with chordal accompaniment.
New scales and unexpected instrumental colors are characterized for all four pieces in the program. An instrumental color is defined as the quality of sound in the piece when a listener is able to identify one instrument from another. In the first and second pieces, where the wooden instruments performed the leading roles, the sound was not bright due to the actual properties of wood, but metal (brass) instruments make sound clear and brighter. In the last two pieces, the color is bright due to an appropriate juxtaposition of the orchestral groups. In addition, the tempos of the pieces, the order of the instruments that accomplish each other’s sound, and homogeneous textures contributed to bright instrumental colors and the possibility to listen to music and hear the story of Russian people.
The chosen community orchestra under the conductor’s baton of Anne Martin introduced one of the most interesting and provocative programs of classical music with several famous Russian compositions. The beauty of each piece depended not only on the quality of the performance but also on the possibility to interpret each piece and identify the core aspects of classical music. There were six movements, and the first four were united by the origins and the style of the composers.
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Russian classical music is not simple, but as soon as a person understands the basics and grasps the message, it is impossible to stop listening to it. The intention to combine slow and fast movements, refresh the audience, and change tempo turned out to be a significant part of the orchestra’s work. Anne Martine, in her case, tried to unite the listeners and give the necessary explanations not to leave a person behind the show.
In general, the concert and the show left a majority of positive impressions and memories. In addition to the possibility to listen to several strong pieces with different rhythms and textures, everyone got an opportunity to study Russia with its confidence, magnificence, and power. There was no place for politics, unnecessary social discussions, and prejudice. Classical music was focused on the beauty of sounds, their colors, and harmony through the prism of which the story of Russian people began with a self-assured march and ended with an energetic dance. A high-quality performance, properly chosen compositions, and interesting stories contributed to the introduction of an interesting orchestra concert on campus.
Jones, Barry. Dictionary of World Biography. 4th ed., ANU Press, 2017.
Schwarz, Boris. “Glazunov, Alexander Konstantinovich.” Grove Music Online. 2001. Web.
Taruskin, Richard. “Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay Andreyevich.” Grove Music Online, 2002. Web.