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Russian Composers Of The Early Essay, Research Paper

Extra Credit Paper Chapter 17

The great Russian composers of the early twentieth century, for the most part, experienced two portions to their lives. They were born, raised, and trained in tsarist Russia, but spent the majority of their composing and performing years outside the country due to the revolutionary changes.

Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, composer and musical theorist,was one of the greatest composers of the Russian nationalist school, and a great master of orchestration. He studied piano as a child. In 1856, he was enrolled at the Naval Academy at Saint Petersburg but continued his musical studies. In 1861, Rimsky-Korsakov became an associate of the Russian composer Mily Balakirev, the dominant figure of a group of young, nationally conscious Russian composers including Aleksandr Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, and C sar Cui. Together with Rimsky-Korsakov, this group of composers became known as The Five . After his retirement from active service in the navy in 1873, Rimsky-Korsakov was made inspector of naval bands. He also completed Borodin\’s unfinished opera Prince Igor in 1889 and reorchestrated Mussorgsky\’s opera Boris Godunov in 1896 after the deaths of the composers. Rimsky-Korsakov is remembered today more for his instrumentation than for the originality of his musical ideas. His influence as an orchestrator was exercised directly on his pupils, notably the Russian composers Igor Stravinsky and Aleksandr Glazunov, and indirectly through his treatise The Foundations of Instrumentation, published posthumously in 1913. Among Rimsky-Korsakov\’s works are the operas Snegurochka (Snow Maiden) and Le coq d\’Or (The Golden Cockerel) and the symphonic works Capriccio Espagnol, Scheherazade, and the Russian Easter Overture.

Mily Alekseyevich Balakirev, member of The Five, trained in his native city and at the University of Kazan\’. At the age of 18 he went to Saint Petersburg, where he became acquainted with the Russian composer Mikhail Glinka. Balakirev formed, with four other nationally conscious Russian composers, a group known as The Five . Under Balakirev\’s influence, they broke away from musical forms, using Russian folk melodies in their compositions and Russian folktales as a basis for their operas. Balakirev helped found the Free School of Music in St. Petersburg, and became director of the Imperial Chapel and Imperial Music Society. Among his compositions are the symphonic poems Tamara and Russia and the fantasia for piano Islamey. Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky,

except for some instruction in musical form with Mily Balakirev, was self-taught in composition. His bold, unorthodox harmonies, based on the scales of Russian folk music, influenced later non-Russian composers. His songs reflect his desire to reproduce the rhythms and contours of Russian speech. So also does his masterpiece, the opera Boris Godunov, based on a drama by Russian author Aleksandr Pushkin. It is a monumental work, unusual in its musical and dramatic use of the chorus and admired for its psychological insight and its evocation of the Russian people. It was re-orchestrated and re-harmonized by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and is best known in this version. Mussorgsky\’s other works include the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition; the symphonic poem Saint John\’s Night on the Bare Mountain (also known as Night on Bald Mountain); the song cycles The Nursery and Songs and Dances of Death; and the unfinished operas Khovanshchina, completed by Rimsky-Korsakov, and The Fair at Sorochinsk, completed by C sar Cui, another member of The Five .

Aleksandr Konstantinovich Glazunov was the last important composer of the Russian national school founded by Mikhail Glinka. Glazunov studied principally with the eminent Russian composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. His work also shows the influence of the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and the German composer Richard Wagner. Together with Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov completed the opera Prince Igor, which had been left unfinished by the Russian composer Aleksandr Borodin on his death. Glazunov taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory between the years 1900 and 1906 and was its director until 1917. He left the Soviet Union and thereafter lived in Paris, except for a visit to the United States. His compositions include eight symphonies, the symphonic poem, Stenka Razin, the ballets Raymonda and The Seasons; the Violin Concerto op. 82, chamber music, and music for piano and for voice.

While pursuing law studies, Igor Stravinsky met Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who advised the young man to study music. Stravinsky began studying with the famous Russian composer, and after Rimsky\’s death, never had another teacher. His early works caught the imagination of ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, impressario of the famed Ballets Russes, who invited Stravinsky to compose a ballet. The result was the impressionistic Firebird, which was followed by the even more successful Petrushka. With his ballet The Rite of Spring and its representations of prehistoric pagan Russian rituals and sacrifice, Stravinsky\’s music ignited the most famous riot in the history of music. With its savage rhythms, absence of melody, and barbaric energy, The Rite of Spring marks the true beginnings of Twentieth Century music, and even today never fails to thrill or amaze listeners. With the advent of World War I, the production of large, spectacular ballets became financially unfeasible. Stravinsky applied his imagination and the energetic rhythms of The Rite of Spring to the choral work Les Noces (The Wedding), a piece scored for only four pianos, percussion, and voices. A further reduction of instrumental forces followed with the musical fable L\’histoire du soldat (The Story of a Soldier), which requires only a narrator and seven instrumentalists, after the model of the Dixieland Jazz combo. The story concerns a soldier returning from war, a violin (the soldier\’s soul), and the devil. In the end, of course, the devil is triumphant. In 1920, Stravinsky settled in Paris, and entered a period of neo-classicism, in which he composed music modeled on the styles and forms of Mozart and Haydn. Some of the works composed in this style are the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex, the ballets Pulchinella and Apollon Musag te, the Symphony of Psalms, and Stravinsky\’s only full-scale opera, The Rake\’s Progress. Stravinsky lived long enough to see himself internationally honored as the western world\’s greatest living composer.

Serge Prokofiev\’s life and musical styles fall into three periods: the first being his formative years in Russia; the second, his years in Paris; and the third in which he returned to his homeland. The music of Prokofiev\’s first period is mostly of the primitive style brought about by the onslaught of Stravinsky\’s The Rite of Spring ballet. Prokofiev\’s music of this period utilizes driving rhythms and dissonant harmonies, and includes his first three piano concertos, and the ballet Ala and Lolly. Also from this period comes the \”Classical\” Symphony no. 1 in D major, written to convince his critics that he could, when he wanted, compose in the refined style of Mozart. Prokofiev\’s second period resulted in such works as the Symphonies 2, 3, and 4, two more piano concertos, the satirical opera The Love for Three Oranges (from which comes the famous March) and two more ballets. Many of Prokofiev\’s most famous compositions were written after he had returned to Russia in 1934. These include the children\’s story for orchestra and narrator, Peter and the Wolf, several film scores, one of the most popular ballets of the twentieth century, Romeo and Juliet, and his greatest symphony, the Symphony no. 5. In keeping with government dictates of the Stalin Regime, this music is more tonal, less dissonant, and conforms to classical styles, making them generally accessible to the public. Even so, Prokofiev was denounced in 1948 by the government as being \”too modern\” and he composed no more music for the remainder of his life.

Unlike his countrymen, Dmitri Shostakovich opted to remain in Russia throughout his life. Stylistically, this meant that the composer was constantly bowing to the decrees of the Stalinist Regime, stunting his natural growth and tendencies in efforts to please the government. His symphonies, in particular, remain his best-known works. Although many of them, in attempts to conform to the decrees of the government, contain pages of inflated heroism and bombast. One or two stand out as the composer\’s finest achievements. The Symphony no. 5, Op. 47, for example, shows what the composer could do to please Stalin, while at the same time may have been expressing the composer\’s true feelings about the difficulties of artistic life in Russia at the time. Although his vast output is variable in quality, Shostakovich was nevertheless able to compose some powerful and lasting works. He is known primarily for his fifteen symphonies and string quartets, as these are the works that contain much of his most original thought and expression

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