Friday, December 25, 2015


The Snow Maiden by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Russian State Orchestra and Chorus Andrei Christiakov The Snow Maiden is a figure in Russian folk tales. She is beautiful and has skin as white as snow, blue eyes and curly hair. She is known as ‘Snegurochka’ in Russian - ‘sneg’ is the Russian word for snow. She is the daughter of the immortal Gods, Father Frost and Mother Spring. The Snow Maiden first appeared in writing in the nineteenth century. The roots of this character can be found in Slavic pagan beliefs. The folk tale became even more popular in 1873 when it was converted into a play,‘The Snow Maiden’ for the Moscow Imperial Theatre. It was written by Aleksandr Ostrovsky, with music written by Tchaikovsky. The tale was also adapted into an opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, ‘The Snow Maiden: A Spring Fairy Tale’, in 1881.

Berlioz La Mort de Cleopatre This is a cantata written by Hector Berlioz. It was inspired from a poem by P. Vieillard. This cantata is less familiar in the vocal music repertoire. For Berlioz's followers, it brings into focus Berlioz's admiration in the realm of antiquity. It also includes a melody that Berlioz would later use again in his opera `Benvenuto Cellini'; it is used as the English horn theme that can be heard at the beginning of the second section of Le Carnaval Romain. The composition is broken into five segments - 1. Allegro vivace con impeto - Recitativo 2. Lento Cantabile - Recitativo 3. Méditation. Largo Misterioso 4. Allegro Assai Agitato 5. Moderato. Recitativo Misurato Berlioz entered this composition in 1829 in the Prix de Rome. This was his third attempt at the coveted prize. In those days, the judges were known for their conservative inclinations and, as expected, even his third attempt was unsuccessful as he did not do anything about diluting his innovative and adventurous style of writing. However, Berlioz won after a couple of years when he submitted another cantata, `La Mort de Sardanaple'. Jessye Norman and Daniel Barenboim with L'Orchestre de Paris bring out a convincing performance and make a strong impression. I have this on DGG vinyl that I purchased in 1985. Norman has given a gripping portrayal of the tragic queen who died by her own hand. Norman is superb in the central Meditation and in the fashion she whispers the last phrases uttered by the Queen. It is a compelling performance. Barenboim matches her achievement by bringing out the innovative nuances of Berlioz's score, supporting her all the time. The final passages are superb with sthe strings illustrating the death of Cleopatra. These are extremely original passages and the judges were arseholes not to realise the astonishing and compelling style of writing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sibelius Fourth Sibelius composed his dark Fourth Symphony in A Minor in 1910. He wrote eight symphonies - seven numbered and one big symphonic poem Kullervo. He composed these symphonies between 1899 and 1924 and stopped writing symphonies after that. The movements of his Fourth Symphony are at variance with the symphonic traditions of the times, particularly the way the second and fourth movements culminate and die out in a whimper. Sibelius developed his symphonic style through the formative powers of his themes. He used melodies with a broad span and concise motifs with thematic germ cells. The music ranges between brightness and ominous darkness. The brevity in his composition style is aphoristic. The themes bring out Sibelius' inner thinking processes. The first movement opens with a dark chord and the cello introducing a three-part song. You will come across a thematically independent introduction as well as a coda. The second movement is also a three-part song that has an extensive closing section that introduces new themes. The third movement is an expansive one and it opens with a couple of short phrases that alternate in various forms and they reappear unchanged, giving the whole movement a sense of unity. The finale is written in sonata form but it does not have the standard recapitulation as a result of the change of the thematic material that is found in the development section. Sibelius assembles the motifs of the themes quite prominently in this symphony and they compete with each other, both singularly and in combination. You will come across this in the exposition of the first movement and again in parts of the finale. The cello carries the theme in the first movement while the violin carries it in the final movement. The texture of writing is mostly polyphonic, giving the sound a unique type of transparency. Sibelius favours darker tone colours, making the themes sound significant. Sibelius conducted the premier of this symphony in Helsinki in April, 1911. This symphony represents a deep, sombre and austere side of Sibelius' symphonic personality.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Swan of Tuonela Tuonela, as per Finnish mythology, refers to the land of the dead. The Swan of Tuonela glides on the dark waters of a lake there and it sings while it glides. This symphonic tone poem is taken from the series of poems Sibelius wrote for his `Legend’ in 1893. These poems were inspired by the Finnish national epic of `Kalevala’. This is part of the Lemminkainen Suite. Sibelius has combined two themes – one is the melody assigned to the swan which is played by the English horn or the Cor Anglais and another is a theme which is initially played by the cello and it is alter transcribed in the swan melody and developed further. Strings are also divided into several parts. They offer a vibrant background to the melody of the swan. The poem rises to a climax of pathos with a solemn reinstatement of the melody and sinking back to the atmosphere created at the opening.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy The Death of Ivan Ilyich The Death of Ivan Ilyich was published in 1886 after a period of depression and personal intellectual turmoil (1875-1878) that ended with Tolstoy's conversion to Christianity. A Summary During an interval in a trial, some legal professionals converse in a private room. Peter Ivánovich, the protagonist’s closest friend, reads in the obituaries that Iván Ilyich has died. Iván Ilyich had been terminally ill for some time. He was the colleague of the men present. The men immediately think of how Iván Ilyich's death may result in promotion for them all. Each man thinks gratefully that Iván Ilyich is dead and not himself. They also think of how they will be forced to go through all the tedious business of paying respects and visiting the family. Flashback Iván Ilyich is the second son of a bureaucrat. He attends law school. He admires all those people who are in a high station in life and tries to imitate them, in whichever way he can. After law school, he qualifies for a position in the civil service. After a career setback, Iván Ilyich fights for a post with high salary and ends up with a job in Saint Petersburg. He throws himself into decorating. One day, when draping the hangings, he slips and bumps his side. The pain goes away before long. But then, it grows in his left side and he has a chronic unpleasant taste in his mouth. He becomes more irritable and sees a physician who diagnoses his illness as an appendix problem. He is forced to take opium to fight the pain and his mental anguish becomes more terrible as he fights the realization that he has wasted his life. He has dreams of a black sack with no bottom into which he is endlessly being pushed. (Sherlock Holmes also has dreams like these when he is in the possession of cocaine in the Seven Per Cent Solution). When the end seems near, at his wife's behest, Iván Ilyich takes communion and becomes a Protestant Christian. During the last three days of his life, Iván Ilyich screams in agony. But on the third day, he has a revelation. As his son touches his hand, Iván Ilyich finally recognizes that the way he has lived his life has been hypocritical and empty. He falls through the bottom of his dream's black sack and sees a great light. The light is comforting. He accepts that compassion is the key to correct living and tries to ask his wife for forgiveness. He feels no hatred now for others but pities them. He retreats into his inner world at the end. Though he seems to be in agony, internally Iván Ilyich is at peace when he dies. Like death or abandonment, alienation is one of the deepest-rooted fears experienced by human beings. As social creatures, humans have the need to identify themselves as one of a group, whether that group is a family, a culture, or a religion. Alienation is the central theme in Tolstoy's 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' as it is in Kafka's `Metamorphosis' and Albert Camus’ `Stranger'. “He in his madness prays for storms, and dreams that storms will bring him peace”. “They had supper and went away, and Ivan Ilyich was left alone with the consciousness that his life was poisoned and was poisoning the lives of others, and that this poison did not weaken but penetrated more and more deeply into his whole being.” “With this consciousness, and with physical pain besides the terror, he must go to bed, often to lie awake the greater part of the night. Next morning he had to get up again, dress, go to the law courts, speak, and write; or if he did not go out, spend at home those twenty-four hours a day each of which was a torture. And he had to live thus all alone on the brink of an abyss, with no one who understood or pitied him.” As a writer, Leo Tolstoy was deeply concerned with the idea of the meaning of life. He recognised that what conventional society mistakes for life's meaning -- success, social position, political or corporate power -- were ultimately meaningless in the great scheme of things. Also, Tolstoy saw tremendous irony in the fact that our human lives are so transitory and our fortunes are subject to the whims of fate; yet, we act as if we will live forever with ultimate control over the progress of our existence. He illustrates this in his story ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich.'

Fourth Symphony by Ives The fourth symphony of Charles Ives was started by the composer in 1910 and completed by 1924. This symphony is recognized for its diverse layers of complexity as it requires two conductors for its performance. It involves large multi-layered orchestration. It combines elements and techniques that are innovative. It is one of the most important works of the twentieth century. It has been also hailed as Ives' climactic masterpiece. This symphony did not get its complete performance until Leopold Stokoswki conducted it with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City on 26th April, 1965, almost eleven years after the death of Charles Ives. It was also recorded on the Columbia Label.