Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tchaikovsky Lost and Found

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

New Series: Cover 2 Cover

As my personal cache of downloads from old sites slowly diminishes, I plan to “spread out” my contributions to the Once Upon the Internet Series, making them bi-monthly. To fill the void, I am launching today a new series of posts which I am calling Cover 2 Cover, where I will be sharing complete albums which I have encountered during my mining activities. The primary source for these albums is a resource we all exploit, YouTube.

I’ve shared “complete albums” from YouTube before in my Vinyl’s Revenge series, but in those instances, these are albums of a certain vintage that I have in my vinyl collection. These new finds don’t necessarily fit that mold. Though most of the ones I have been planning for this series are “vintage”, there are a few that are more recent – these have been on the “open market” for a while, so at the very least I take that as a sign that the material is viewed as “good promotion” by their rightful owners.

(I don’t exclude contributing “vintage” material to YouTube myself outside of my vinyl oldies in the future, but I haven’t lined up anything in that vein, at least not yet.)

Tchaikovsky Reconstructions

For my first post in the Cover 2 Cover series, I have assembled tracks from a 2 CD Philips set of Tchaikovsky reissues titled “Complete Tone Poems”. This compilation contains eight works, but today’s feature focuses on three works in particular, which I have packaged along with a “filler” track for the purpose of this post. In the future (later this year, maybe next), I plan to bring the remaining tracks for a second post.

Whenever I prepare posts on Tchaikovsky, my first stop is the excellent site Tchaikovsky Research, a well-constructed wiki site that covers all-things Tchaikovsky. When we read details on opp. 76, 77 and 78, we can see a definite pattern in the site’s contents. It goes something like this:

After the first performance the composer destroyed the full score, but after his death it was reconstructed from the surviving orchestral parts and published [posthumously]

Fatum was written between September and December 1868 and titled as a “Symphonic Fantasy”. Though the composer didn’t provide a “back story” or a program describing the music, the concert notes at the Moscow premiere included these verses by Konstantin Batyushkov:

Do you recall the cry
Of gray Melchizedek as he prepared to die?
Man, he exclaimed, is born a slave; a slave
He must descend into the grave
And Death will hardly tell him why
He haunts the magic vale of tears,
Suffers and weeps, endures and disappears.
After the concert, Tchaikovsky told his brother Anatoly: "This is, I think, the best thing I have written to date—at least, so others say (a significant success)". The St-Petersburg premiere, conducted by Balakirev, didn’t go so well; the surviving correspondence between Balakirev and Tchaikovsky relating to Fatum and its performance contain critiques of the work, of which the one with the most unfavourable judgement was not sent to Tchaikovsky .This may explain why the work was destroyed, and reconstructed posthumously.

The symphonic ballad The Voyevoda is based on Aleksandr Pushkin's Russian translation of the Polish poem The Ambush: A Ukrainian Ballad by Adam Mickiewicz. The work is unconnected to Tchaikovsky's first opera, also called The Voyevoda (1867-68), or the melodrama he wrote for the stage play of the same name in 1886. In a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky reported: "I shall now orchestrate the fantasia Voyevoda (on the subject of Pushkin's ballad), and will play it for the first time in Saint Petersburg at a concert of the Musical Society. I have been invited to conduct one of their concerts there". The scoring of the ballad was completed in September/October 1891. After hearing his new work played by the orchestra, Tchaikovsky became extremely dissatisfied, and the next day he destroyed it.: "My ballad The Voyevoda turned out to be so wretched, that the other day after the concert I tore it to shreds. It exists no more".

The third posthumous work programmed today is Tchaikovsky's first significant orchestral work, the overture to Aleksandr Ostrovsky's drama The Storm. Russian music and literary critic Herman Laroche later recalled:

In the summer of 1864, Pyotr Ilyich had to write a large overture, for which he chose himself the programme of Ostrovsky's The Storm. The orchestra he employed was ‘heretical', with bass tuba, English Horn. harp, tremolo and divided strings, bass drum and cymbals. He was probably optimistic in nurturing the hope that the requirements of the programme would exempt him from any punishment for failing to follow the usual guidelines. In any event, by the start of term, or perhaps somewhat earlier, he finished his work. I cannot recall the reason now, but he asked me to stand in for him, and sent me the score by post with a message to show it to Anton Grigoryevich. A few days later, Rubinstein told me to come and listen to his judgement. Never in my life did I receive such a dressing-down for my misdemeanours as on that day (as I recall, it was a beautiful Sunday morning), listening on behalf of someone else.
The overture was never performed during the composer's lifetime; it was heard for the first time only in 1896 at Mitrofan Belyayev's third Russian Symphony Concert in Saint Petersburg, conducted by Aleksandr Glazunov.

It’s interesting to listen to these works in the context of Francesca da Rimini, a like-minded, programmatic Tchaikovsky repertoire mainstay.

Happy Listening

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Storm, Op. 76 [TH 36]
Fatum, Op. 77 [TH 41]
The voyevoda, Op. 78 [TH 54]
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Eliahu Inbal, conducting

Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32 [TH 46]
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Igor Markevitch, conducting


Complete CD (8 tracks) - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...m8jgnQg05sPU_c