Five Operas and a Symphony: Word and Music in Russian by Boris Gasparov

By Boris Gasparov

During this eagerly expected publication, Boris Gasparov gazes in the course of the lens of tune to discover an strange standpoint on Russian cultural and literary heritage. He discusses six significant works of Russian song from the 19th and 20th centuries, exhibiting the interaction of musical texts with their literary and historic assets in the ideological and cultural contexts in their occasions. every one musical paintings turns into a tableau representing a second in Russian heritage, and jointly the works shape a coherent tale of ideological and aesthetic traits as they advanced in Russia from the time of Pushkin to the increase of totalitarianism within the 1930s.Gasparov discusses Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla (1842), Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (1871) and Khovanshchina (1881), Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (1878) and The Queen of Spades (1890), and Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony (1934). providing new interpretations to augment our knowing and appreciation of those very important works, Gasparov additionally demonstrates how Russian tune and cultural background remove darkness from each other.

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Example text

And yet it becomes evident, from the way Onegin reintroduces himself in his opening monologue at the ball, that he has changed. Onegin’s musical portrait at this point is that of a desperate, weary person; gone is the cool confidence of his deportment in the conversation with Tatiana after her letter and in the duel scene. What happens to this Onegin—his precipitous falling in love and a desperate attempt to return to the past—comes as no surprise. The embedded songs, dances, and theatrical and concertlike performances that litter Russian operas, to the chagrin of those who would like to see them be more dramatically effective, contribute to the general trend of reducing the weight of the outward actions and shifting the emphasis to the introspective element.

Once again, Russian music showed a reluctance or inability to move decisively in the same direction. This seemed the more striking in that mid-nineteenth-century Russian composers felt the need for the radical reform of operatic conventions no less acutely than Wagner did. Their initial impulse, led by Dargomyzhsky and championed by Stasov, was, as we have seen, to abolish the routine division of the opera into separate musical numbers and to produce a continual discourse based on recitativelike declamation—a pattern that ostensibly followed the shape of real-life speech but in fact tried to emulate literary narrative.

The overall impression conveyed by this technique is that of an episodic musical narrative lacking in intensity. A Russian symphony, concerto, or piece of chamber music sounds like a perpetual scherzo, so to speak—a succession of episodes rather than a coherently constructed edifice of musical form. These characteristic features of the discourse of Russian instrumental music may, once again, be taken as a sign that it could not quite keep up with the strict standards of the trade. One is reminded of the slowness with which Russian music emerged from the sphere of semi-amateurish domestic musicmaking—an inheritance that even such composers as Chaikovsky and Stravinsky seemed to carry over into their musical style.

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