String Quartet Traditions in Russia


>>David Plylar: Good
evening, everybody. My name is David Plylar and
I’m with the concert office in the music division at
the Library of Congress, and I’m very pleased to
introduce our speaker for the evening, who
will I’m sure lead us down some very interesting pass
regarding tonight’s program by the Borodin Quartet. Kevin Bartig, is historian
of music, specializing in 20th century music and
culture in Eastern Europe and the United States. His books include Composing
for the Red Screen, Prokofiev and Soviet Film and Sergei
Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, both published by Oxford
University of PET Press. The American Musicological
Society awarded composing for the red screen of
Publications Invention in 2012 and the book will appear in
Russian translation in 2019 with Dassia Posner he is
co-editing Three Loves for Three Oranges, Gozzi,
Meyerhold and Prokofiev. A collection of essays that
bring together scholars from theater history,
art history, musicology, Italian studies and
Slavic studies. Other publications
involved music diplomacy, audio visual aesthetics,
music in the cold war and the reception of Russian and Soviet music in
various contexts. His shorter writings
include articles, reviews and translations
appearing in the Journal of Musicology Studies in Russian
and Soviet cinema, Notes, Critica, Journal of the Society for American Music
and Slavic Review. He has also contributed to
several edited collections, including Prokofiev
and His World. Sound, Speech, Music in
Soviet in Post-Soviet Cinemas and The Rite of Spring at 100 which one The 2018 AMS Ruth
A. Solie Award for collection of musicological essays
of exceptional merit. His work has been supported by
the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council
of Learned Societies and the U.S. Department
of Education. During 2011 and 12
he was a fellow at the John W. Kluge Center
here at the Library of Congress. Bartig is a member of the
editorial board of the Journal of the American Musicological
Society and the American
Musicological Society Travel and Research Grant Committee. Previously, he served in the
editorial team of Three Oranges, the Journal of the Sergei
Prokofiev Foundation. At Michigan State,
where he has taught since 2008 Bartig received
the MSU Teacher-Scholar Award in 2010 and in 2011 and 12
was a Lilly teaching fellow. Please join me in
welcoming Kevin Bartig. [ Applause ]>>Kevin Bartig: Thank you, David for that really generous
introduction, and thank you all for being here tonight,
this is a great turnout. As David mentioned
I was a fellow here at the library once upon a time,
and it’s a really great honor to be back here to
speak tonight. So, I thought I’d begin with
the man whose name is all over tonight’s program
Alexander Borodin. We’ll hear his second quartet
shortly and in a performance by a quartet named
for him, [inaudible]. Here he is in the prime
of his career around 1870, string quartets and performances
of string quartets were of course, nothing new by 1870. But even at this
late date in Russia, there is no home grown
quartet tradition to speak of. And we’re looking
at one of the people who helped to change that. By 1971 so a century later, the year Dmitri Shostakovich
finished the most recent work we’ll hear this evening. The standard quartet
repertory was full of examples by Russian
composers. So we might think of
tonight’s program as taking us from the origins of the
Russian quartet tradition and Borodin two with
apex in Shostakovich. Most music students
remember Borodin not for his two string
quartet whatsoever, but rather for his odd
professional profile. He was not a professional
composer, Borodin once quipped in a letter that music was
merely a pastime, a relaxation for more serious occupations. The most serious of these
serious occupations was his post as a professor of chemistry at St. Petersburg
Medical Surgery Academy, and here it is in
Borodin’s time. The composer Nikolai
Rimsky Korsakov, who eventually became
a close friend of Borodin described the effects of Borodin professional
responsibilities had on his work as a composer. He wrote “During my visits to
him, I frequently found him in his laboratory, which was
connected with the apartment, sitting silently before
his tubes, retorts and other strange looking
chemical implements. When he had finished
his experiments, he returned to the apartment
and began to work on music. But the trouble with Borodin was
that he was never at one place, either he jumped up and went to see whether something had
not boiled over and spoiled in the laboratory or
somebody wanted to see him. Borodin was forever
attending meetings, making reports, speeches. My heart ached to see how a
great genius wasted his time on such matters and could not
accomplish his real work”. When Google decided to
mark the 185th anniversary of Borodin’s birth
last year with one of its so-called Doodles. They portrayed him as a
chemist who conjures of music. But in reality, his work as a scientist left really
little time for music. If you look Borodin up in
that great, unreliable trove of information Wikipedia, you’ll
read that Borodin is best known for his symphonies,
there were two of them, two string quartets, the
symphonic poem In the Steppes of Central Asia and
its Operas Prince Igor. He’s probably best
known for these works because it’s basically
all he wrote. Any in fact, left
Prince Igor unfinished, along with quite a
few other pieces. The joke usually goes that
no composer has managed such a legacy on the basis
of such a small output, and it’s no small legacy. This is the Great Hall of
the Moscow Conservatory, one of the Russian capital’s
main performance venues, which is you can see in this
image here, is decorated with composer portraits, sort
of statement of who is who and the pantheon of greats. Borodin’s — it’s a little small
I realized Borodin’s portrait is over on the right, installed
next to Richard Wagner’s. From there, he peers out
in to hall along with Bach, Mozart and Haydn, not bad
company for a chemist. But Borodin’s career path was
not actually all that unusual, at least for a music lover
in mid-19th century Russia. For one, composing
was not recognized as an official calling in the
convoluted system of ranks that structured society
in Imperial Russia, during Borodin’s, early years. And conservatories came late to
Russia, Borodin was almost 30 and well into his career
when it first opened. Most of Borodin’s composer
contemporaries had day jobs, Modest Mussorgsky occupied
various civil posts in St. Petersburg, Rimsky
Korsakov was a naval cadet, says Cui was an officer in
the engineer core, and so on. Borodin was no slouch as a
scientist, this is a picture of him with his chemistry
colleagues lined up in a National Science
Congress in St. Petersburg. In 1858, he successfully
defended his dissertation, which dealt with arsenic acid
and phosphoric acid in chemical and toxicology behavior. Please don’t ask me to
explain that any further. And was sent off for further
study in Heidelberg, Germany. There he rubbed elbows with
Mendeleev, this is the gentleman who developed the periodic
table, and he worked in the lab of Emil Erlenmeyer,
this was the person who invented those
triangular flasks you see in chemistry labs. And most importantly, for
our program this evening in Heidelberg, he met this
woman Ekaterina Protopopova, who soon became his wife and
much later, the inspiration for his second quartet, and
more on that in a moment. Borodin’s busy professional life
back in St. Petersburg left time for music making
only in the evenings in informal salon type
musical gatherings. The same venues in which he got
his musical start during his student days. The main attraction at
those musical evenings with chamber music which,
unsurprisingly became one of Borodin’s primary
interests as a composer. It was in these non-professional
circles that he befriended,
Modest Mussorgsky. This fellow composer made enough
of an impression on Borodin, that Borodin, wrote down a
fairly lengthy account of one of their first meetings, this was actually
their second meeting. So he writes, “The
conversation automatically turns to the subject of music, I was
still a very keen on Mendelssohn and at the time hardly knew
anything about Schumann at all”. Mussorgsky was already
acquainted with Balakirev– this is Mily Balakirev
the composer. And had an eye for all the
new things that were going on in the musical world, of which “I had not even
the slightest idea”. He played me extracts of the E-flat major
symphony of Schumann. This is the rheinische
symphony number three, which at that time would
have been about 10 years old. It was all new to
me and I like it, through Mussorgsky the Borodin
found his way into a group of likeminded composers gathered
together by the Balakirev. Here they are lined up from the
left, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, then Mussorgsky, Borodin in
the middle, César Cui and over on the right is Mily Balakirev. There are hirsute bunch
though you can spot Borodin because he’s always the
one with the least amount of facial hair [laughs]. The Balakirev circle, as it’s
known in Russia did a lot of what Mussorgsky and Borodin
did at that early meeting, they talked about music, especially Western
European music. In the West we know this
group as the mighty handful, the mighty five or maybe
simply just the five and those were all loose
translations of the name given to the group by the librarian
and critic Vladimir Stasov, he is Stasov in the middle
of the five in a caricature by Konstantin Makovsk
that I really like. He was the group’s
self-appointed propagandist, which is why Mussorgsky gave
him a trumpet and a drum, and that pretty much
sums up his approach to criticism by the way. And in this caricature, Cui is
a fox over there on the left, Balakirev was a bear,
Korsakov is a crab, and Mussorgsky is a rooster, I’m
not quite sure what Borodin is, he’s the gentleman
floating above everybody with his left hand raised. But it’s starts off
who’s responsible for the very popular
myth that the composers of the mighty five were hardcore
nationalists set on carving out a national school, opposed
the rules of Western Europe. In reality Borodin, and his
colleagues carefully followed and sometimes even imitated
Western European trends, noticed that when Borodin
and Mussorgsky met, they immediately began speaking
about Schumann and Mendelssohn, not [inaudible] for instance. Among the five, Borodin
was the one who embraced the string quartet, and here he really had
to look to the West. As I mentioned earlier, there
was no homegrown tradition in Russia, that began
to change in the 1870s, Tchaikovsky wrote
three quartets, Rimsky Korsakov added another. A quartet [inaudible] had
written some five decades earlier was dusted off and
published for the first time. And Borodin, wrote two quartets
the first dating from 1879 and the second that we’ll here
this evening, dating from 1881. The second of these two stands
out for a couple of reasons, Borodin finished
it in two months, which was extremely
fast for him. Consider that it
took him five years to finish the first quarter. This is a page from the
draft of the second quartet, and I realized it’s
a little blurry, but maybe we can imagine
his penmanship here looking especially inspired. He wrote the quartet a 20th
anniversary gift for his wife, Ekaterina and this
is the connection that I mentioned earlier. One of the reasons, other
reasons why this quartet stands out is that it may be
somewhat autobiographical. The evidence is kind of
shaky, I’ll admit that, but the possibility has
been tossed around enough by biographers and
critics by this point that there is a tradition
of reading this quartet as a very loose chronicle of Borodin’s courtship
and marriage. So, how does this work? The quartet features a lot
of dialogue between the cello and the first violin spread
over its four movements. Here is the opening
of the first movement, which see the melody here is in
the cello if he read notation and you might hear
this as the first theme of a pretty typical sonata form,
if you know about such things or as a dialogue
between Borodin, whose instrument was the cello
and his Ekaterina his wife to be on the violin in the
midst of their courtship. [ Music ] This is a pretty
textbook sonata form, so there are two main themes. The violin states the
second, but the key moment for the autobiographical
reading comes in the recaps sonata forms
you always hear the themes second time. And here the cello and
the violin play together for the first time, not
particularly remarkable from the standpoint of sonata
form, but a significant moment if you are thinking of this
courtship of two instruments so here is that moment. [ Music ] Let’s get over — what I hope is
clear from these short examples and the few others I’ll
play in a moment is that Borodin adopted a
very classical approach to the quartet in which
clarity is valued. The melody is always clear,
the texture is always clear, and the kind of motivic
development that takes place in a sonata form is always
audible in all four movements of this quartet are
in sonata form. The kind of instrument
dialogue we saw in the first movement also
happens in the third movement, where we get one of
Borodin’s most famous tunes. Here’s the tune it’s up in
the cello here and noticed that the distinctiveness of
this melody has a lot to do with its shape, it snakes
down from high to low rather than following the usual art
shape of a classical melody. [ Music ] Borodin used this tune
a little bit later to create what’s essentially
a little canon, the violin and cello played together again. But the cello is quarter note
ahead and unsurprisingly, this is the love duet in the
courtship marriage scenario, it’s a great little moment. [ Music ] Even though these melodies may
seem really intensely romantic and lush, the clarity
of the texture in which they’re set was
inspired by western models, especially those of
Felix Mendelssohn. And we’ve already
seen Borodin admitting that he was really
keen on Mendelssohn. For example, here’s a bit of
Mendelssohn’s first piano trio, this is from 1839 followed by the second movement
of Borodin’s quartet. Both are scared toes and I
think that will be obvious. So first, Mendelssohn. [ Music ] Evening dancing at
a pleasure garden in the autobiographical
reading, but clearly dancing with a Western European
pedigree. A good reminder, because
so often Borodin is placed in a nationalist narrative that
emphasizes Russian difference. Still, Borodin’s second quartet
struck some listeners not as a contribution to a pan
European tradition but, as something really
exotic sounding. And by some listeners,
I’m thinking in particular of Robert Wright
and George Forrest, who are to composer-lyricists
really good at adapting classical scores
for films and musicals. In this case, adapting should
probably be in scare quotes, because they leaned
pretty heavily on Borodin for acquiescent, their 1953
musicals set in Ancient Baghdad. If you don’t already know
about this connection, I really apologize for what
I’m about to do [laughs]. Here is the main theme of the
second movement of this quartet, I’m picking up really over
the last example left off, followed by the original
Broadway Cast Recording of Kismet, which
features Doretta Morrow, and Alfred Drake. [ Music ] [ Singing ] And the famous third
movement, tune. [ Singing ] Whatever you think of such
a appropriations Wright and Forests are responsible for
the really unusual situation in which many Americans,
whether they realize that or not could hum tunes from
the second quartet [laughs] at the moment the Borodin
quartet brought the original work to the States on
their international tours. If Borodin made it to the walls of the Moscow Conservatory’s
great hall and onto Broadway stages, thanks
to a handful of finished works, that is to say, great
fame, small output. We might see the opposite
of Nikolai Myaskovsky, we can see here who
remains obscure despite an enormous output. He is one of the 20th
century’s great symphonists, he wrote 27 in total, he also
wrote nine sonatas for piano, 13 string quartets we’ll hear
the last of those this evening, and a host of other works. And the only conspicuous was
absence on his resume is opera. He was a great teacher,
and in his 30 year career at the Moscow Conservatory,
which began in 1921 just really as a new generation of Soviet
composers began to take shape. Among his most famous
students are Dmitry Kabalevsky, Vissarion Shebalin,
and Aram Khachaturian. Whom you can see in this
picture of Myaskovsky with a group of students. Khachaturian is in the
back row, second from left. Also on Myaskovsky’s list of
accomplishments is service on editorial board of
Soviet school of Musica, the main Soviet journal
devoted to music and the Board of the State musical
Publishers this was his position of real power. He was a consultant for the
Moscow Philharmonia on served in the administration of
the Soviet Composers Union. I’m listing all of these
accomplishments to say that this was someone
with no small presence in Soviet music during the
1920s through the 1940s. Myaskovsky received
four Stalin prizes, which was the Soviet
Union’s highest state honor for creative figures, and he enjoyed a substantial
international presence, something that’s very
difficult to imagine today. He had a particularly the
ardent fan in Friedrich Stock, who was the director
of the Chicago Symphony who programmed 30 Myaskovsky
symphonies in the years leading up to the Second World War,
if you can believe that. But history has not been
kinds to Myaskovsky’s legacy, although it’s now possible
to find recordings of many of his works, live performances like we’ll here this
evening are exceedingly rare. Russian critics often
attribute this lack of fame to his almost pathological
modesty and understatement, and at least one of them
is called Myaskovsky, the most underrated of the last
century’s prominent composers. For many observers in Western
Europe and the United States. Myaskovsky developed
as a composer in a way that seemed disconcertingly
Soviet. He seemed to begin as a
promising young modernist in the 1920s, only to become
a conservative disappointment in the Stalinist
1930s and 1940s. This attitude is based on
contrasts like the following so I’ll play you
first a few moments from Myaskovsky’s 10th symphony,
this is from 1927 followed by the opening of
the 13th quartet, which we’ll hear this
evening, which dates from 1949. So here is the symphony. [ Music ] And the quartet. [ Music ] I’ve chosen my examples
carefully, of course, but next to the symphony,
the quartet seems as if it’s been scrubbed clean of all chromaticism
and dissonance. Many Western observers,
especially during the Cold War, became convinced that kind of transformation was either
imposed by Stalinist bureaucrats or worse resulted from a
composer trying to conform. Boris Schwarz, who wrote a
hefty English language account of Soviet music at the
height of the Cold War that really remained the
gold standards for decades. Summed up Myaskovsky’s
path has a move, away from a subjective style
that is music as self-expression to an objective style, communication with
a vast audience. For Swartz, these things,
self-expression and appeal to a broad audience
are incompatible and one must choose. All that really is a paraphrase
of Schoenberg’s famous quip that “If it is art, it’s not
for all, and if it is for all its not for art”. [laughs] During the Cold War,
that attitude meant a lot of music coming from Eastern
Europe was unpalatable for many Western critics. Even though the Myaskovsky
quartet we’ll hear shortly, number 13 came nearly seven
decades after Borodin’s second, the two pieces have
a lot in common, and they both use the classic
four movement structure of the quartet, a first movement
sonata, second movement scherzo, a slow third movement
Borodin’s a nocturne, Myaskovsky’s is a crown. In a concluding fast movement
Borodin’s is another sonata, Myaskovsky’s is [inaudible]. Moreover, Borodin
would have found most of Myaskovsky harmonic language
familiar despite two generations and the rise of musical
modernism that separate the composers. In musicological
discussions in the Wests, especially after 1945 this brand
of conservatism was usually held up against its seeming
ideological opposite. The high modernism and
total serialism of composers like Boulez and Stockhausen, who were felt too epitomize
individual creative freedom. A musical style hadn’t
been so deeply politicized on either side of
the iron curtain, it might have been easier to
see that Myaskovsky in fact, has a lot in common with the so
called NeoRomantics composers like Virgil Thomson, Francis
Poulenc and Samuel Barber. New classicism implies a
connection with tradition and Myaskovsky was
certainly deeply rooted in the Russian 19th century,
thanks to his training. At the St. Petersburg
Conservatory, he was a student of Rimsky Korsakov and
also of course [inaudible]. And as a side note, Myaskovsky
like Borodin, seems destined for a career outside of music. He initially followed
in the footsteps of his military engineer father,
studying in the cadet corps and at the St. Petersburg
military, an engineering college. He didn’t enter Rimsky
Korsakov’s class until age 25 even then remained
a reserve officer on this meant that he was mobilized during
World War One and dispatched to the Austrian front. We have this remarkable photo
from that time, this is 1915. At the time this
photo was taken, Myaskovsky had already
begun working on three string quartets,
but the real burst of quartet activity for him came
late in life during the 1940s. When he turned out a
quartet nearly every year, including the 13th which turned
out to be his final opus. At the risk of maybe over determining the way you’ll
hear this quartet this evening, I’ll add the final
two and a half years of Myaskovsky’s life
were exceptionally sad. He was sick with cancer
and also fell victim to the so called anti-formalism
campaign, a bureaucratic effort to draw clear ideological
boundaries between East and West as the Cold War escalated. This was the really infamous
moment when Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Myaskovsky and others
were publicly accused in 1948 of doing harm to
the Soviet states by writing inaccessible
formalist music. The charges were absurd
and political Myaskovsky, for example, had only just
received the Stalin Prize for his Cello Concerto
two years earlier. This prude attack however,
only encouraged Myaskovsky to work harder, and
in his final year, he finished another symphony
number 27 and the 13th quartet. Both works for which he
received Stalin Prizes, though they were
awarded after his death. This is the first page
of the 13th quartet. If you don’t read Russian,
the dedication at the top is to the Beethoven quartet,
which premiered the work at the Moscow Conservatory
on October 21st, 1950, two months after
Myaskovsky’s passing. This was in fact, the
ninth Myaskovsky quartet, the Beethoven’s premiered, the group had been
active since about 1923. Beginning in 1940, they
also worked closely with Shostakovich, who gave
them the premiers of all of his subsequent quartets. Many of which are dedicated
to individual members of the Beethoven quartet. For example, the quartet we’ll
hear this evening is dedicated to the Beethoven violist,
Ludwig van and not surprisingly, it has a big viol apart. But another Moscow based
quartet began performing in 1946 as the quartets of the
Moscow Philharmonic. In less than a decade, they
became major competition for the Beethoven’s, and already in 1955 they launched their
first international tour under their new name,
the Borodin Quartet. The membership has changed
over the years, of course but just barely In the case
of the group’s cellist. The quartet’s current cellist
Vladimir Balshin is only the second his predecessor,
Valentin Berlinsky, whom you see in this photo here,
performed with the group for an astonishing 62 years. The Borodin’s, like
the Beethoven’s, became close with Shostakovich. In fact, Shostakovich
seemed to prefer working with the Borodin’s
in some cases. Here’s how the Soviet composer
Edison Denisov described it in this is best I can
guess is around 1953. So he writes Dmitriyevich
is satisfied with the Beethoven’s performance
of the fifth quartet. But he says they don’t play
the fourth quartet well. He wanted to give the
premier to the Borodin’s, but the Beethoven’s announced
that this would lead to a break in their relations,
they were offended. Dmitri Dmitriyevich, which said,
I don’t like relations to be between people to be too
friendly or two hostile, relationships should
be kept as simple on for Denisov he wrote
this explains much about Shostakovich’s behavior. The Borodin’s, venerable cellist
Valentin Berlinsky recalled in an interview just how
close their relationship with Shostakovich could be,
and in this following passage, of quote he describes
preparing a performance of Shostakovich’s piano quintet. And he writes, “I
remember various details of the rehearsals which took
place at Shostakovich’s home.” In the prelude he asked us not to make a ritenuto despite
it being marked in the score. But ritenuto is written
here, we exclaimed. He came up to us very nervously
took out a pen and crossed out the marking in every part. [laughs] Rudolf Barshai
was the viola player in the quartet at this time. In the finale, there
is an invitation between the cello and the viola. It’s in the score now
but it wasn’t then. The cello and the viola were
supposed to play together, but Barshai made a mistake
and came in after I did. Shostakovich stopped
playing and said, “Please mark it the way
you played it just now.” In all the additions after that
date that is how it’s printed. Perhaps because he had not one, but two world class
ensembles to work with. The string quartet became
central till the second half of Shostakovich’s career,
and all but the first two of his 15 quartets date from
the post-World War two period. It’s even rumored that he hoped
to write a quartet in each of the 24 major and minor keys. He managed to pull this
off this box like task off with 24 preludes and fugues
for the piano in 1951, but he never completed the far
more ambitious quartet project. The 13th is in B-flat minor, but you wouldn’t
really know it apart from the opening key signature. The viola plays alone here,
and if you read notation, you’ll notice that Shostakovich
exhausts all 12 chromatic pictures before he returns and
repeats that initial B-flat and of course, this is
alto clef, so apologies to all the non-violists
out there. [ Music ] This is, for all intents
and purposes, a 12 tone room of the type made
famous or infamous, depending on how you look
at it by Arnold Schoenberg. Shostakovich uses 16 such rose
in this quartet, though never in the way Shostakovich — excuse me, Schoenberg too
many S names, Schoenberg and his disciples would
have deployed them. For one they’re used
melodically as you can see here, never to form harmonic
structures. Despite some really
deliciously descendant moments in this quartet, there is always
a pull toward a tonal center, and that pole is exactly what
Schoenberg tried to avoid. So, what’s with these
12 tone rows. They weren’t new
for Shostakovich, he’d used them before, most
notably in his 12th quartet. Nor were they particularly
radical for the USSR in 1971 when Shostakovich
finished this quartet. A younger group of Soviet
composers had already done far more controversial things with Schoenberg’s example
already in the 1960s. But we have an explanation
straight from Shostakovich’s mouth
so he writes here that, “As far as the use of
strictly technical devices such as musical systems
as [inaudible] cacophony, so the 12 tone system or aleatory is concerned
everything in good measure. If, let’s say a composer sets
himself the obligatory task of writing [inaudible] music, then he artificially limits
his possibilities, his ideas. The use of elements from
these complex systems is fully justified if it is dictated by
the concept of the composition. You know, to a certain extent, I think the formula the end
justifies the means is valid in music. All means, all of them if they
contribute to the end objective. I think the end Shostakovich was after in the 13th Quartet was a
chromaticism that he could use to create what is really one
of his gloomiest atmospheres, and you’ll hear this gloominess
at the beginning and the end of the quartets single movement. By the way, Shostakovich
was all over the board here, the 11th quartet at
seven movement movements, the 12 quartet had
two movements, and in the 13th we just
have a single movement. But this single movement has a
clear five part arch structure and by arch, I mean that the
beginning and end are similar, so if you think of this
in numbers one and five, two and four are similar and then there’s a really
unusual central section that I’ll talk about
in a second here. One in five involved some
exceedingly dark counterpoint that grows from this
initial viola line. The second and fourth parts
involve an unusually insistent three note figure
bump, bump, bump. A very Shostakovich
like gesture that turns into these very dissonant
chords here even if you don’t read
music, you can imagine that this is a very
loud and grading moment. But in my opinion, the focal
point is this very odd middle section were the tapping implied by these three note figures
turns into actual tapping. Here, just above the viola line
in the bottom right corner, Shostakovich indicates that
the player is to hit the body of the instrument with the
wooden part of the bow, the result is an eerie knock
or I should say knocking because it happens
throughout the section. And this is really one of Shostakovich’s
strangest soundscapes, because that knocking
comes over a cello line that resembles a jazz groove. [ Music ] Most string players try to
avoid hitting their instruments with hard objects [laughs]
at least the ones I know and the 13th is always
presented a challenge from this perspective. I’m not really sure what
we’ll see this evening, but the most creative work
around I’ve heard about is to perform the knocks on a
seconds, far less expensive set of instruments [laughs]. By way of a conclusion,
I’d like to offer something of a footnote concerning a
single note of the 13th quartet because it’s a rare movement
when we can, so to speak, look over Shostakovich’s his
shoulder as he’s composing. Fyodor Druzhinin Beethoven
quartet violist the one who was in place around 1970
tells this story about one of his many encounters
with Shostakovich. And this comes from an
artist Druzhinin wrote for the cellist Elizabeth
Wilson. He writes, “We were
recording the 12th quartet in the church were Milady had
its studio this was the central records label of
the Soviet Union. I’d arrived a little early
to warm up, at the time, I was learning [inaudible]
transcription of Bach’s chromatic fantasy,
which has an enormous number of arpeggios of every
kind in it. I was playing with some panache
and playing a diminished chord that went up to a high B-flat in the third octave
playing fortissimo is marked with loads of vibrato”. [ Music ] And he continues Suddenly I
heard the familiar grating voice behind me, that’s
a B-flat, a B-flat, said Dmitri Dmitriyevich,
who had unobtrusively crept up behind me I affirmed
that it was indeed. We’ll try it once more If you
don’t mind, he asked I rolled up the arpeggio again “Yes, now
it’s just a pain to sustain it with vibrato, it’s
not a harmonic isn’t?” Well, well, yes, yes, that’s
how” he murdered in response to some private thought. Then he asked “If I could
land straight on that note without the proceeding passage?” I answered that “It
was possible, and indeed that it was
more difficult to come down from it than
to go up to it”. Sometime later, we
received the new score of the 13th quartet we had
no inkling of its existence. I saw the quartet ends
with a long viola solo in the high register, knowing
jokingly as the heights of eternal , and the last
note was that same B-flat, which is then passed on to
the first and second violins to give the effect of a
snowball in crescendo. And here is that high B-flat,
as reimagined by Shostakovich. This begins just at the
end of the first line here. [ Music ] You’d be a natural to
ask what all this means, the 12 tone rows, the
knocking the jazz groove, the soaring B-flat, the
context might yield some clues. For instance, the quartet
followed 14th symphony, a setting of 11 poems for
soprano on bass soloist. All of these poems concern
aspects of mortality and death. Moreover [inaudible] an
archival research who has dug up some fascinating stuff
about Shostakovich recently. Is showing that Shostakovich
decided to add the quartet’s
gloomy bookends, the first and fifth parts only after
composing a lamentation for the film version of
Shakespeare’s King Lear and if you’re into Soviet Film, this is the famous
[inaudible] of version. Shostakovich also surely had
his own mortality in mind. By the late 1960s
an advanced case of poliomyelitis had sapped
his energy, and robbed him of his ability to
play the piano. So, perhaps, like
Borodin’s second, this quartet is somewhat
autobiographical, especially given its dark
atmosphere and bleak sonorities. But then again, Shostakovich
didn’t give us a text or a program, and he could have. And as was his habit,
he remained tightlipped about questions of meaning. Instead, he leaves us with
evocative and really even kind of puzzling music, and on the
question of what it’s all about, he turns to us the audience. So, I’ll end there I’m happy
to take any questions you have, but thank you for being here,
and thank you for listening. [ Applause ]>>Kevin Bartig: So
there’s microphone if anyone has questions?>>You, sir.>>You talked about the
twelve-tone row at the start of the 13th quartet
and you distinguished between using the melodic
aspect of twelve-tone music and the harmonic aspect. Could use a little more about
that because that’s the first, I’ve heard and it’s very
interesting idea to me?>>Kevin Bartig: Sure,
absolutely, Schoenberg felt that one of his great
achievements is to get rid of what he called the horizontal and vertical dimensions
in music. So, if you think of your typical
classical era piece you have melody and accompaniment,
horizontal and vertical. Schoenberg wanted
to get rid of that. So he has these 12 tone
rows, which function as collects of pitches. They can be melodic, you
can state them individually or you can clump them together
in harmonies and he sees these as exactly the same thing, even though these
sometimes happen together, sometimes happen melodically,
and students in music theory when they learn how to
analyze this they always joke about the amoebas they call
them because you find the row and then you draw a circle
around it, and sometimes they’re so convoluted that they
look like amoeba is sitting on the on the score here. But in the case of this quartet,
Shostakovich and really, anytime Shostakovich uses a
twelve-tone row it’s always melodically the pitches
happen and basically, all he’s doing is using all
12 chromatic pitches before he repeats, repeats any of those. A sort of a little game to
play with himself I think.>>I have a question about
Myaskovsky, he was a — an older classmate and
friend of Prokofiev, and violinist know
his violin can shadow which in large part it
just sounds like Prokofiev but the lyric of Prokofiev. Is there any Myaskovsky
work that you can think of that has the mechanistic
lyrical dichotomy of Prokofiev? You played for us
a modernist piece, but and the rest we don’t know
— very well I’ve been looking. I’ve not been able
to find anything, although Prokofiev wrote
that he writes just like I.>>Kevin Bartig:
Nothing comes to mind, if we were to compare the two
composers Myaskovsky is always, much more of a contrapuntal
composer, he is interested in weaving lines together, whereas Prokofiev really
cultivated this mechanistic sound, and he even
says he thought this up when he first heard the
Schumann Toccata for piano, which is one of these perpetual
motion pieces that seems to go over and over and he really
cultivated that sound. Myaskovsky and Prokofiev were
I would say they were friends, but they had at times a very
antagonistic relationship. Prokofiev often thought
Myaskovsky was hopelessly conservative and Myaskovsky, for his trying being a very
modest person found Prokofiev sometimes to be a little
brash and self-absorbed. So, they often commented
on each other’s music on, and in fact there’s
just an incredible, incredible collection
of letters they wrote to each other constantly. But in terms of real
clear influence on each other’s music I think
that’s a little more difficult to find.>>To bring it down the mundane
level was there a royalty issue with Kismet and those in
Borodin Melodies, because it’s so obvious and I don’t know
what the law was at that time or how would you know?>>Kevin Bartig: That
is a good question but I don’t know the answer
too, but my suspicion would be that they didn’t bother
to [laughs] do anything, because the Soviet Union at the
time in 1953 did not participate in international copyright. They believed, as a socialist
country and music belong to the people, and they were
really resistant to the idea of royalties and copyright. And this created huge
problems for musical exchange between the United States
and the Soviet Union, because of course,
American composers who wanted their piece is
played in the Soviet Union, wanted their royalties
and nobody was going to pay them there because
the copyright laws were not recognized. So, I don’t quite know the
answer to that question, but my suspicion would be
that they just borrowed away.>>Podium was well out
of commission by that.>>Kevin Bartig: Yeah.>>Thank you, thanks.>>Next.>>The Phillips Collection
is doing the complete string quartets of Weinberg
starting I think in May and how would you place
Weinberg in this tradition since Weinberg was
a very close friend of Shostakovich’s neighbor
and composed 17 quartets, and continued after
Shostakovich’s death?>>Kevin Bartig: Yeah, I wasn’t
aware of this since it’s great to know and great to — that his
music is getting some attention because it certainly
deserves that. Weinberg grew up in Poland,
and he actually was planning on attending Curtis, he
wanted to come to the States and make a career
here, and he had — his timing was exceptionally
bad. He graduated from
Conservatory in Poland right around the time the
Nazis invaded. So, he fled not to
United States, but he fled to the Soviet
Union first to Belarus, and then eventually
made its way to Moscow where he met Shostakovich, and Shostakovich was very much
even though the age different — what difference wasn’t
that great was sort of a father figure, and
there’s a lot of Weinberg that sounds a great deal like
Shostakovich, that’s an instance where you can see a really,
really clear influence of one composer on another. And in fact, there
have been moments when Weinberg quartet has
popped up on the radio, the rare time it
happens and for a moment, I kind of wondered what which
Shostakovich quartet is this, it turns out to be Weinberg. So, there’s a really
clear connection there between the two of them.>>Thank you.>>Kevin Bartig:
Any other questions. Well, thank you for
your attention. Thank you for being here
and enjoy the concert. [ Applause ]

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