Extra C - Russian GemsJourney across our great country with the small singers of École Agnes Davidson School, and then experience the dark. dramatic, and impassioned piano before cruising down the romantic Rhine!

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Extra C – Russian Gems
String Quartet No 2 in D Major
Alexander Borodin composed his String Quartet No 2 for the occasion of his twentieth wedding anniversary and dedicated it to his wife Ekaterina. Borodin, a hardworking physician and historically significant chemist, normally composed music only during his spare time. He wrote the quartet at a blistering rate over the course of two months during his summer holidays in 1881 while staying at his friend’s estate southeast of Moscow. Borodin’s stated aim with the quartet was to, “conjure up an impression of a lighthearted evening spent in one of the suburban pleasure gardens of St Petersburg.” This programmatic imagery probably wasn’t all that Borodin intended to represent: according to his biographer, the piece was supposed to depict Alexander and Ekaterina’s first meeting, with the composer represented by the cello and his wife by the first violin.

During the rise of nationalism in late nineteenth-century Europe, a group of composers known by turns as ‘The Five’, the ‘New Russian School’, and ‘The Mighty Handful’, sought to develop a style unique to Russian music. These five composers were Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Borodin, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Borodin was notably the only member that predominantly composed chamber music, as the others were unreservedly hostile towards it. His enthusiasm for chamber works most probably came from his experience as an amateur cellist.

One of the aspects of the quartet that is typical of the style ‘The Five’ developed is its long beautiful melodies, which can be heard throughout, but are especially pronounced in the first movement. The second movement is a scherzo and bears the strong influence of Felix Mendelssohn whom Borodin admired. The third movement, ‘Nocturne’, is, along with his symphonic poem ‘In the Steppes of Central Asia’, one of Borodin’s most famous works. This peaceful movement is interrupted by an unsettled and stormy middle section. The ‘Finale’ displays Borodin’s well-known mastery of counterpoint.

The quartet was premiered on January 26, 1882 at a concert for the Imperial Russian Musical Society in St Petersburg. Its popularity surged after parts of it were included in the Broadway musical Kismet, for which Borodin received a posthumous Tony Award in 1954.

Petite Suite FROM Pictures at an Exhibition
In 1873 Modest Mussorgsky was at the height of his fame as a composer. A member of ‘The Mighty Handful’ of Russian nationalistic composers with Alexander Borodin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky’s successful opera Boris Godunov was being staged at the time. On May 5, 1873, Mussorgsky’s friend Viktor Hartmann, an artist and architect, died suddenly at age 39 due to a brain aneurysm, leaving Mussorgsky, who greatly admired Hartmann’s work, shocked and distraught.

In February 1874 an exhibition of 400 paintings by Hartmann was held at the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, which included two paintings that Hartmann had given to Mussorgsky. This inspired the composer to write a suite of ten piano pieces with each one representing one of his late friend’s paintings. His intention was also for the music to depict him “roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly, in order to come closer to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend.”

Mussorgsky composed the suite extremely quickly (June 2 – 22, 1874), but it was not published until five years after his death. In fact, he did not include it on any concert program during his lifetime. Some historians believe that this was because he thought it to be too personal. It was his friend and colleague Rimsky-Korsakov who published the work in 1881. Since then the work has been extremely popular, not only as a showpiece for pianists, but it has been subject to countless orchestrations, including well-known arrangements by Maurice Ravel and Leopold Stokowski. The piece has also been widely adapted into other genres by artists such as progressive rock bands Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, jazz musician Duke Ellington, guitarist Andrés Segovia, electronic artists Tangerine Dream, and even several heavy metal bands.

Concerto for Saxophone
Alexander Glazunov’s Concerto for Saxophone Op 109 in E Flat Major is considered to be one of the most important pieces in the repertoire for classical saxophone. It was composed at the request of soloist Sigurd Raschèr, a significant German-American musician and key figure in the history of the saxophone. Raschèr so relentlessly pursued Glazunov that the composer admitted in a letter to a friend that he had begun composition, “under the influences of attacks rather than requests.”

Although the piece is contained within a single movement, Glazunov identified in a letter to Max Steinberg that the work has a three-part division which conforms to the traditional model of the concerto. The rich and lyrical exposition is followed by a development / transition section that leads to a cadenza. The final section is a fugato in C Minor. Throughout the work we bear witness to some of Glazunov’s musical idiosyncrasies, including his use of dissonance (for colour and embellishment), chromaticism (that increases over the course of the piece), and frequent tempo changes (there are a total of 29 over the course of the roughly fifteen-minute piece).

Glazunov, a former student of Rimsky-Korsakov, directed the St Petersburg Conservatory between 1905 and 1928, and heavily influenced other composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky. Glazunov would eventually move to France for political reasons and the concerto would be his final work. He died in 1936, two years after the composition, and never heard it performed. It was premiered on November 25, 1934 in Nyköping, Sweden with Sigurd Raschèr as the soloist. Its importance within the classical saxophone repertoire cannot be overstated and the concerto has been recorded numerous times by many significant saxophonists.

Jordan Berg