TCHAIKOVSKY FESTIVAL THE "PATHÉTIQUE"

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Maison symphonique de Montréal
Ticket Prices
$42* to $200*
Concert dates
Thursday, January 7, 2016 - 8:00 PM Done
Artists
Oleg Caetani, conductorchef d’orchestre
Ekaterina Lekhina, sopranosoprano

Presentation of the concert

Tchaikovsky, Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy (approx. 19 min.)

Tchaikovsky, Iolanta, op. 69, “Iolanta's Arioso” (approx. 4 min.)
Tchaikovsky, Mazeppa, “Maria’s Lullaby” (approx. 3 min.)
Tchaikovsky, The Snow Maiden, op. 12, “Melodrama no. 2” (approx. 4 min.)
Rimsky-Korsakov, The Snow Maiden, “S podruzhkami po yogodu hodit” (Aria of Snow Maiden) (approx. 4 min.)
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Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6 in B minor, op. 74, “Pathétique” (approx. 46 min.)

 

 

Tchaikovsky at his lyrical best is captured in a selection of his most beautiful arias, interpreted by Ekaterina Lekhina, while Symphony no. 6Pathétique”, explores sublime emotional depths.

Tchaikovsky lovers rejoice! This program opens with one of the composer’s finest scores (and one of his first for orchestra), inspired by one of the world’s great love stories. It closes with one of the most intensely passionate symphonies ever composed, In between we hear four rarities, short excerpts from stage works rarely heard outside Russia, but each a gem in its own right.

PIOTR ILITCH TCHAÏKOVSKI
Born in Votkinsk, May 7, 1840 – Died in Saint Petersburg, November 6, 1893
Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy-Overture

Romeo and Juliet is understandably one of Tchaikovsky’s most popular works. It is also one of the composer’s earliest orchestral scores. The suggestion for it came from Mily Balakirev, a prominent composer himself and mentor of many late nineteenth-century Russian composers. Balakirev guided the young Tchaikovsky through the composition of Romeo and Juliet; some advice he took, other he rejected, and the work went through several revisions between its premiere in 1870 and its final form of 1880. Tchaikovsky infuses the story with all the elemental emotions, soaring passions and poetic impulses that make Shakespeare’s play so gripping in its expressive power. Although the word “overture” appears in the title, it is really a symphonic poem in all but name, a self-contained orchestral work in one movement inspired by an extra-musical stimulus.

Tchaikovsky makes no attempt to follow the story line, yet succeeds admirably in capturing the essential tone and substance of the play in a satisfying musical argument. Three main subjects are presented and interwoven in the 18-minute symphonic poem: the solemn, ecclesiastical music representing Friar Laurence (the opening passage); the furious strife music of the feuding families of Montagues and Capulets, with its irregular accentuation and stabbing effects; and the soaring, lushly romantic love theme. The central portion of the work develops into a struggle between the forces of strife (Montagues and Capulets) and conciliation (Friar Laurence). The love theme returns in its full glory in the full orchestra, but the strife music too makes a reappearance in terrible fury. The coda consists of the love music transformed into a lament, as if accompanying a funeral cortège.

Excerpts from stage works
Tchaikovsky’s works for the stage include three enormously popular ballet scores (Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty), nine operas, and assorted incidental music, mostly for works by Ostrovsky. Of the operas, only Eugene Onegin retains a solid place in the circle of repertory favorites, while The Queen of Spades and The Maid of Orleans receive occasional performances in the west. But the three Tchaikovsky numbers we hear this evening all come from rarely heard stage works.

The one-act Iolanta was Tchaikovsky’s last opera, composed in 1891, two years before his death. The composer’s brother Modest prepared a libretto for him based on the play King René’s Daughter by the Danish writer Henrik Hertz. Iolanta has been blind from birth, but her father has kept the truth of her condition from her. In her arioso, early in the opera, she senses she is missing something others have, and muses on what the purpose of eyes might be. She asks her maid Martha why eyes seem to be made only for crying, and wonders about the sounds all about her – birds, rushing streams, the stillness of the night.

The full-length opera Mazeppa (1883) is set to Pushkin’s narrative poem Poltava. The opera is packed with high drama – love, betrayal, abduction, murder, political persecution … the kind of story Verdi would have loved. The opera closes with Maria’s lullaby, sung to Andrei (her lover before Mazeppa came on the scene) as he lies dying in her arms.

In 1873, one of Russia’s leading dramatists, Alexander Ostrovsky (1823-1886), was asked to write a play that would take advantage of both the Bolshoi’s music and dance departments. Tchaikovsky was asked to provide incidental music for the production, a fairy tale called The Snow Maiden. The story is a variant on the Turandot theme used by Puccini – a girl’s transformation from a creature with a heart of ice to one of passionate love. Tchaikovsky completed some eighty minutes of music – nineteen solo vocal, choral and orchestral pieces – in just three weeks. The second of the two melodramas (music to accompany spoken dialogue) is a little gem of a piece in Tchaikovsky’s characteristically wistful mood.

Tchaikovsky intended to make an opera out of The Snow Maiden at some point, but Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) got there first, in 1882. Frustrated, Tchaikovsky never did return to the subject. Ostrovsky thought that Rimsky-Korsakov’s music was “wonderful. I could never have imagined anything more appropriate to the subject, and expressing with such vitality all the poetry of the Russian pagan cult, and of the heroine of the tale.” Early in Act I, the title character sings of the joys of singing and dancing.

Symphony no. 6 in B minor, op. 74, “Pathétique”
Tchaikovsky began working on his last symphony in February of 1893, and conducted the first performance on October 28 in Saint Petersburg. It was only mildly successful, due to a puzzling Adagio finale that ended softly, an indifferent orchestra, and the composer’s consequent lack of enthusiastic leadership. Nevertheless, he felt that it was “the best and especially the most sincere of my works. I love it as I have never loved any of my other musical creations.” Tchaikovsky’s own subtitle, pathétique, derives from the Greek patheticos, and has a different flavor than in most modern English contexts, where it usually implies inadequacy and pity, as in “a pathetic attempt.” In Russian, the word patetichesky refers to something passionate, emotional, and, as in the original Greek, having overtones of suffering.

The introductory bassoon solo, which crawls slowly through the murkiest colors of the orchestra, becomes the melodic material for the Allegro section’s principal theme. The second theme, presented by the violins, is probably the most memorable of the entire work – haunting in its beauty, poignancy and sad lyricism.

The second movement is the famous “broken-backed waltz, limping yet graceful,” in 5/4 meter. A Trio section in the middle, also in 5/4, is noteworthy for the steady, pulsing notes in the bassoons, double basses and timpani.

The third movement combines elements of a light scherzo with a heavy march. So festive and exuberant does the march become that one is tempted to stand and cheer at the end, making all the more effective the anguished cry that opens the finale. The finale’s infinitely warm and tender second theme in D major works itself into a brilliant climax and crashes in a tumultuous descent of scales in the strings. The first theme returns in continuously rising peaks of intensity, agitation and dramatic conflict. Finally the energy is spent, the sense of struggle subsides, and a solemn trombone chorale leads into the return of the movement’s second theme, no longer in D major but in B minor – dark, dolorous, weighted down in inexpressible grief and resignation. The underlying heart throb of double basses eventually ceases and the symphony dies away into blackness … nothingness.

© Robert Markow

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