Official release: 16 April 2021
Romantic and late-Romantic musicological literature tended to conceive the history of music in terms of a succession of Great Men (women were normally ignored), frequently neglecting the relationship between a genius composer and his or her cultural context, as well as the aesthetics of the era in dialogue with that of the preceding generations. In the case of P. I. Tchaikovsky, this approach is even more flawed than in that of other composers. Undeniably, the great Russian musician was a genius in his own right. Equally undeniably, his music can hardly be understood in isolation from its cultural framework, and, in particular, from the composer’s interest in the music of earlier musicians of the Classical and Romantic era.
This Da Vinci Classics album pays homage to two composers whose music was particularly cherished by Tchaikovsky: without attempting to imitate or to fake it, Tchaikovsky was able to create musical works bearing the imprint of his own personality, but also clearly continuing a tradition he revered.
Of the two works recorded here, one, the Children’s Album op. 39, is a transcription after an original for solo piano, whereas the Serenade op. 48, was originally conceived for string orchestra. Both works were composed during an extended but rather homogeneous period, in which Tchaikovsky was trying and overcoming a deep personal and relational crisis. His marriage to a former student of his, Antonina Miljukova, was a disastrous move; within a short time, cohabitation became impossible and Tchaikovsky was on the verge of suicide. Thus, between 1877 and 1855 the catalogue of his works is comparatively thin, although it comprises some true gems, including the two cycles recorded here. It is doubtful whether Tchaikovsky would ever have been able to recover from this crisis without the determining help of Nadezda von Meck, a noblewoman and a patroness who generously supported him on the financial plane, who offered him a substantial pension, and who invited him to stay at her magnificent palaces and manors in the Russian countryside. There, surrounded by nature, and thoroughly provided for, Tchaikovsky gradually regained his serenity and creative powers.
The idea of writing a set of piano pieces for children had come to Tchaikovsky’s mind in the early days of 1878, during a stay in Florence. From there, the composer wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson that it was his intention “to write a number of easy pieces, like Kinderstücke”. The composer voiced the same idea to his publisher, affirming that he did not feel he had enough creative strength for venturing in the composition of a major work, but that he would have liked to divert himself writing small-scale pieces for children. The idea was thoroughly approved by the publisher, who cited the model of Robert Schumann’s Album für die Jugend, stating that a work on similar lines would probably become very successful. (Incidentally, the prophecy proved true). In spring 1878, writing to his patroness, Tchaikovsky was able to state: “A while ago I thought that it would not be a bad idea to make a small contribution to the stock of children’s musical literature, which is very modest. I want to create a series of little individual pieces just for children, and with an attractive title, like Schumann’s”. The profile of Schumann, therefore, is explicitly discernible behind Tchaikovsky’s undertaking. Even though the style of the two composers is markedly different, and Schumann’s Album is longer and richer than Tchaikovsky’s, the latter managed to create a very consistent set, which is very enjoyable by adults and children alike. The compositional work began in May; ten days later, the musician stated that he was working well and had written already many pieces, and by mid-May the set was entirely sketched. In July, the Album had reached its final shape. The cycle is dedicated to the composer’s favorite nephew, Vladimir Davydov, who had just turned seven. For Christmas 1878, Tchaikovsky sent the score to his brother-in-law, Lev, who was Vladimir’s father, accompanying it with the following words: “Tell Bobik that the music has been printed with pictures, that the music was composed by Uncle Petya, and that on it is written Dedicated to Volodya Davydov. The silly little fellow will not understand what dedicated means… Even so, Bobik is an inimitably delightful figure when he’s playing, and he might look at the notes, and think that a whole symphony is dedicated to him”.
The cycle overflows with musical ideas which are, at the same time, disingenuous and simple. There are several allusions to prayer (starting from the first piece and including In Church: after this Album, Tchaikovsky would start working on his Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom); there are several Russian and European folksongs, mostly derived from real folk tunes of the countries Tchaikovsky had visited; there are piece inspired by a child’s toys, such as the hobbyhorse, the wooden soldiers or the doll. In particular, three pieces constitute a miniature trilogy about a doll, her illness and (perhaps surprisingly, given the destination of the album) her funeral. There are folk- or nursery tales, frequently imbued with that strangely frightening atmosphere found in so many fairy tales; there are dances, such as the Waltz, Mazurka and Polka; there is, most importantly, plenty of poetry and enchantment. As happens with many other great artists, the suggestions of childhood may elicit their imagination in unexpected ways; in this case, the possibility of remembering happier times probably helped the composer to overcome his personal tragedies.
Not by chance, Tchaikovsky tended to see Mozart as the “eternal child” of music, following a stereotype which is certainly simplistic, but which nevertheless had (and still has) a certain appeal among musicians and critics alike. In 1880, during one of his stays at Kamenka (his brother-in-law’s estate), he wrote to von Meck: “I need to relax and to play music by others. I began with Mozart’s Magic Flute. You cannot imagine, my friend, what joy I receive when diving in this music. Through Mozart I discovered the unsuspected greatness of musical beauty. Do you know that I feel younger, fresher, almost boyish, when I play Mozart?”. Thus, Tchaikovsky’s following work took Mozart explicitly as a model. The Austrian composer had written numerous Serenades, some of which were scored for strings; Tchaikovsky clearly took inspiration from these works, but interpreted them in a very personal fashion.
In parallel with the Serenade, Tchaikovsky worked on the Overture 1812, a mammoth and bombastic piece which openly contrasts with the intimate atmosphere of its twin. Writing to von Meck, Tchaikovsky stated: “I ardently wish that you will soon have the opportunity to listen to the Serenade in its orchestral version. I believe that the two central movements will encounter your approval. The first movement ought to be considered as a tribute to my veneration for Mozart: I purposefully imitated his style”.
The Serenade comprises four movements. In spite of the indication “in the form of a Sonatina”, the first movement represents a well-shaped and almost fully-fledged Sonata form. The theme found in its introduction is reminiscent of a Chorale (and this is a further link between this work and the Children’s Album recorded here). This movement, however, continues in a more brilliant and less contemplative style, with episodes requiring a pronouncedly virtuoso approach by the string orchestra. The vivacity of this movement ends surprisingly with a quotation from the opening Chorale.
The second movement is yet another Waltz (as, once more, in the Album): Tchaikovsky’s talent for ballet music is evidently revealed, although in this case there is a vein of melancholy which is not frequently found in his waltzes conceived for his famous ballets. Worthy of admiration is the composer’s skill as an orchestrator, in his capability to weave an extremely light fabric in spite of the full string orchestra he required for this piece.
The third movement, a touching Elegy, is rather collected in spite of its title and in spite of the tragic experiences Tchaikovsky had recently lived. The movement’s refinement is particularly revealed in the complex harmonic turns and in the complex structures underlying its deceiving simplicity and immediacy.
The fourth movement is perhaps the most memorable of all. It begins with the strings playing muted; their sound is therefore darker, sombrer and more mysterious. The “Russian” character of this movement could have been disputed by the “Mighty Handful”, the Five who considered Tchaikovsky as a composer too close to the West for being a true Russian. However, Tchaikovsky repeatedly affirmed his fascination and his love for his homeland and his music; this movement represents the two faces of Russian folklore, the reflective and melancholic vs. the brilliant and excited. Tchaikovsky purposefully wavers between these two poles, which possibly represent the particular moment of his life he was experiencing: a precarious balance between despair and hope, anguish and resurrection, loneliness and life.
Album notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Jacopo Rivani: Born in Ravenna (Italy), and graduated with honours in Conducting at the G. Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro under the guidance of M° Manlio Benzi. He then pursued his studies with M° Piero Bellugi and had the privilege to be M° Alberto Zedda's assistant in "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" on the occasion of its bicentenary. In spite of his young age, Jacopo Rivani made his debut in many important operas, among them: Traviata, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Don Pasquale, Elisir d’Amore, Cavalleria Rusticana, Carmina Burana, Madama Butterfly, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, Cenerentola. He also conducted some major symphonic masterpieces: Beethoven's 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9 symphonies, Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony, Mahler's 4th symphony and Mozart's Requiem. Jacopo Rivani conducted 2 world premiéres: “Milo, Maja e il giro del mondo” by M. Franceschini (2015) and “Ettore Majorana - cronaca di infinite scomparse” by R. Vetrano (2017), both receiving great critical success. M° Rivani took part in important Music Festivals such as “Ravenna Festival”, “Festival Como città della musica”, "Emilia Romagna Festival" and he performed in “I Concerti del Sabato”, “Concerto di Santa Cecilia” (Auditorium “Pedrotti", Pesaro) and the “European Opera Days”. He performed in some of the most important Italian theatres such as Arcimboldi (Milan), Sociale (Como), A.Manzoni (Bologna), Pavarotti (Modena), Alighieri (Ravenna), Teatro Olimpico (Rome), Politeama (Naples), A.Bonci (Cesena), Rossini (Pesaro).
He conducted many Italian orchestras: Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Sassari, Haydn Orchester (Trento-Bolzano), Orchestra Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini (Parma), Orchestra Regionale dell'Emilia Romagna, I Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano, Orchestra Sinfonica del Teatro Rendano (Cosenza), FORM – Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana, SineForma ensemble, Italian Chamber Opera Ensemble, Orchestra Sinfonica della Repubblica di San Marino, Teramo Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra 1813 (Como), Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana. He is also the musical and artistic director of Ensemble Tempo Primo and Orchestra Arcangelo Corelli (Ravenna).
Orchestra Arcangelo Corelli: La Corelli was founded as a cooperative society of music production in January 2015 under Jacopo Rivani’s artistic and musical direction, after five essential years as an association. It then took new shape as an open, participatory and efficient company. The Cooperative honors the bond with the territory it belongs to, while promoting the quality and artistic activity of its Orchestra also beyond regional borders. From symphonic to opera recitals, from musical theater to experimental performances, La Corelli continues to show its creativity through new original productions, targeting the most diverse audiences. Special attention is dedicated notably to children and the young public with educational projects for schools. The passion for music has always pushed the cooperative to pursue constant improvement. La Corelli is especially committed to creating a meritocratic and dynamic environment, where young people have the opportunity to grow. La Corelli has long been collaborating with major music festivals, such as Ravenna Festival, La Piccola Stagione di Milano and Ravenna Manifestazioni, with major theaters such as Bonci (Cesena), Alighieri (Ravenna), Teatro Comunale (Ferrara), Duse (Bologna), Teatro Regio (Parma) and Rossini (Pesaro), as well as with internationally renowned soloists and conductors such as T. Brock, A. Pinzauti, B. Canino, M. Pierobon, F. Meloni, Gomalan Brass Quintet.
Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky: (b Kamsko-Votkinsk, Vyatka province, 25 April/7 May 1840; d St Petersburg, 25 Oct/6 Nov 1893). Russian composer. He was the first composer of a new Russian type, fully professional, who firmly assimilated traditions of Western European symphonic mastery; in a deeply original, personal and national style he united the symphonic thought of Beethoven and Schumann with the work of Glinka, and transformed Liszt’s and Berlioz’s achievements in depictive-programmatic music into matters of Shakespearian elevation and psychological import (Boris Asaf’yev).