“Music bulletin” about a project “Accord of 1917”

An open discussion within the framework of the project Accord of 1917 was held at the General Staff Building of the State Hermitage Museum. The project also featured a concert program performed by The Saint-Petersburg Northern Synfonia Orchestra led by the Artistic Director of the Music Hall Theatre Maestro Fabio Mastrangelo.

German professor Stefan Weiss, director of  Conservatorio di musica «S.Pietro a Majella» in Naples Elsa Evangelista (Italy), Austrian professor and Artistic Director of the «Sirius» Cultural Centre Hans-Joachim Frey, conductor and Artistic Director of the Music Hall Theatre Fabio Mastrangelo, French stage director Arnaud Bernard, composer Nastasia Khrushcheva and Iosif Raiskin, President of the section of critics and musicology of the Composers Union of Saint Petersburg, took part in the discussion on the topic «The revolution and music».

I really loved the initial thesis, formulated by the discussion leader Victor Vysotsky:  “Chords can be stable and unstable. Chord of 1917 is unstable, and we are trying to resolve it”. 

While reflecting on how has presentiment of revolution influenced the music and culture in the whole, what was the role that “The Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky has played in development of art of the XX century, on masses as main character of revolutionary music, discussing topics of ideology in music, interaction of revolution and avant-garde (“together or apart?”), of Shostakovich`s works, all participants have found their own vision of these problems. 

Statements by Iosif Raiskin always compel attention due not only to the deepest knowledge and comprehension of musical art, but also to his life experience, impressions of a person who witnessed life and creativity of outstanding artists of the XX century, who have reflected their time. He was talking about "liberty" spirit in Russian folklore and presentiment of a possible revolution, about Mussorgsky reflecting his premonition of the Russian revolution in “Boris Godunov” and “Khovanshchina”and Scriabin reflecting it in his 3rd Symphony. About how bolsheviks at first called music and artistic avant-garde to their colours, but very soon disaccorded with progressive cultural intellectuals and afterwards resorted to guarding retrograde rhetoric under the guise of struggle for classics preservation. 

Artists of that time perceived the revolution in different ways.  Thus, Prokofiev, observing unstable masses, wrote in one of his letters enthusiastically:  “I think, takeover is going brilliantly”. Talking about “The Rite of Spring”, ballet created by Stravinsky in 4 years before the revolution, French director Arnaud Bernard said it had anticipated historical events and become revolution in music, ballet and culture in the whole.  Professor Hans-Joachim Frey emphasized widely known but important idea that Shostakovich, “child of the time” of revolution, created music that reflected changing historic time. Revolutionary Russia attracted attention of artists from other countries.  Stefan Weiss mentioned that in 20-s of the past century German composers were interested in events occurring in Russia. He told how these events had influenced music of German composers, who tried to catch and to feature in their works novelty of processes happening in the world.  This topic was supplemented with Elsa Evangelista  talking about Italian composer and pedagogue Luigi Nono.  Revolution inspired him and he tried to express communist ideas in his works. 

But of course the most brilliant and convincing participant of the discussion was The Saint-Petersburg Northern Synfonia Orchestra led by Fabio Mastrangelo. The programme, incredibly interesting in terms of content and dramaturgical composition (from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” to the Beethoven’s Overture “Egmont”), became a powerful stimulus for reflecting over topics under discussion. 
“Infernal Dance” from “The Firebird” by I. Stravinsky became a source of images of wild, destructive revolt.  "Montage" of the fragments from the first movement of the 2ndsymphony by D. Shostakovich and documentary footage of first days of revolution evoked strong emotions. Orchestra made us listen intently to barely audible sounds, at first rustling like quicksand and gradually increasing. Then we could felt bitterly cold blasts of November wind, merging with stamping, howls of despair and anger made by crowd seen in documental film. 

“The factory” segment of the “Steel” ballet by A. Mosolov (industrial “bolero", dance of huge machines, clanking strings, screaming flutes, hooting kettle-drums) and “Marsh of enthusiasts” by I. Dunayevsky were the most impressive part of the programme. Beauty, all-victorious light of brilliant music by Dunayevsky is so strong that every time they capture both orchestra and audience. Musicians were playing with real enthusiasm, gladness, and smiles on their faces. But what the “unresolved”dissonance arose in our minds because of these dazzling consonances! How can we understand, what was at the composer`s heart when he was writing this music which shines with optimism, though he realized what was happening around him at that time? How can we sort through our feelings caused by this music, when on documental film strip that emerges in our mind we can see not only celebratory parades, but also barbed wire of concentration camps which appears as tragic counetrpoint? 

In the third movement (“Aurora”) of the 12th symphony by Shostakovich we can find common to him controversial and paradoxical author statement which brings expectations of something ominously inevitable, aggressively advancing and at the same time tragic. 

Recently “The Saint Petersburg Opera” Theatre “reanimated” compromise, mildly speaking, opera “October"” by Vano Muradeli in order to comprehend topic of the Russian revolution on the basis of this material. Both libretto and music material are stilted, straightforward. But in the context of the "Accord of 1917" programme aria of Maria performed by  Sofia Nekrasova ("Here I am in granite Petrograd again/Only blood and smoke behind/Tell me for goodness' sake how are we supposed to live/What we, young ones, should do?" and question "Why can`t our people find happiness?") sounded convincing and even touching. The text of the aria was supported by black and white sequences of revolutionary Petrograd, against which lines of Blok`s poems popped up. Folk tunes, chimes, "shots" of timpani, rough stamps of wild dance, alarming "blizzardiness" - vivid theatrical world of Boris Tishchenko`s music (fragment of the Boris Tishchenko’s ballet The Twelve)  was a continuation of narrative about that distant but still fascinating time. And then - very interesting turn from music of Leningrad classic Tishchenko to minimalistic opus-reflection “Slow and incorrect” written and performed by young Petersburg composer Nastasia Khruscsheva. This melody "accompanied" cruiser Aurora moving on the screen to its eternal anchorage... 

At last, performance of Beethoven`s Overture "Egmont" was completely unexpected but brilliant finding of the programme`s authors, reason for the last round of reflection, final chord. Poeticized, romanticized image of revolution, sounded on the background of bright colourful paintings depicting the French revolution of 1789 (opposite to mercilessly realistic black and white documentary film) was an implementation of jolly enthusiasm of revolution in dazzling sunlight! This was how Beethoven had eternalized revolution! This was how several generations of revolutionaries conceived the idea of revolution, following this great delusion. 

The whole programme, so stylistically diverse, with a wide range of the topic aspects, was performed by the orchestra with enthusiasm and passion. In my opinion, "Accord of 1917" project has become one of the best in terms of conception musical events dedicated to 100th anniversary of the revolution. It is very clever, polemical, allows nobody to stay indifferent, gives food for thought, but doesn`t estimate this global event of the XX century unambiguously, what perhaps is impossible even now, one hundred years later. 
 

Elena ISTRATOVA

 

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