Saturday, July 15, 2017

Stravinsky: Context and Development, part 1

Taruskin's book on Stravinsky, the genesis of which took some twenty years, is in the classic mode, based on traditional archival research and analysis. Much of it was begun long before the "new" musicology began to invade the academy and is all the more trustworthy because of that.

Let me just briefly go over some of the material from the early chapters; this is a summary of notes on the Taruskin book, volume one.

For a long time, well into the 19th century, art or concert music in Russia was largely imported in the form of Italian and German composers and the local musicians had to imitate these styles if they wanted to be performed. The first generation of composers who strove to break entirely away from these influences was the "mighty five" (in Russian, mighty "heap" or "kuchkist") group consisting of Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Musorgsky, Borodin and Cui. This New Russian School, as they were dubbed by the writer Stasov, began with Glinka and reached a kind of pinnacle with the five. They were anti-academic, folkloric, resistant to foreign influence, anti-Tchaikovsky (too Germanic). By the 1880s this was more myth than reality, however. Rimsky-Korsakov had become the musical establishment with his appointment as professor at the Saint Petersburg conservatory. He labored tirelessly teaching himself harmony and counterpoint and even sought counsel from Tchaikovsky. The new generation of his students, including especially Glazunov, were even more influenced by Tchaikovsky and by the 1880s the tradition of Russian auto-didacticism was at an end as music became more and more professionalized. This professionalization was largely the work of Anton Rubinstein who founded the conservatory system, an agency for the achievement of social rank as well as professional training.

At the same time a new source of patronage, hitherto entirely the nobility and the church, became available with the growth of a merchant class in Russia, the kupechestvo. They supported a new school of painters, the peredvizhniki, who became the mainstream of Russian art. In 1882 this merchant patronage came to music in the person of Mitrofan Belyayev, a timber and manufacturing mogul and amateur musician. He was a patron of Glazunov and formed a high quality publishing house for Russian music based in Leipzig as well as a concert series devoted to Russian composers. The Belyayev circle came to include Lyadov, Stasov, Cui, Borodin, Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov and many others.

Over time, as one would expect, the innovators became the establishment and the Belyayev circle became a circle of power, controlling access to publication, performance and employment, which led to both conformism and mediocrity. Upon Belyayev's death in 1903, he left a large endowment controlled by a board of trustees consisting of Lyadov, Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Lyadov

An indication of the conservatism that developed is shown by Rimsky-Korsakov's dislike of the music of Debussy and Richard Strauss. There was less and less interest in Russian nationalism in music as evidenced by an interview with Rimsky-Korsakov in which he stated that a special "Russian" music simply does not exist. By 1900 Russian music had entered its "Brahms phase" and the Belyayev catalogue showed a predominance of instrumental music, mostly in a pan-European mode.

Audiences more and more perceived the Belyayev offerings as bland and boring and the concerts were poorly attended. Rimsky-Korsakov himself became aesthetically exhausted and pessimistic about the future of music. This was the moribund world that the young Stravinsky entered in 1902. In less than half a century the New Russian School had grown old and senile, each generation less creative than the one before. Stravinsky, as Rimsky-Korsakov's last private composition student, was a member of the fourth and last generation. Souvtchinsky called them "walled-in artists."

For an envoi, let's listen to a piece by Glazunov, who was perhaps the best composer, other than Rimsky-Korsakov, of the Belyayev circle. This is the Symphony no. 5 in B flat with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Mravinsky:

1 comment:

Marc Puckett said...

Am finally catching up to your Stravinsky posts; have been listening to L'Oiseau, Pétrouchka, and Le Sacre quite a lot since the weekend, hearing this and that. It was the case years ago that I did listen to Stravinsky a few times but it was more because I felt I ought to rather than that I took any particular aesthetic delight in any of it. And of course I have a bit of prejudice about Le Sacre du Printemps simply because it was 'sold', as it were, as this great and glorious event, Pagans Aroused Usher in the Modern Age!, whatever its intrinsic musical merits.