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FHS List A: Nineteenth-Century Symphony. Dan Grimley daniel.grimley@music.ox.ac.uk. Lecture 4. Defining Russia Symphonically. European preconceptions of Russian literary style c . 1900 ( Frolova -Walker): Formless and unkempt; gloomy; crudely realistic; morbid and hysterical; mystical

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fhs list a nineteenth century symphony

FHS List A: Nineteenth-Century Symphony

Dan Grimley


lecture 4 defining russia symphonically
Lecture 4. Defining Russia Symphonically
  • European preconceptions of Russian literary style c. 1900 (Frolova-Walker):
    • Formless and unkempt; gloomy; crudely realistic; morbid and hysterical; mystical
  • BUT: music more often exotic, brilliant, fantastic, festive
  • 1812 Patriotic War: first sense of Russian Volk (russkiynarod)
  • Ivan Kireyevsky (1806-56) :

In the West, theology became rational and abstract, while in the Orthodox world it retained the inner integrity of the Spirit; ... there you have a mind moving towards truth through a logical chain of ideas, here, a striving for truth through the inner elevation of consciousness through integrity of the heart and intellectual concentration; ... there you have scholastic and juridical universities, while in ancient Russia there were monasteries of prayer that enjoyed a concentration of the supreme knowledge within their walls. [F-W, p. 14]

russian music and the idea of folksong
Russian Music and the idea of Folksong
  • N A Lvov (1753-1803), editor of first major collection of Russian folksong (1790, rev. ed. 1806) preface:

Perhaps this collection will not be without usefulness even for philosophy itself, which seeks to draw conclusions about national character from folk song. Taking account of the minor modality of the majority of protyazhnïye [‘drawn-out’] songs, which ... comprise the characteristic Russian song, philosophy will perceive, of course, the tenderness and sensitivity of the Russian people and also the inclination of the soul to melancholy. [F-W, p. 30]

  • Singspiel with YevstgineyFoin, Postal Coachman at the Relay Station (‘Yamshchikinapodstave’, 1787)
mikhail glinka kamarinskaya 1847 8
Mikhail Glinka: Kamarinskaya (1847/8)
  • FantasiePittoresque: alternation of folksong and wedding dance (Kamarinskaya)
  • Tchaikovsky, diary entry 27 June/9 July 1888:

Half a century has passed since then, and many Russian symphonic works have been composed; we may even speak of a symphonic school. Well? The germ of all this lay in Kamarinskayaas the oak tree lies in the acorn. For long years to come Russian composers will drink at this source, for it will need much time and much strength to exhaust its wealth of inspiration.

  • Richard Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically (p. 122):

Kamarinskaya, almost as if by accident, accomplished the feat of creating for itself a novel formal procedure both original and ‘organic’, and one, moreover, hardly at all indebted to ‘German’ symphonic methods.

defining russian music institutionally
Defining Russian Music Institutionally
  • 1860, Russian Theatre founded, St Petersburg
  • Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), founder Russian Music Society, 1859; founding director of St Petersburg Conservatory, 1862. Composer of 6 symphonies
  • Vladimir Stasov (1824-1906), music critic and proponent of Russian musical nationalism; supporter of the ‘Mighty Handful’ (MoguchayaKuchka):
  • Mïly Balakirev (1837-1910), director of Free Music School (founded 1862, St Petersburg); Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908); Aleksandr Borodin (1833-1887)
russian music and the kuchka
Russian Music and the Kuchka
  • Radical assertion of difference from Western [Austro-German] models
  • Promotion of ‘modernist’ musical tendencies (Berlioz/Liszt)
  • Importance of Opera (fairy-tale/epic)
  • Prominence of tritones, unusual structural-tonal relationships
  • Advanced chromatic harmony
  • Key symbolism: B♭ minor, D major
  • Use of folk song, often in progressive harmonisation [cf. Essays by Vladimir Odoyevsky]
  • Evocation of orthodox church music, bell sounds
  • Circular/accumulative rather than linear/evolutionary musical forms
  • Timbre as structural parameter
  • ‘Changing background’ variation technique (‘Khorovod’: round dance)
borodin symphony no 2 1877 8
Borodin, Symphony no. 2 (1877-8)
  • Programme (after Stasov): 1. Gathering of Russian Warriors; 3. Bayan (epic bard); 4. Scene of Heroes feasting amid exaltation of a great host of people
  • César Cui (1835-1918), review of performance, 11/23 November 1885:

Nowhere do the individuality and originality of Borodin reveal themselves in sharper relief than in this symphony; nowhere do his gifts appear with such versatility and diversity or his ideas so distinctively, powerfully, and profoundly. In Borodin’s Second Symphony it is a power which predominates, power which is tough,--in short, unquenchable, elemental power. The symphony is permeated by traits of Russian nationality, but the nationality of remote times; Rus’ is perceptible in this symphony, but primitive pagan Rus’.

first movement formal plan
First movement: formal plan


1 Pb minor fanfare (declamatory)

78 S D major idyll

93 C (P!) D major chivalric


141 P+S (B♭, unstable)—V/b static—wild ride


224 Pb minor epic

273 S E♭--C major idyll

293 C B minor forceful

n.b. chromatic wedge pattern in opening head-motive: contains c-natural/d-sharp [e-flat]

tchaikovsky symphony no 4 1878
Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 4 (1878)
  • Dahlhaus, Critique (Nineteenth-Century Music)

To put it bluntly, the grand style fundamental to the genre has been split into a monumentality that remains a decorative façade unsupported by the internal form of the movement, and an internal form that is lyrical in character and can be dramatized only by applying a thick layer of pathos. [p. 264]

… for Tchaikovsky, the relation between lyricism and monumentality, so precarious to the symphonic style under ‘late romantic conditions’, became an open contradiction. To have expressive cantabile themes culminate in bombastic fortissimo was not to resolve the dilemma but to conceal an admission of failure. Brahms on the other hand, tackled the analogous problem of combining the premises of chamber music with a will to large-scale form, a problem which he solved by going to the root of the matter: the thematic material.

tchaikovsky s programme
Tchaikovsky’s programme

The introduction is the germ, the leading idea of the whole work.

This is fate, that inevitable force which checks our aspirations towards happiness ere they reach the goal ...

[First movement:]The sense of hopeless despair grows stronger and more poignant. Is it not better to turn from reality and lose ourselves in dreams?

O joy! A sweet and tender dream enfolds me. A bright and serene presence leads me on.

How fair! How remotely now is heard the first theme of the Allegro! Deeper and deeper the soul is sunk in dreams. All that is dark and joyless is forgotten. Here is happiness!

It is but a dream. Fate awakens us roughly.

… The fourth movement. If you can find no reasons for happiness in yourself, look at others. Go to the people. See how they can enjoy life and give themselves up entirely to festivity. A rustic holiday is depicted. Hardly have we had time to forget ourselves in the spectacle of other people’s pleasure, when indefatigable fate reminds us once more of its presence. ... How merry, how glad they all are! All their feelings are so inconsequent, so simple. And will you still say that all the world is immersed in sorrow? ...

first movement formal plan1
First movement: formal plan


1 Fanfare Mottof minor—V/f


28 P f—a—fvalsetriste

116 S a♭ minor! Entr’acte

134 C B major Idyllic—Ecstatic!

193Fanfare-Mottob minor


201 P a—c—f accumulative

253Fanfare-Motto unstable destabilised!


284 P d minor! tragic—foreshortened

295 S d minor Entr’acte

313 C F major Idyllic—Triumphant

355Fanfare-Mottof minor interruptive


365 [P] D♭--f minor Retrospective/tragic

finale formal plan
Finale: Formal Plan


1 P F (open) Celebratory

9 S! a minor Khorovod: reiterative


30 P resumed F major celebratory

38 C F (closed) festive

60 S B♭ minor Khorovod


119 P F major abbreviated

127 C F festive

149 S dminor Khorovod

199 Fanfare-Motto! F minor! Interruptive


223 C V/fexpectant

249 P F major regained!

257 C+S F major triumphant