Category Archives: my favorite music

50’s songs

 

 

My choice of the greatest 1950’s (and some early 1960’s) hit songs — they give me an adrenaline rush — consists of the following:
The Platters

Only You (And You Alone) (1955)

 

 

 

 

The Platters

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (1958)

 

 

 

 

The Penguins

Earth Angel (1955)

 

 

 

 

Fred Paris and the Satins (aka The Five Satins)

In the Still of the Night (1956)

 

 

 

 

The Chantels

Maybe (1957)

 

 

 

The Teddy Bears

To Know Him Is To Love Him (1958)

 

 

 

 

Dion and the Belmonts

A Teenager in Love

 

 

 

 

 

Phil Phillips

Sea of Love (1959)

 


The Shirelles

Will You Love Me Tomorrow (1960)

 

 

 

 

The Ronettes

Be My Baby (1963)

 

 

 

 

Skeeter Davis

The End of the World (1963)

 

 

 

 

 

The Crystals

Da Doo Ron (1963)

 

 

 

 

The Crystals

Then He Kissed Me (1963)

 

 

 

 
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What experience or qualifications do I have as a rock or pop music critic? Zero. I heard these tunes over and over again growing up. They kind of get drilled into you and never leave you. The experience is a pleasant one.

Music has a place in practically everyone’s lives. I know, it’s a cliché. But popular music proves this is true.

Your armchair critic feels that the following was true of musical developments of my youth. That the first popular music I recall hearing, on the radio, consisted of Hit Parade tunes such as “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” and “Love and Marriage” that were INSIPID, if catchy. Things changed — undeniably for the better — when rock and roll and doo wop came along. Rock music got worse in the Sixties, I feel — it’s probably a minority opinion. The singers were worse and the music was less emotionally engaging.

Enjoy the tunes. And my thoughts, if you care, for whatever they’re worth.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   January 2019

 

 

 

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Addendum: Black singers and groups and the musical styles they seemed to have learned early on or imbibed, so to speak, had a particular importance. It’s no accident, I feel, that they wrote and performed so many of the best songs. Lead tenor Tony Williams of the Platters is in a class by himself. His voice is spellbinding.

 

 

 

“The Song of the Forests” – post updated

 

 

I have updated my post

 
Shostakovich, Песнь о лесах (The Song of the Forests)

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/12/02/shostakovich-%d0%bf%d0%b5%d1%81%d0%bd%d1%8c-%d0%be-%d0%bb%d0%b5%d1%81%d0%b0%d1%85-the-song-of-the-forests/

 

yet again.

 

The sections of the oratorio have been posted separately, which should make it easier to get a sense of the piece.

 

— Roger W.  Smith

  December 8, 2018

Shostakovich’s fifth in concert

 

 

On Saturday evening, December 1, I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall given by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sergey Smbatyan, a very young conductor.

What great seats I had! Box 15 in the first tier. A seat near the front of the first tier which overlooked the stage. I prefer not to sit in the so called Parquet section (the lowest, orchestra level). The acoustics, I have been told by other concertgoers, are better higher up, and one has a view of the whole orchestra.

 

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The program included a very recent work: Travel Notebook Suite for Piano and Orchestra (2017) composed by Alexey Shor, a young Ukrainian composer. It was an engaging piece that “worked” and that kept one’s interest sustained with variety of content from movement to movement. (Shows the advantage of being willing to listen to new music.) The pianist, Ingolf Wunder, a young Austrian, was outstanding. He drew applause that led to his performing a Chopin piece as an encore.

 

 

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The second half of the concert was comprised of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47. I have posted about the Shostakovich fifth before.

To hear it or any favorite work live is a revelation. With my great seating, I was able to “see” the entrances of the different players and sections of the orchestra — the two flutes (especially important in this work); the trumpets, trombones, and bassoons; the timpani and cymbals; and, yes, the two harps – occurring. One sees as well as hears them (as one might not on a rerecording, not being quite sure what instrument one is hearing).

Shostakovich, it is well known and has been frequently noted, was a master of tone color. This is fully recognizable in a live performance.

And, the way the instruments play off one another is brilliant. I had a similar feeling while watching a performance of a Mozart symphony recently. (I forget if it was Mozart’s 40th or the Jupiter Symphony.)

Shostakovich is a master of the ironic, the sardonic, and the unexpected. Not adverse to clashing sounds and dissonance (along with beautiful, elegiac melodies). Sort of reminds one of Stravinsky. But the framework, the overall construction of the piece, is worthy of a Haydn or a Beethoven.

The instruments seem to be having a conversation (notably in the first movement, Moderato), and the piece has an undeniable, irresistible sense of logic and forward movement that never flags. As is invariably true of the greatest symphonies.

I was riveted.

 

 

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The first movement of Shostakovich’s fifth. Note the interplay and “handoffs” between the instruments. The thematic variations. Note how carefully, and with such artistry, Shostakovich builds an aura and a sense of suspense.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2018

 

 

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See also my post:

 

Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 in D minor; Шостакович, Симфония № 5 ре минор

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/07/22/shostakovich-symphony-no-5-in-d-minor-%d1%88%d0%be%d1%81%d1%82%d0%b0%d0%ba%d0%be%d0%b2%d0%b8%d1%87-%d1%81%d0%b8%d0%bc%d1%84%d0%be%d0%bd%d0%b8%d1%8f-%e2%84%96-5-%d1%80%d0%b5-%d0%bc%d0%b8%d0%bd/

Shostakovich, “Песнь о лесах” (The Song of the Forests)

 

 

 

 

 

Когда окончилась война

Kogda Okonchilas Voina (“When the War Ended”)

 

 

Оденем Родину в лес

Odyenem Rodinu v Lesa (“We Will Clothe Our Homeland with Forests”)

 

 

Воспоминание о прошлом

 Vospominaniye o Proshlom (“Memories of the Past”)

 

Пионеры сажают леса

Pionyery Sazhayut Lesa (“The Pioneers Plant the Forests”)

 

 

 

 

Комсомольцы выходят вперед

 Komsomoitsy Vykhodyat Vperyod (“The Young Communists Go Forth”)

 

 

Будущая прогулка

Budushchaya Progulka (“A Walk in the Future”)

 

 

Слава

Slava (“Glory”)

 

 

 

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The Song of the Forests (Песнь о лесах), Op. 81, is an oratorio by Dmitri Shostakovich composed in the summer of 1949. It was written to celebrate the forestation of the Russian steppes following the end of World War II. Premiered by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Yevgeny Mravinsky on 15 November 1949, the work was well received by the government, earning the composer a Stalin Prize the following year.

The oratorio is notorious for lines praising Joseph Stalin as the “great gardener”, although its later performances have normally omitted them.

— Wikiedia entry

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_of_the_Forests

 

 

 

 

Shostakovich and wife at premier of 'Song of the Forests'.jpg

 

 

 

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Political considerations aside, I have always liked this work and find the music inspiring.

By the way, creative artists (used in the broad sense of the word) not infrequently find themselves on the wrong side of history,. I am not inclined to hold that against them.

Yes, the piece is kind of,  sort of bombastic (another 1812 Overture?).  Yet, it contains brilliant choral and instrumental music — re the latter, a good example is the opening bars of the section Пионеры сажают леса (Pionyery Sazhayut Lesa; The Pioneers Plant the Forests) — and haunting, unforgettable themes.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   January 2016; updated December 2018

 

 

 

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Когда окончилась война

Kogda Okonchilas Voina (“When the War Ended”)

Kogda okonchilas voina, When the war ended
vzdokhnula radostno strana. the land breathed joyfully,
Nastali solnechniye dni. sunny days began.
Moi drug, tovarishch, My friend, comrade,
posle boya domoi vernulis my s toboyu, we returned home after the battle,
na kartu Rodini vzglyani: consulting the map of our homeland:
tam ot Volgi i do Buga there, from the Volga to the Bug,
i ot sevyera do yuga, and from north to south,
gdye proshli wherever our victorious regiments
pobyedniye polki, had passed,
vstali krasniye flazhki. were placed red flags.
Rodniye stepi i polya, Our native steppes and fields,
mnogostradalnaya zemlya our long-suffering land.
My zdyes voyevali, here we fought
svobodu svoyu otstoyali, and defended our freedom,
nas k podvigam novim these clear horizons summon

zovut eti yasniye dali, to new feats of valor,

i, vnov oshchutiv, and our senses,
like our broad fields, kak nashi polya shiroki,
snova ozhiv, coming live again,
my krasniye s karti we remove the red flags
snimayem flazhki. from our map,
Snimayem krasniye flazhki, we remove the red flags,
voinoyu oplanyonniye, scorched by war,
i stavim noviye flazhki, and in their place we put new flags,
kak tsvyet lesov, zelyoniye. green, the color of the forests.
Ot reki i do reki, From river to river,
ot Volgi i do Buga, from the Volga to the Bug,
proidyot lesnaya polosa The forests spread
ot sevyera do yuga. from north to south.

 

Оденем Родину в лес

Odyenem Rodinu v Lesa (“We Will Clothe Our Homeland with Forests”)

Zvuchit priziv na vsyu stranu, The call rings out through all the land,
raznosit vyeter golosa the voices are carried by the winds:
obyavim zasukhye voinu, we will declare war on drought,
odyenem rodinu we will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests.
Kovaren byl iyulski znoi, The intense heat of July was ominous,
polyam grozili nyebesa. the heavens threatened the fields.
Shtob novi mir So that a new world
dyshal vesnoi, might breathe in spring,
odyenem rodinu we will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests.
Svetla, kak pervaya lyubov, Pure and radiant, like first love,
beryozok yunaya krasa. is the youthful beauty of the birches.
Poseyem rozh We will sow rye
pod syen dubov, in the shade of the oaks.
odyenem rodinu We will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests!
My zashchitim svoi polya, We will protect our fields,
yavlyaya miru chudesa. and show the world great wonders.
Shtob krugli god So that the earth should bloom
tsvela zemlya, the whole year round,
odyenem rodinu we will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests.
Po vsyem stepyam, Over the whole steppe,
vdol russkikh ryek along the banks of the Russian rivers,
proidyot lesnaya polosa. the forest spreads.
Priblizim kommunizma vyek, We are nearing the age of Communism,
odyenem rodinu we will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests.

 

Воспоминание о прошлом

 Vospominaniye o Proshlom (“Memories of the Past”)

My nye zabyli We have not forgotten
gorkoi doli the cruel fate
lyubimykh myest zemli svoyei: of our beloved land:
stoit odna beryozka v polye, the birch tree stands alone in the field,
i nyet zashchity u polyei! and the fields have no protection!
Iz pustyni pyeschanoi The cursed wind blows
vyetyer lyetit okayanny, from the sandy wasteland,
iz-za Volgi lyetit sukhovyei. the dry wind blows from the Volga.
Molodiye vzoidut zelenya — The young green shoots are sprouting,
on sozhyot ikh bystryeye ognya … they are consumed quicker than fire …
Podnimayetsya The glorious ears of rye push up
slavnaya rozh — through the earth,
koloski on podryezhet, kak nosh … they are cut down as by a knife …
God urozhaya A good harvest one year,
i god nyedoroda, a poor one the next,
kak vas uznat naperyod? how can you know in advance?
Posle molyebna Despite prayers
i krestnovo khoda and religious processions,
dozhd na Russi nye idyot. no rain falls on Russia.
Yesli uzh vydalsya god nyevyesyoli, In one bad year,
dozhd probezhit storonoi. the rain passes by and misses the land.
Zasukha, sgorbivshis, brodit po syolam Drought stalks the villages
s nishchenskoi rvanoi sumoi. like a stooped, wretched beggar.
Stonut polya The fields languish
na zharye bezotradnoi, in the relentless heat,
znoinomu vetru the tracks are open
otkryty puti. to the burning wind:
Dai nam khot kapelku tyeni prokhladnoi, oh, for a small spot of cool shade

nas, chelovyek, zashchitil! oh, man, protect us!
Kak ty stradala kogdato, how you once suffered,
milaya nasha zemlya! our dear land!
Khlyeba prosili rebyata, The children begged for bread,
vlagi prosili polya … the fields begged for rain.
Dyeti moi rodniye, dyeti moi, My children, my own children,
nye plachtye: do not weep:
vyrastitye bolshimi, you will grow up,
zemlyu pereinachtye! you will alter the land!

 

Пионеры сажают леса

Pionyery Sazhayut Lesa (“The Pioneers Plant the Forests”)

Topoli, topoli, The poplars, the poplars,
skoryei iditye vo polye! hurry into the field!
Pionyer vsyem primyer The pioneer, an example to us all,
tam uzhe s rassvyeta! has been there since dawn!
Yaseni, yaseni, Ash trees, ash trees
rodnuyu step ukrasili, have adorned our native steppe,
i beryoz nash kolkhoz and our collective farm
posadil nyemalo. has planted many birch trees.
Zholudi, zholudi, Acorns, acorns,
kak zoloto tyazholiye, heavy as gold,
dubdubok, nash druzhok, little oak tree, our little friend,
vyrastai skoreye! grow quickly!
Yabloni, yabloni, Apple trees, apple trees,
vyrastaitye khrabrymi! grow bravely!
Vas ni lyod nye vozmyot, Neither ice nor hard frost
ni moroz treskuchi! shall harm you!
S klyonami, klyonami, With the maples, the maples,
stoinymi, zelyonymi, slender and green,
nam rasti i tsvesti, grow and blossom for us,
zemlyu ukrashaya, and adorn the land,
nam rasti i tsvesti, grow and blossom for us
slavya urozhai! and celebrate the harvest!

 

 

Комсомольцы выходят вперед

 Komsomoitsy Vykhodyat Vperyod (“The Young Communists Go Forth”)

Vstavaitye na podvig, Arise, people of the great Soviet land,
narody velikoi sovyetskoi strany! and do great deeds!
Milostyei zhdat u prirody We must not now wait
lyudi tepyer nye dolzhny. for nature’s bounties.
Schastye vozmyom my svoimi rukami Let us grasp good fortune in our hands,

zemlyu rodnuyu let us adorn our native land
ukrasim sadami. with gardens.
My prostiye sovyetskiye lyudi, We are simple Soviet people,
kommunizm nasha slava i chest. Communism is our glory and honor.
Kol narod govorit: As soon as the people say,
“Eto budet!” “This will be,”
my otvetim yemu: “Eto yest!” we reply, “It already is!”
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher,
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher!
Komsomolskiye The regiments of Young Communists
vyshli polki, have gone forth
shtob derevyev so that the trees should rise up
zelyonoye plamya podnyalos in a blaze of green
vozlye Volgiryeki. along the River Volga.
Budet nashei pshenitsye ograda The Young Communists’ forests
komsomolskykh lesov polosa will fence round our wheat
ot Kamyshina do Volgograda, from Kamyshin to Volgograd,
i na yug and southwards
do Cherkesska lesa. to the forests of Cherkessk.
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher,
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher!
Komsomolskiye The regiments of Young Communists

vyshli polki, have gone forth,
shtob derevyev so that the trees should flourish
zelyonoye plamya rastsvyelo in a blaze of green
vozlye Volgiryeki. along the River Volga.
Slovno armiyu mirnuyu nashu, Just like our peaceful army,
kol deryevya when the trees are lined up,
vsye vystroit v ryad, as if on parade,
to oni shar zemnoi opoyashut, they will encircle the earth,
svetloi vlagoi yevo orosyat. and irrigate it with pure moisture.
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher,
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher!
Komsomolskiye The regiments of Young Communists
vyshli polki, have gone forth
shtob derevyev so that the trees should rise up
zelyonoye plamya podnyalos in a blaze of green
vozlye Volgiryeki. along the River Volga.
Ekh, nye trogaitye sad etot divny, Ah, do not disturb this glorious garden.
vy pred nim, Compared to it you are small,
kak pigmyei, maly. like a pigmy.
Krepche vashikh stvolov orudinykh Stronger than the barrels of your guns
nashikh yunykh beryozok stvoly. are the trunks of our young birches.
Gorodsoldat, nash geroi lyubimy, Soldier-city, our beloved hero,
gordost i slava zemli rodimoi, pride and glory of our native land,
nyeutomimy, nyepobyedimy, tireless, invincible,
stroisya i slavsya grow and be famous,
nash gorod geroi! our hero-city!
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher,
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher!
Slovno orden, Like a military decoration,
listok u drevka! a leaf raised on a staff!
Razlivaisya Overflow your banks
i raduisya s nami, and rejoice with us,
nyeobyatnaya Volgareka. boundless River Volga.

 

Будущая прогулка

Budushchaya Progulka (“A Walk in the Future”)

A … Ah …
Solovi poyut schastliviye, The silence is filled with the joyous
oglashaya tishinu, song of the nightingales,
nad polyami nad nivami above the cornfields
slavyat yunost i vesnu. they celebrate youth and the spring.
V stepi lesok zelyony vyros, On the steppe has sprung up
lyubov moya, lyubov moya! a little green wood, my love, my love!
A ranshe nam nye prikhodilos But here in the past,
zdyes slishat we could not hear
penye solovya. the song of the nightingale.
Nashi lyudi bespokoiniye Our tireless people
prevratili zemlyu v sad, have turned the earth into a garden:
v tri ryada deryevya stroiniye, in rows of three, our slender trees
vzyavshis za ruki, stoyat. join hands and stand straight.
I nad shirokimi polyami — And above the broad fields —
maya mechta, tvoya mechta — my dream and yours —
listva zelyonaya nad nami, the green leaves above us,
strany sovyetskoi krasota. the beauty of our Soviet land.

Shir stepyei The transformed wide expanse
preobrazhonnaya — of the steppes —
eto vsyo tvoi trudy. all this is the result of your work.
Pust idut gulyat vlyublyonniye Go out and walk lovingly
v nashi noviye sady. in our new gardens.

 

Слава

Slava (“Glory”)

Na polyakh kolkhozov Planted in squares
vstali pa kvadratam on the fields of the collective farm
stroiniye beryozy, grew the slender birches,
rodiny soldaty, soldiers of our homeland,
nashi klyony i beryozy. our maples and birches.
Polya shirokiye, lesa zelyoniye, The broad fields and green forests,
lesniye polosy — zashchita rodiny. the protective forests of our native land.
Yasen, buk i grab The ash tree and beech,
da iva — ivushka. hornbeam and willow.
Mily krai russki, Our dear Russian land,
stanesh yeshcho krashe, you will become still more beautiful.
krai nash russki, krai nash slavny! Our Russian land, our glorious land!
Nye strashitsya polye The field is not afraid
grozovovo nyebo. of the threatening storm in the sky.
Budet khleba v volyu, We will have bread in plenty,
budut gory khleba. there will be mountains of bread.
Sily nyet na svetye, There is no force on earth
shtoby nas slomila. that can break us.
Otstupayet vetyer pered nashei siloi. The wind abates before our strength.
Polya shirokiye, lesa zelyoniye, The broad fields and green forests,
lesniye polosy, nash russki krai! the tracts of forests, our Russian land!
Slava komandiram Glory to the commanders
bitvy za prirodu, of the battle for nature!
slava brigadiru, slave polyevodu! Glory to the field cultivation teams!
Slava agronomu, Glory to the agriculturalist,
slava sadovodu! glory to the gardener!
Parti nashei slava! Glory to our party!
I vsemu narodu slava! Glory to all the people!
Slava! Glory!
Voskhodit zarya kommunizma! The day of Communism is dawning!
Pravda s nami i schastiye u nas. Truth is with us, and good fortune.
Yesli b nashu svyatuyu otchiznu If only Lenin could see
mog Lenin uvidet seichas! our holy motherland now!
Vedyot nashei Parti geni Our party is led by the genius
nyepreklonnykh i vernykh synov. of loyal and indomitable sons.
My za solntsye, We are for the sun,
za schastye, za mir! for happiness and peace!
My s prirodoi Together with nature,
vstupayem v srazhenya we will march into battle
vo imya qryadushchikh sedov. in the name of our gardens of the future.
Deryevya vstayut velichavo The trees rise up majestically

vozlye russkikh torzhestvennykh ryek. beside the solemn Russian rivers.
Leninskoi parti slava! Glory to Lenin’s Party!
Slava narodu navek! Glory to the people forever!
Parti mudroi slava! Glory to our wise Party!
Slava! Glory!

Vivaldi, concerto in C major for flute, strings, and basso continuo (RV 443)

 

 

 

 

This is by far my favorite Vivaldi concerto. He wrote over five hundred of them. In Conversations with Igor Stravinsky (1959), Robert Craft asked Stravinsky his opinion on a recent revival of eighteenth century Italian composers and transcribed his response: “Vivaldi is greatly overrated–a dull fellow who could compose the same form so many times over.”

I don’t, for the most part, buy into Stravinsky’s assessment of Vivaldi. Vivaldi’s vocal and sacred music is, in a word, splendid. But, I feel that there is legitimacy to the comment when Vivaldi’s concertos are considered. An often repeated joke is that Vivaldi didn’t actually compose 500 concertos, he just wrote the same concerto 500 times.

 

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Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major, RV 443 was originally composed for the flautino, an instrument similar to the recorder. It is most often preformed today with a soloist playing the recorder or piccolo.

The concerto is in three movements:

1. Allegro

2. Largo

3. Allegro molto

Details regarding the composition and first performance of this concerto are unknown.

 

 

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More than two thirds of Vivaldi’s five hundred-plus concertos are for solo instrument: violin (in more than 230 concertos), bassoon, cello, oboe, and mandolin. Only three of Vivaldi’s concertos were written for the “flautino” — “little flute” or high-pitched recorder — which is the equivalent of today’s piccolo.

The solo role is more virtuosic and demanding than Vivaldi’s normal woodwind writing (the solo enters with an unbroken string of eighty-four eighth notes, and that’s just the beginning). Vivaldi must have had a superlative player in mind. The pattern is classic Vivaldi: the two outer movements are dazzling display pieces (the last seemingly endless run of triplets in the finale is particularly breathtaking—especially for the performer); the central Largo is an eloquent, highly expressive monologue [italics added].

 

 

— Phillip Huscher, program note, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

 

 

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The performance which I have posted here (from an old, now unavailable LP of mine) — on FLUTE — features as soloist French flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal (1922-2000).

A beautiful performance on piccolo featuring as soloist Lucille Bénédicte Zeitoun is on YouTube at

 

 

On the YouTube link, Ms. Zeitoun also performs as a spellbinding encore one of Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances .

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2018

 

 

Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony

 

Shortly after his return to Russia from the first international tour Tchaikovsky set to work on his Fifth Symphony, in E minor. It was written in about two months, during the summer of 1888. For some time the composer had been brooding over the possibility that his inspiration had dried up and that it was time for him to quit. He worked hard on his symphony to prove to himself that his own fears were groundless. The first performance of the work left him more despondent than ever. When he conducted it in St. Petersburg later that year, and in Prague, it fell flat. ‘It is a failure,’ he wrote to his confidante. ‘There is something repellent in it, some over-exaggerated idea of colour, some insincerity or fabrication which the public instinctively recognizes.’ He went on to say that his Fourth Symphony was a far better work.

It is interesting to note after many years how much of the composer’s estimate of the Fifth Symphony fell wide of the mark and how much was damningly true. The work certainly was not a failure. It became one of the most popular symphonies ever written, one of the established showpieces of every orchestra’s repertoire, and a bulwark of Tchaikovsky’s hold on the affections of the music public. It has been played until every shred of novelty is worn away, the seams show, and the dramatic surprises are gone. Every critic knows how right the composer was when he spoke of over-exaggeration, insincerity, fabrication—even the ‘something repellent’. Nevertheless the Fifth Symphony is beloved wherever orchestras foregather the world over.

The work is another laboratory specimen of the composer’s mature style–which means a mixture of his virtues and faults in unexplainable juxtaposition. It has lyric richness almost to excess; it has brilliance, variety of mood, tremendous passion. It has also the composer’s characteristic melancholia, his mood of desperate sadness. There is an orchestration of clarity, colour, and resounding power; and finally, like pieces of glass set in a diadem, there are some classic examples of bad taste.

The symphony makes a good beginning, as Tchaikovsky so often does in his first movements. This one may be a patchwork of themes instead of a logical piece of sonata construction, but has melodic interest, well sustained. The motto theme with which the work begins is radically different from the Fatum of the Fourth Symphony, being not a brassy fanfare but a soft, gloomily intoned melody for the clarinet. It runs through the entire symphony in various guises, becoming in the last movement the main declamation point of the entire work. Its use is so strongly stressed as to suggest some concrete idea behind the composer’s inspiration. Tchaikovsky never admitted the existence of such a programme, as he did in the case of the Fourth Symphony, but many commentators have supplied their own. It seems doubtful if one really existed. This phase of Tchai­kovsky’s music is apt to be confusing. He was obviously impressed with the tone-poem, programme-symphony idea, which permeated the music of the romantic era. It ruled so much of his thinking that even his most abstract works often sound as if they had a programmatic basis. His melodies, helped by his dramatic type of construction, often seem to be telling some story; it is one of their strongest characteristics. But most of the time the composer was simply imitating the tone-poem style, not actually carrying it out.

The second movement of the Fifth Symphony presents another celebrated Tchaikovsky melody. It is given at first to the solo horn and is later entwined with an obbligato by the oboe. The movement is remindful of a Chopin nocturne, extended and intensified with all the swelling passions and colours of the great orchestra. It misses being one of the supreme nocturnes, for its chief blemish is two convulsive interruptions by the motto theme that are noisy and tasteless. Chopin made use of such breaks in the mood of his later nocturnes, but he did it with a distinction of craftsmanship and idea which was denied Tchaikovsky.

The third movement is marked Waltz, and for this the composer has been doubly damned. The purists have said that a waltz has no place whatever in a symphony, and anyway this is not a real waltz at all. They may be right on both counts, but not many listeners would sacrifice this particular movement. It is unpreten­tious, melodious, and charming; and it serves to relieve the emo­tional tension of the surrounding movements.

It is hard to forgive Tchaikovsky for the last movement of the Fifth Symphony [italics added]. His purpose was to end his symphony with a resounding, triumphal finale; his method in part was to take the gloomy motto theme, turn it from minor to major, and proclaim it to the skies. It so happens that this is one of the hardest tests to which a composer may subject a theme–to have it sung fortissimo by the brass. Better themes than Tchaikovsky’s have failed under this ordeal. Here the result is lamentable. The tune takes on neither dignity nor beauty only the banal trumpery of an operatic march by Meyerbeer [italics added].

 

— Richard Anthony Leonard, The Stream of Music

 

 

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“[The second movement’s] chief blemish is two convulsive interruptions by the motto theme that are noisy and tasteless. Chopin made use of such breaks in the mood of his later nocturnes, but he did it with a distinction of craftsmanship and idea which was denied Tchaikovsky.”

I DISAGREE.

 

 

 

the fourth movement

 

 

 

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It is hard to forgive Richard Anthony Leonard for such atrocious criticism.

The taste of the public, it has often been said, has always been, and will always be, abysmally low. But, a literary critic should be careful when savaging such universally beloved and esteemed works as Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Les Misérables, or Great Expectations; or a pompous music critic the works of one of the greatest composers.

 

 

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On November 8 2018, I attended a performance at Carnegie Hall by the West-East Divan Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor Op. 64. The symphony is comprised of four movements: Andante–Allegro con anima, Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza, Valse: Allegro moderato, Finale: Andante maestroso–Allegro vivace.

I believe Tchaikovsky’s Fifth was the first symphony I got to know in its entirety. It was the first symphony I ever purchased, on an LP when I was a teenager.

The above quote is from a popular book by the British music historian and critic Richard Anthony Leonard that is now out of print. It was used in a course, Introduction to Music, which I took at Brandeis University in my sophomore year.

I was dismayed and almost felt wronged when I read Leonard’s comments on the Fifth, in my college survey text (Leonard’s book). I thought for a moment: Could I be wrong about Tchaikovsky? Could it be that I was snowed, fooled by Tchaikovsky’s “schlocky” music? No, I thought, I don’t, can’t agree.

 

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On October 27 at Carnegie Hall, I saw a performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, opus 70. It was a work hitherto unknown to me.

The program notes contained the following comment:

Dvořák’s Seventh is generally ranked as the greatest of the composer’s nine symphonies. This assessment is voiced in spite of the work not being as ingratiating as the Eighth Symphony or as dramatic as the ever-popular Ninth, “From the New World.” Sir Donald Francis Tovey set the Seventh alongside the C-Major Symphony of Schubert and the four symphonies of Brahms as “among the greatest and purest examples of this art form since Beethoven.”

I am not prepared to say this about Dvořák’s Seventh. But, the comment got me to thinking: what are the greatest symphonies of all time?

Well, Tovey identifies most of them: Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms.

What about Mozart?

My personal ranking:

All nine Beethoven symphonies. You can’t really choose among them.

Mozart’s last three symphonies and his Symphony No. 36 (“Linz”). The “Linz’ and Mozart’s’ Symphony No. 40 are personal favorites of mine.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C-Major. Incidentally, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony is haunting, but it odes not, in my opinion, rank with the others listed above by me and is not the equal of Schubert’s Ninth.

Brahms’s first and fourth symphonies. These are his two greatest, I feel. The First is a personal favorite of mine, but the Fourth is equally great.

Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.

Shostakovich’s fifth symphony. I am convinced that it ranks with the others, and is the only modern symphony about which I am prepared to say this.

In all of the above works, what I find is brilliance of conception, structure, and musical architecture and unwavering emotional power. So that each work feels like an organic whole and never flags.

Well, almost never. The third movement — Valse: Allegro moderato — of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth is comprised of a beautiful waltz worthy of Tchaikovsky, and yet I find my interest and sense of inevitability in the music flagging a bit at that point.
— Roger W. Smith

   November 2018

agitato

 

 
On October 25, 2018, I attended a performance at Carnegie Hall by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and soloists and choir of Haydn’s “Nelson Mass” and Mozart’s Requiem.

The “Nelson Mass.” Stupendous. To hear it live is a revelation. Here is the “Kyrie” (the opening section).

 

 

I was struck by something when listening to the “Lacrimosa” section of Mozart’s Requiem. The doleful stress of the strings, which beautifully convey tears: the concept of weeping.

 

 

It remined me of something: Vivaldi’s magnificent Stabat Mater. The strings in the “Eja mater” section.

 

 

I looked up some musical terms used for performance directions. The strings are playing agitato: agitated or restless. Agitato is a direction to play in an agitated manner.

Was Mozart somehow influenced by Vivaldi? No. Just a coincidence.

Did he know Vivaldi or his music? Doesn’t seem that likely.

Mozart did know Bach personally and admired his music. Bach, as is well known, was an admirer of Vivaldi.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2018