First term of my Russian music course on Zoom went well, by which I mean there were lots of happy students and I enjoyed every minute of it, firming up allegiances and discovering more (especially in the sphere of chamber music). In the end we covered ground from Glinka to early Rachmaninov, stopping at 1900, with a few glimpses into the future. My original idea, to devote the 10th class to Stravinsky's The Firebird as a last great synthesis of the fantasy tradition, was postponed simply because the one class I'd intended on Musorgsky's and Tchaikovsky's piano music turned into two.
That was because Samson Tsoy had so much to say about Pictures at an Exhibition and his partner Pavel Kolesnikov, who popped up briefly at the end of that class, was happy to return a couple of weeks later. When great musicians are willing to come along, as they did for every class of my course on the symphony, you have to be flexible (pictured below by Eva Vermandel, Samson and Pavel during their phenomenal Ragged Music Festival, from which I'm still recovering: read what one of my students described as a 'palpitating' review - that's got to be better than 'gushing').
I'd also intended to go straight on from the first term to Soviet music. But it occurred to me that those seven amazing years from 1910 to 1917 could take a term of their own, albeit one of seven classes (taking a break and mapping out the possible up to Christmas meant I ended up with that number). Here's the plan. We start on Thursday 29 October and each class runs from 2.30pm-4.30pm (longer under certain circumstances). £10 a class so £70 for the term. Special guests TBC, though two top pianists have already shown willingness. UPDATE (19/11) Seven classes have evolved into eight, due to an enrichment not unlike the one we had in the first term.
1: The Firebird and the end of a tradition 29 October
Stravinsky's first ballet for Diaghilev - the exotic exported to Paris - reflected the fairy-tale compendium of its scenario with homages to the fantasies of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov and others, but also nodded to the harmonic experiments of Scriabin and looked forward to the rhythmic revolution of The Rite of Spring. I'll be placing it in the context of the 19th century tradition as well as the early years of the 20th century. Pictured above: Mikhail Fokine and Tamara Karsavina in the 1910 Ballets Russes premiere.
2: Petrushka and Russian popular song 5 November
Stocked high with highly original treatments of familiar folk/urban song, Stravinsky's fairground ballet of 1911 features a radical use of orchestration which owes its originality to Tchaikovsky's example. But it is also startlingly modern in the scenes featuring the pathetic Russian Pierrot come to life. Hungarian-born conductor Gergely Madaras is our special guest.
3: The Rite of Spring I: mostly melodic and traditional 12 November
Often overshadowed in the stress on rhythmic iconoclasm is Stravinsky's use of singing themes - only three of them this time taken from folk sources. Again, the mix of modernism and tradition is startling. Pictured above: maidens in Nicolas Roerich's designs for the Ballets Russes premiere of 1913. Andrew Litton, whose BIS recordings of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring are such a revelation, joined us for this class, and going with the flow meant we were only halfway through what needed to be said and demonstrated about the work. A second hour was intended the following week, which stretched to two - hence the offer I've just made of a free eighth class.
4: The Rite of Spring 2: polyrhythms and unfathomable accents 19 November
Andrew's return yielded more fascinating chapter and verse, and the return of Catherine Larsen-Maguire gave us insights into the writing for bassoon - her instrument before she changed to conducting. Leonard Bernstein in his Norton lecture 'The Poetry of Earth', Pina Bausch's choreography and Stravinsky speaking again on the aftermath also joined the party.