DPO presents Sons of Russia and Tchaikovsky’s Final Statement
In 1994, Kevin Bacon stated that he had worked with everybody in Hollywood or someone who had worked with them. That spawned a trivia game known as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Pioneering scientific research has suggested that all human civilization is a small-world type of network typified by short path lengths. Six Degrees is based on the small-world phenomenon and presumes that you can link any movie actor through his/her film roles to actor Kevin Bacon within six steps.
What gets to me is the assumption that this type of game is new and surfaced as the feedback to Bacon’s quote.
It has its roots in 1840 Russia, the year and the place in which the first of three of the most titanic, groundbreaking composers who ever lived first saw daylight. In order by date of birth they are Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Sergey Prokofiev. And the links that connected them all were their nationality and a school.
And a fantastic talent for musical composition.
Look at the thumbnail of each composer’s life, and see if you can connect the dots between them.
Let’s start at the beginning with the composer whose works we immediately recognize when we hear them: Tchaikovsky.
The son of a mining engineer to whom he never truly warmed, Tchaikovsky grew up learning to play piano and speak different languages by both the family governess and his mother, whom he lost in his early teens to cholera. In 1862 Tchaikovsky was one of the first to enter the St. Petersburg Conservatory, the attitudes of many of the school’s faculty as conservative as its name. Then, as if fate were on his side and anti-faculty, the school hired him as a teacher of harmony. Harmony!
Some 15 years later, Tchaikovsky wed a young woman who had been a student of his, a marriage that lasted less than one month. So much for harmony.
He composed a massive body of work, compositions that remain to this day a beloved part of the Russian repertoire. Fantastic rumors and folk tales to the contrary, Tchaikovsky died in 1893 of the same disease that took his mother – cholera.
Next up: Rimsky-Korsakov.
Rimsky-Korsakov (born 1844) came from money and an old-line military family. For many years, he was in the Russian navy in one capacity or another – cadet, officer, and administrator. In that time had sailed, seen the world, and taken up composing as a hobby. He wanted to write music that would provide Russia a unique nationalistic musical identity.
Neither his administrative, nor his musical capabilities, went unnoticed. Barely a hand at composing, he nonetheless received appointment to the St. Petersburg Conservatory as a professor of – of all things – composition! A start-up operation at the time, the Conservatory needed funding in the worst way, and his family’s many wealthy connections doubtless played a larger part in his selection to the faculty than his composing skills.
But the old adage “those who can do; those who can’t teach” didn’t apply to Rimsky-Korsakov. He read and studied along with his students (probably both longer and harder than), becoming one of the most unique and innovative Russian composers.
BTW: Prokofiev was a student of his.
Speaking of which, the music of Sergey Prokofiev (1891) has proven itself to be lasting in spite of the fact that it is some of the world’s most singularly demanding, conventional and in the same breath advanced, audacious, sarcastic, unsure, and outspoken ever written.
Intelligent beyond his years, Prokofiev studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and transformed what he had learned plus what he had already known into a career as a pianist and composer, a career that – in 1917 – was steamrolled by the immense socio-political weight of the Bolshevik (read: Communist) Revolution.
Reading the writing on the political wall, Prokofiev emigrated first to America then Europe, unable to please concertgoers with works some of which actually parodied them and just missing a chance to become a successful and socially chic pianist in exile. First mistake.
Tail between his legs, Prokofiev returned to what was in 1936 the Stalin-dominated U.S.S.R hopeful to wow the Communist leadership with his music. Second mistake.
The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra is holding a three-concert homage to these three titans of Russian music.
On Thursday, April 12 and Saturday, April 14 at 8 pm in the Schuster Center, the DPO will present Sons of Russia, the seventh concert in this season’s Classical Series, featuring Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with DPO concert master Jessica Hung as soloist, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, the Pathetique.
On Friday, April 13 at 8 pm in the Schuster Center, the DPO will present Tchaikovsky’s Final Statement, the fourth and final concert in this season’s Classical Connections Series, featuring Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker ballet and Symphony No. 6, the Pathetique.
So, have you connected the dots yet? What things do all our composers have in common? They were all Russian. They all had to prove themselves musically. They all attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Three degrees of separation. Not six. Okay; that’s the bad news. The good?
No Kevin Bacon….