Text of the booklet "CHILDHOOD MEMORIES"
The works in this recording are not united into one programme arbitrarily. Mikhail Tsinman told us about its general idea.
It’s an amazing thing, the history of music. It’s extremely interesting to observe the changes in mankind and its attitude towards the world reflected in music. But there’s something potentially even more interesting. Bach is just as poignantly modern as Shostakovich, while Shostakovich, like Bach, is imbued with eternity. All music exists in a kind of continuous space, and composers well removed from each other can turn out to be next-door neighbors. On top of that, life consists of simple things, and we can eavesdrop on bearers of divine music talking about those things to each other.
So what do the composers in this programme talk about?
Childhood. The essence of human soul, something that’s kept in its secret places when we start exploring the larger world and leave the ‘native things’ behind; that flares up when we are confronted with loss, that accompanies us even where there is no way for one who wasted his childhood. There’s a wonderful poem that says “When I close my eyes forever, as trustfully as I had opened them in childhood.” It’s by Anastasia Tsvetaeva, the sister of the famous Marina Tsvetaeva. Trust in ‘nativeness’ is trust in eternity. A native eternity is a derivate of preserved childhood.
How is each of the opuses connected to that idea?
Only one of them was specifically written for children. Alexander Dolzhenko and I have worked in the Bolshoi theatre orchestra. He played the double bass, but he also wrote music for children, created an ensemble in a music school, worked and reworked things all the time, even during intermissions. During a second or third intermission of a tiring performance I had first experienced his music. I was sitting with headphones on in our orchestra library, and suddenly found myself on a sunny lawn with the sounds of crickets, beetles, the chirping birds… It was marvelous.
I played the “Song of the Brook” for the first time only at the performance dedicated to the memory of its author who had passed away untimely. This piece was written for children with piercing sadness and tenderness, and nothing taints the purity of its feeling.
In the disc’s program it’s something of an epigraph, then. And Prokofiev’s “Five melodies” form an ‘introduction to Act I.’ Do you remember how “The Love for Three Oranges” begins? Tragedians, Comedians and Lyrists compete, vying each for their favorite spectacle. They are overwhelmed by Ridiculous Fellows: “We’ll show you the real thing!” Thus Prokofiev asserts his ‘ridiculous,’ non-biased, child’s view of the world.
Such ‘childishness’ was, it seemed, a well-reflected position. In his autobiography he writes: “My old love for the sonatina form helped me convey the true flavor of childhood.” These would-be sonatinas gave birth to many of his major works, such as the First violin concerto.
In “Five melodies” this waking-up mood, the trustful eye-opening can be easily felt. (It is not a coincidence they were initially written for voice, without words – ‘no words yet’.) Three middle pieces are like fairy tales. There’s an enchanted princess spinning wool, a witch brewing her potion, a knight dashing through the woods, the carefree Little Red Riding Hood. And it ends with a troublesome, yearning presentiment that they had all been symbols of the future, ‘grown-up’ life. What lies ahead?
Well, how Mozart’s KV 6 Sonata is connected to childhood is clear.
Yes, its number speaks for itself. A genius recognizing his incredible powers is like an explosion. But genius is inherent in any childhood. Remember the first pages of Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine,” Douglas’s amazing discovery: “I’m alive.”
What about Schubert?
Schubert, I think, could never enter the adult world. He made some attempts, but they were a torture and cost him his life in the long run. Recall the plot of Die schöne Müllerin: a young man goes tra
velling, accompanied by a brook, meets the love of his life but can’t stand the very first contact with the real life (personified by a grown-up, sturdy man, the hunter); the brook consoles him with a lullaby.
This plot can be also deduced in the sequence of variations: a serene start, the first encounter with ‘the other,’ a brief moment of love and happiness, doubts, despair, search for a way out. Compared to the song cycle, the variations offer a different finale. The last variation is a march; it’s lively, a bit ironic. But there are two glances back at the end, so nostalgic – perhaps he’s looking at the childhood he’s leaving behind?
The idea of the way is one of the central ones for Schubert. His own way is like a dotted line, only tangentially touching on life. Do you know what he said to his brother before his death, half-conscious? “I pray you to take me to my room, don’t leave me here in this underground corner, don’t I deserve a place above ground?”
In Schubert, European music says good-bye to the childhood. Behind him are the ‘grown-up’ problems of Romantic artists who position themselves to be at the centre of this world.
Bártok’s, Bloch’s, de Falla’s pieces are different.
Reaction to later Romanticism was a search for ‘nativeness,’ a quest for a new musical language in archaic folklore. Bártok was one of the most typical representatives of this movement. 19th-century composers, before taking folklore to a concert hall or an aristocratic salon, fashioned it in decent European clothes. Bártok uses economical but very exact means in his renditions, transferring the listener wherever these tunes roam free, next to the field and the river, under the sheltering sky. Romanian dances are an introduction to the second half of the programme. Six sketches describe the circle of life in all its fullness.
Ernest Bloch’s Improvisation, dedicated to his mother’s memory, is in stark contrast to the dances. There is something Biblical in its lamentations. The despair of being forsaken by God and the special tender love, found so often in the history of patriarchal families. These two themes, when they unite, create images of phenomenal power. “My soul is even as a weaned child” (Psalms 131:2).
A completely different spirit fills de Falla’s Nana (Lullaby). It’s the ringing tension of silence, the mystery of cante jondo coming from the depth of centuries and disappearing in endless expanses. We can open Lorca on any page to hear this song again…
De Falla’s accompaniment is also amazing. The time stopped still, a spring lazily flowing into a stone trough. Cold drops dripping.
The sequence of these three opuses create a state which possesses everyone at some point in life: when, looking back, we see how far we have come from cradle.
Is this the reason for placing next Janáček’s Sonata written in 1914?
The 1914 catastrophe is not just the emotional background to this piece, but almost its plot. One of the first performers of the Sonata reported that Janáček, when explaining the final climax, said: “It’s the Russian troops entering Hungary!” (Janáček’s Russophile tendencies are well known.) Like Bártok, Janáček was collecting peasant folklore. But he went even further – he wrote down the music of human speech, trying to create something like a dictionary of human emotions out of these ‘ditties.’ Perhaps the secret of his unique musical language is in the conflict between the intonation mellowness of Moravian folklore and poignant sharpness of ‘ditties.’ (It is from under their verbal contents that Janáček was extracting them as the precious truth about human suffering.)
And yet, the special humble tunefulness testifies to the fact that the Sonata (or at least its first version) was written in the same country where Mozart and Schubert had been writing. The second version was completed in 1921. The world was quite different. I cherish one memory which seems to have come from that other world. In 1976, a group of young musicians gathered in the lobby of a Prague hotel, preparing to leave. An old porter saw the instruments and asked us to let him play. Someone took out a violin, and the porter played a simple tune with his clumsy, coarse hands. But the sound was unbelievable! The warmth was such as to envelop and caress your heart.
This sound, coming from the depth of the ‘nativeness’ I found later in the recordings of the excellent Czech violinist of the first half of the 20th century, Váša Příhoda.
So all these works must lead up to Enescu’s “Childhood Impressions.”
Yes, all lines of the programme are combined here: childhood, folklore, all brooks and all lullabies. It is a piece about very simple things; it could be illustrative. But it has so much in it: sound imitation, sketch, deep symbolism. In this piece, everything is immersed deep in silence, all sounds dissolve in it, and you can hear the passage of time. The feeling of time is just as you felt it in childhood, as well as the feeling of life filling everything around. And the striking of the clock tearing up the silence is just as painful as back then. (We can even tell when the child was going to sleep: at seven.)
Enescu used to say that he was afraid to ‘solidify,’ so he tried to behave like a student. Perhaps that’s what helped him paint a world as seen through a child’s eyes.
There’s also another character, who is unseen but always present, the Lautar (wandering fiddler). The child is looking at the world around, and the Lautar observes the child. It’s a look full of love and compassion. Lautar’s music introduces the opus, to return later (as apotheosis) in the rays of the rising sun.
Enescu wrote the suite on the threshold of old age. It’s a combination of wisdom and childish purity, a unique song of gratitude for a life well lived.
Interviewed by Olga Yemtsova
Alexander Dolzhenko (1955–2001) Song of the Brook
Alexander Dolzhenko – double bass player, music teacher, orchestra player at the State Academic Bolshoi Theater of Russia, author of a works for piano, cello as well as chamber music. Founder of string ensemble “Classica” known in Moscow and beyond. “Song of the Brook” was initially written for the piano and later reworked by the author for violin and piano.
Sergey Prokofiev (1891–1953) Five Melodies, op.35bis
“Five melodies” for violin and piano is a transcription of “Five Songs without Words” for voice and piano, written in Paris in 1925. The pieces are dedicated to violinists: Cecilia Hansen (No.2), Joseph Szigeti, the great performer of Prokofiev’s violin concerto (No.5) and Paul Kochanski, who helped the composer rework the cycle (Nos.1, 3, 4).
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Sonata for piano and violin in C major (KV 6)
The first Wolfgang’s sonatas “for harpsichord with accompaniment of violin” (KV 6 and 7) were published in March 1764 at the expense of Leopold Mozart and dedicated to Princess Victoria, the daughter of the king Louis XV. Three of the four movements of KV 6 sonata were initially composed by Mozart for solo keyboard and written down by his father. Menuet II was written earlier than the rest; it is dated 16 July 1762. Researchers think that the violin part in this sonata was written by the composer’s father.
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Introduction and variations on the song „Trockne Blumen“ from the cycle „Die schöne Müllerin“, op.160 (D 802)
The cycle of variations initially written for flute and piano in 1824 (a year after Die schöne Müllerin) was composed at a difficult time for the composer. “I feel a miserable wretch,” he wrote to a friend, “going to bed every night with the only hope to never wake up.” Perhaps this mood and thoughts of death influenced the choice of the theme for variations – the hopelessly despairing song “Withered Flowers.”
Bela Bártok (1881–1945) Romanian Folk Dances (BB 68)
One of Bártok’s ‘folklore’ opuses based on actual folk themes (1915). Transcription for violin and piano made by Zoltán Székely is known as well as the original piano version. The dances imitate the ‘voices’ of Romanian folk instruments – a village fiddle, a pastoral fluier (an archaic reed pipe).
Ernest Bloch (1880–1959) Nigun (Improvisation)
The second movement of the suite “Baal Shem: Three Pictures of Chassidic Life” for violin and piano was written by Bloch in 1923 and dedicated to his mother’s memory. Every movement of the suite corresponds to one of the sacred days of the Jewish calendar. The Improvisation relates to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Manuel de Falla (1876–1946) Nana
This piece is a movement of de Falla’s vocal cycle “Siete Canciones Populares Españolas”. The cycle was written in 1914 in Paris. It includes reworking of actual folk tunes. Fervently working, first in France, later in Madrid, on the stage performance of his opera “Life is Short,” de Falla writes this chamber composition as if casually. The cycle, though, became quite famous, in part thanks to its numerous transcriptions (including Paul Kochanski’s violin version).
Leoš Janáček (1854–1928) Sonata for violin and piano (JW VII/7)
“In the 1914 Sonata for violin and piano I could just about hear sound of the steel clashing in my troubled head,” wrote Janáček. The Sonata was written immediately after the outbreak of World War I, but was later substantially reworked and its first performance (by František Kudláček and Jaroslav Kvapil) only occurred in 1922, in Brno. A year later, it was performed in Frankfurt, with Paul Hindemith playing the violin.
George Enescu (1881–1955) Impressions d’Enfance, op.28 The suite is dedicated to the memory of Romanian violinist Eduard Caudella. It was written in 1940, and became Enescu’s last violin work.
Olga Yemtsova, translation by Viktor Sonkin
Text of the booklet "CHILDHOOD MEMORIES"