|Anyuta arrives on the promenade|
And now “the New Season” begins on Sunday – for Market Square Concerts' 2017-2018 Season, that is, our 36th season, as the years fly by. And we open it at 4:00 at Market Square Church with a piano duet of two pianists from Russia, one born in Kharkov, now in Ukraine (well, of course it was always in Ukraine, but now it's an independent country, not just a province of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union) and the other in Moscow, who met in Jerusalem, who teach in Wisconsin and are performing works for piano duet – “four-hand piano,” as it's usually called – by Mendelssohn and Schubert, and, since the world of the piano duet is full of that ability to imitate fuller orchestra-like textures with arrangements of orchestral works by Manuel de Falla and George Gershwin (their own transcription of his “American in Paris”).
And something that might furrow your brow as you try to recall “have I ever heard these names before?” Dances from the ballet Anyuta by Valery Gavrilin.
You can read about the Schubert Fantasy in F Minor, one of the masterpieces for the piano duet, in this post – and then more generally about the rest of the program in an earlier post. This post is about Mr. Gavrilin and his ballet.
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
After all, one source I read somewhere called him “the last great Russian composer of the 20th Century.”
It is the irony of culture – and cultural politics – that most Americans can probably name only a small handful of Russian (or Soviet) composers writing since the 1940s, at least those they might regularly hear on American concert programs – not counting Rachmaninoff (who died in 1940) or Stravinsky who by then was living in America and became a US citizen in 1945 (and probably those works of his you have heard are his three early ballets, all written before the start of World War I).
Shostakovich and Prokofiev would head the list, easily enough, but beyond that, more experienced concert-goers might recall Kabalevsky and Khachaturian (works by both of them were performed by the Harrisburg Symphony earlier this year), then more recent names like Rodion Shchedrin and Alfred Schnittke (but then, have you heard their music performed live?) and, I'd like to think, Sofia Gubaidulina but I have yet to hear any of her music live. However, don't forget Moise (or Mieczysław) Weinberg who had two chamber works of his performed here in Harrisburg in 2015, thanks to Peter Sirotin's advocacy.
I can hear Danny Kaye revving up his classic “Tschaikovsky? (I lahve Rrrrussian composers!)” But how many of those modern composers listed in that song have you heard in concert or on recordings? Beyond Danny Kaye's song, where the names roll rapidly off the tongue in some demonic patter song after Gilbert & Sullivan, most American classical music lovers have not even seen those names unless you read Wikipedia on nights when there's nothing on TV...
So here's your chance to discover Valery Gavrilin.
He was born in Vologda, an ancient Russian city dating back to the 12th Century, located north of Moscow and about parallel with St. Petersburg to the west. The year was 1939 – picture it! World War II began with Hitler's invasion of Poland just weeks after his birth. When he was three, his father would be killed during the Siege of Leningrad during which Shostakovich composed and premiered his 7th Symphony, called, for obvious reasons, The “Leningrad” Symphony (and I once had a chance to hear the “Leningrad” Symphony played by the Leningrad Symphony, but I digress...).
The fact the Wikipedia entry (and most other biographical squibs I can find) merely says “his mother was imprisoned when he was ten” gives you an idea about life in the Soviet Union under Stalin during the purges of the late-1940s: imagine something so horrid as to be ten years old and have your mother hauled off to prison, and it can be disposed of in such a casual sentence.
After having been sent off to a nearby orphanage, he entered a music school when he was 11 and somehow, by some stroke of luck, a music teacher from the Leningrad Conservatory heard him and sent him off to the Children's School in Leningrad where for the next four years, he studied clarinet, piano – and, already, composition. Whatever happened after that, he was 24 when he graduated from the Leningrad Conservatory with specialties in two areas: composition and musicology.
Shortly after that, he published a collection called “The Russian Notebook” (no further information) that “would make his name,” and he continued to teach at the conservatory.
Then, in the height of summary, without further ado, he died in 1999 at the age of 59 following two severe heart attacks.
In between, however, he must have written sufficient music to warrant being named a People's Artist of the USSR, an Honored Artist of Russia, and the winner of a USSR State Prize in 1983 for his “Choral Symphony” or as it is described in his list-of-works, “Perezvony, a choral symphony of-action [sic] for soloists, mixed chorus, oboe, percussion and narrator” which he'd been working on between 1978 and 1982.
In 1982, he also wrote the ballet Anyuta, the first of four ballets in his catalogue, along with three operas, three fairly early string quartets, some sonatas and other chamber works, a great many songs and choral works, and lots of incidental music for the theater and numerous film scores.
As an example of what to expect when you hear the selections from Anyuta the Varshavski-Shapiro Piano Duo will perform on Sunday, here are the “Tarantella and March” from the ballet, with a YouTube video that is the essence of the piano duet as a social medium, even filmed in somebody's living room (all it needs is a couple of friends sitting on the sofa enjoying their performance):
= = = = = = =
= = = = = = =
You can immediately hear the “wrong-note humor” of Shostakovich's lighter music, the sarcastic tone distorting what might be, otherwise, a fairly standard dance but with unexpected twists and slips into remote keys – all turned into a caricature.
But to judge Gavrilin on this one excerpt may be trying to figure out why Shostakovich is a Great Composer if you only know the Polka from The Golden Age – and know nothing about its context.
Based on a Chekhov short story published in 1886, the ballet Anyuta – the title is a nickname for “Anna” – can be described as a social commentary on love and marriage during the height of Imperial Russia, the age in which Tchaikovsky was presenting his greatest symphonies and ballets, (his opera, Eugene Onyegin, in 1877, the same year as his 4th Symphony) as well as the Golden Age of Russian Literature with the novels of Dostoievsky (who died in 1881) and Tolstoy (his War & Peace and Anna Karenina, speaking of love-and-marriage, two of the greatest novels ever written, were both published between 1869 and 1877).
Here is a summary of Chekhov's story:
= = = = =
Anyuta, a small, tired girl, lives with Stepan Klotchkov, a medical student, in squalor, serving for him, besides other things as an anatomy model (for studying ribs, among other body parts). She spends her time taking work as a seamstress and talking little, thinking a lot, mostly of how it happens that all of her former student partners have managed to somehow get out of here to some kind of better life while she is stuck in this place… Rather taken aback by his artist neighbor Fetisov's comments upon the 'unaesthetic' conditions he lives in, Klochkov decides to throw Anyuta out, then lets her stay for another week, out of pity.
= = = = =
You can read the entire story, here. And if that is the entire story – which it seems to be (I am unfamiliar with it) – it seems barely longer than the synopsis, a few pages at most, only about 1600 words (honestly, this blog post is longer...). How did Valery Gavrilin turn this into a full-evening's ballet?
Here, then, is the synopsis for the ballet:
= = = = =
Following the death of his wife, Pyotr Leontievich, a school-teacher in a provincial town, is left with three children on his hands: a grown-up daughter, Anna (Anyuta), and two little boys, Petya and Andryusha. Grieving for the untimely passing away of his spouse, Pyotr Leontievich takes increasingly to the vodka bottle.
Modest Alexeyevich, a middle-aged official, asks for Anna’s hand in marriage. Anna accepts his proposal in the hope her marriage will save her family from poverty and herself from a life of undiluted tedium and semi-starvation. Anna breaks up with her sweetheart, a poor student, and goes to live with Modest Alexeyevich. She realizes only too soon that her marriage will bring her no benefits: her husband, who is close-fisted and cold-hearted, with a practical, pragmatic outlook, has no intention of helping his wife`s relatives.
At a ball given to celebrate the Christmas holiday, Anna`s youth, intelligence and beauty win the hearts of all the men present. Artynov, a rich landowner, army officers and finally even His Excellency compete for the attentions and sympathy of Modest Alexeyevich`s young wife. They are ready to do anything in order to please Anna.
Anna is quite swept off her feet by her rapid ascent to fame. The attentions and love bestowed on her by the upper crust of society in a provincial town cause her to forget everything: her hateful, boring, dull-witted, as he now seems to her, husband, her drunkard father, her wretched, half-starving brothers, her former sweetheart.
Modest Alexeyevich, who immediately realizes that he stands to gain from his wife`s popularity, encourages her love affairs. His career and position in society come first for Modest Alexeyevich. Very soon he is awarded the order of St. Anne and he waits impatiently for new favours from his wife`s suitors.
Pyotr Leontievich is declared bankrupt. His few remaining belongings are confiscated and, on a frosty New Year`s Eve, he and his children are turned out into the street.
= = = = =
By comparison, it seems almost unrecognizable to the original Chekhov, but that's theater for you: they do it in adaptations of large-scale novels to films as well, adding background material, additional characters, or eliminating unnecessary characters and sub-plots almost to the point the original is no longer recognizable. Here, it's just the reverse, fleshing out Chekhov's take by giving Anyuta a wholly different lifestyle and Klotchkov's episode with her as a now-distant love affair becomes romanticized with a nameless “Student.”
I found two clips to post of Gavrilin's ballet: the first includes scenes between Anyuta and the Student, the balletic equivalent of an operatic love-duet, filmed at an outdoor concert in Red Square with two of Moscow's iconic landmarks in the background:
= = = = = = =
= = = = = = =
Though you may not have time before the Sunday concert, I would recommend coming back to this afterward, if you want to watch a Soviet-era film of the complete ballet made the same year as the premiere:
= = = = = = =
= = = = = = =
The satirical nature of the music – and a typical Soviet approach especially to satirizing Russian bureaucracy (Imperial perhaps, but any Russians in the audience would know it could just as easily be applied to Soviet bureaucrats, too) – becomes clearer, once you can see how the music is choreographed. The opening waltz, a kind of promenade, is one thing but I highly recommend watching the segment from 9:06 to 12:12, where Anyuta's future husband, a mid-level bureaucrat in this provincial town they live in, hands out the day's assignments to his clerks who, in the process of processing official papers, are interrupted by the arrival of “His Excellency,” a provincial official (not the Tsar, as you might think, from the regalia and due deference!) – and then try to get Monty Python's “Minister of Silly Walks” out of your head...
Whatever may have been Chekhov's initial “meaning” behind his character, Anyuta, the ballet fashioned for Valery Gavrilin certainly expands the whole idea of social commentary with its mixture of old-fashioned romanticism and entertaining if cold-hearted satire.
- Dick Strawser