Well, I’m not back to vocal music yet, but I will get there soon.
Sviatoslav Teofilovich Richter was a Soviet pianist of Russian-German origin, who is generally regarded as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.
In 1981, Richter initiated the international musical festival December nights, held in the Pushkin Museum, which after his death in 1997 was renamed December Nights of Sviatoslav Richter. In 1986, Richter embarked on a six-month tour of Siberia with his beloved Yamaha piano, giving perhaps 150 recitals, at times performing in small towns that did not even have a concert hall. It is said that after one such concert, the members of the audience, who had never before heard classical music performed, gathered in the middle of the hall and started swaying from side to side to celebrate the performer. It is said that in his last years Richter contemplated giving concerts free of charge (although he never actually did so).
An anecdote illustrates Richter’s approach to performance in the last decade of his life. After reading a biography of Charlemagne, Richter had his secretary send a telegram to the director of the theater in Aachen, Charlemagne’s favoured residence city and his burial place, stating “The Maestro has read a biography of Charlemagne and would like to play at Aquisgrana (Aachen)”. The performance took place shortly thereafter.
As late as 1995, Richter continued to perform some of the most demanding pieces in the pianistic repertoire, including Ravel’s Miroirs cycle, Prokofiev’s Second Sonata and Chopin’s études and Ballade No. 4.
Richter’s last recorded orchestral performance was of three Mozart concerti in 1994 with the Japan Shinsei Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Barshai.
Richter’s last recital was a private gathering in Lübeck, Germany, on March 30, 1995. The program consisted of two Haydn sonatas and Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Beethoven, a piece for two pianos, which Richter performed with pianist Andreas Lucewicz.
Richter died at Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow from a heart attack on August 1, 1997, aged 82. He had been suffering from depression due to an inability to perform caused by changes in his hearing that altered his perception of pitch. At the time of his death, he was rehearsing Schubert’s Fünf Klavierstücke, D. 459.
Like so many Russian musicians, Mravinsky seemed first headed toward a career in the sciences. He studied biology at St. Petersburg University, but had to quit in 1920 after his father’s death. To support himself, he signed on with the Imperial Ballet as a rehearsal pianist. In 1923, he finally enrolled in the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied composition with Vladimir Shcherbachov and conducting with Alexander Gauk and Nikolai Malko. He graduated in 1931, and left his Imperial Ballet job to become a musical assistant and ballet conductor at the Bolshoi Opera from 1931 to 1937, with a stint at the Kirov from 1934. Mravinsky gave up these posts in 1938, after winning first prize in the All-Union Conductors’ Competition in Moscow, to become principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic. He remained there until his death, long ignoring many guest-conducting offers from abroad. Under Mravinsky’s direction the Leningrad Philharmonic came to be regarded as one of the finest orchestras in the world, although the world had comparatively few opportunities to hear it aside from the rare tour (about 30 performances in 25 years, starting in 1956), some dim Soviet recordings, and a very few highly acclaimed records for such Western European companies as Deutsche Grammophon and, in the end, Erato. Mravinsky was made People’s Artist of the U.S.S.R. in 1954, and in 1973, he received the order of Hero of Socialist Labor. But his more lasting international acclaim came for his performances of Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, Wagner, Sibelius, Bartók, Stravinsky, and anything Russian or Soviet. His reputation only rose upon his retirement from the Leningrad Philharmonic, particularly with the posthumous release in 1995 by Melodiya and BMG Classics of 20 CDs surveying Mravinsky’s work from the 1940s into the 1980s.
Mravinsky’s rehearsal manner was said to be autocratic and brutal, and the resulting performances were tightly clenched. Yet they were also technically precise, finely detailed, subtly colored, and highly dramatic — and this not always because he was in the habit of whipping fast finales into a frenzy. His readings had an intensity, concentration, and — despite the arduous rehearsal — spontaneity comparable to those of Wilhelm Furtwängler. In the West, Mravinsky was particularly noted as an interpreter of Shostakovich, whose Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth symphonies he premiered, and of Tchaikovsky. His recordings of the Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies, made in 1960 for Deutsche Grammophon while the orchestra was on tour in London, are touchstones of the Russian repertory.
Taken from https://www.allmusic.com/artist/yevgeny-mravinsky-mn0002197359/biography
by James Reel
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Tchaikovsky also spelled Chaikovsky, Chaikovskii, or Tschaikowsky, name in full Anglicized as Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, (born April 25 [May 7, New Style], 1840, Votkinsk, Russia—died October 25 [November 6], 1893, St. Petersburg), the most popular Russian composer of all time. His music has always had great appeal for the general public in virtue of its tuneful, open-hearted melodies, impressive harmonies, and colorful, picturesque orchestration, all of which evoke a profound emotional response. His oeuvre includes 7 symphonies, 11 operas, 3 ballets, 5 suites, 3 piano concertos, a violin concerto, 11 overtures (strictly speaking, 3 overtures and 8 single movement programmatic orchestral works), 4 cantatas, 20 choral works, 3 string quartets, a string sextet, and more than 100 songs and piano pieces.
Tchaikovsky was the second of six surviving children of Ilya Tchaikovsky, a manager of the Kamsko-Votkinsk metal works, and Alexandra Assier, a descendant of French émigrés. He manifested a clear interest in music from childhood, and his earliest musical impressions came from an orchestrina in the family home. At age four he made his first recorded attempt at composition, a song written with his younger sister Alexandra. In 1845 he began taking piano lessons with a local tutor, through which he became familiar with Frédéric Chopin’s mazurkas and the piano pieces of Friedrich Kalkbrenner. Since music education was not available in Russian institutions at that time, Tchaikovsky’s parents had not considered that their son might pursue a musical career. Instead, they chose to prepare the high-strung and sensitive boy for a career in the civil service.
In 1850 Tchaikovsky entered the prestigious Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, a boarding institution for young boys, where he spent nine years. He proved a diligent and successful student who was popular among his peers. At the same time Tchaikovsky formed in this all-male environment intense emotional ties with several of his schoolmates.
In 1854 his mother fell victim to cholera and died. During the boy’s last years at the school, Tchaikovsky’s father finally came to realize his son’s vocation and invited the professional teacher Rudolph Kündinger to give him piano lessons. At age 17 Tchaikovsky came under the influence of the Italian singing instructor Luigi Piccioli, the first person to appreciate his musical talents, and thereafter Tchaikovsky developed a lifelong passion for Italian music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni proved another revelation that deeply affected his musical taste. In the summer of 1861 he traveled outside Russia for the first time, visiting Germany, France, and England, and in October of that year he began attending music classes offered by the recently founded Russian Musical Society. When St. Petersburg Conservatory opened the following fall, Tchaikovsky was among its first students. After making the decision to dedicate his life to music, he resigned from the Ministry of Justice, where he had been employed as a clerk.
Tchaikovsky spent nearly three years at St. Petersburg Conservatory, studying harmony and counterpoint with Nikolay Zaremba and composition and instrumentation with Anton Rubinstein. Among his earliest orchestral works was an overture entitled The Storm (composed 1864), a mature attempt at dramatic program music. The first public performance of any of his works took place in August 1865, when Johann Strauss the Younger conducted Tchaikovsky’s Characteristic Dances at a concert in Pavlovsk, near St. Petersburg.
After graduating in December 1865, Tchaikovsky moved to Moscow to teach music theory at the Russian Musical Society, soon thereafter renamed the Moscow Conservatory. He found teaching difficult, but his friendship with the director, Nikolay Rubinstein, who had offered him the position in the first place, helped make it bearable. Within five years Tchaikovsky had produced his first symphony, Symphony No. 1 in G Minor (composed 1866; Winter Daydreams), and his first opera, The Voyevoda (1868).
In 1868 Tchaikovsky met a Belgian mezzo-soprano named Désirée Artôt, with whom he fleetingly contemplated a marriage, but their engagement ended in failure. The opera The Voyevoda was well received, even by the The Five, an influential group of nationalistic Russian composers who never appreciated the cosmopolitanism of Tchaikovsky’s music. In 1869 Tchaikovsky completed Romeo and Juliet, an overture in which he subtly adapted sonata form to mirror the dramatic structure of Shakespeare’s play. Nikolay Rubinstein conducted a successful performance of this work the following year, and it became the first of Tchaikovsky’s compositions eventually to enter the standard international classical repertoire.
Tchaikovsky was reserved for a significant portion of his life. He only became a more social person following his reception of the Order of St. Vladimir by the Russian czar, an award that sparked his fame.
Years Of Fame
At the very end of 1875, Tchaikovsky left Russia to travel in Europe. He was powerfully impressed by a performance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Opéra-Comique in Paris; in contrast, the production of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle, which he attended in Bayreuth, Germany, during the summer of 1876, left him cold. In November 1876 he put the final touches on his symphonic fantasia Francesca da Rimini, a work with which he felt particularly pleased. Earlier that year, Tchaikovsky had completed the composition of Swan Lake, which was the first in his famed trilogy of ballets. The ballet’s premiere took place on February 20, 1877, but it was not a success owing to poor staging and choreography, and it was soon dropped from the repertoire.
The growing popularity of Tchaikovsky’s music both within and outside of Russia inevitably resulted in public interest in him and his personal life. Although homosexuality was officially illegal in Russia, the authorities tolerated it among the upper classes. But social and familial pressures, as well as his discomfort with the fact that his younger brother Modest was exhibiting the same sexual tendencies, led to Tchaikovsky’s hasty decision in the summer of 1877 to marry Antonina Milyukova, a young and naive music student who had declared her love for him. Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality, combined with an almost complete lack of compatibility between the couple, resulted in matrimonial disaster—within weeks he fled abroad, never again to live with his wife. This experience forced Tchaikovsky to recognize that he could not find respectability through social conventions and that his sexual orientation could not be changed. On February 13, 1878, he wrote his brother Anatoly from Florence: “Only now, especially after the tale of my marriage, have I finally begun to understand that there is nothing more fruitless than not wanting to be that which I am by nature.”
The year 1876 saw the beginning of the extraordinary relationship that developed between Tchaikovsky and Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a wealthy railroad tycoon; it became an important component of their lives for the next 14 years. A great admirer of his work, she chose to become his patroness and eventually arranged for him a regular monthly allowance; this enabled him in 1878 to resign from the conservatory and devote his efforts to writing music. Thereafter he could afford to spend the winters in Europe and return to Russia each summer. Although he and his benefactor agreed never to meet, they engaged in a voluminous correspondence that constitutes a remarkable historical and literary record. In the course of it they frankly exchanged their views on a broad spectrum of issues, starting with politics or ideology and ending with such topics as the psychology of creativity, religious faith, and the nature of love.
The period after Tchaikovsky’s departure from Moscow proved creatively very productive. Early in 1878 he finished several of his most famous compositions—the opera Eugene Onegin, the Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, and the Violin Concerto in D Major. From December 1878 to August 1879 he worked on the opera The Maid of Orleans, which was not particularly well received. Over the next 10 years Tchaikovsky produced his operas Mazepa (1883; based on Aleksandr Pushkin’s Poltava) and The Enchantress (1887), as well as the masterly symphonies Manfred (1885) and Symphony No. 5 in E Minor (1888). His other major achievements of this period include Serenade for Strings in C Major, Opus 48 (1880), Capriccio italien (1880), and the 1812 Overture (1880).
In 1890, Tchaikovsky was informed by Nadezhda von Meck that she was close to ruin and could not continue his allowance. This was followed by the cessation of their correspondence, a circumstance that caused Tchaikovsky considerable anguish.
In the spring of 1891 Tchaikovsky was invited to visit the United States on the occasion of the inauguration of Carnegie Hall in New York City. He conducted before enthusiastic audiences in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Upon his return to Russia, he completed his last two compositions for the stage—the one-act opera Iolanta (1891) and a two-act ballet Nutcracker (1892). In February 1893 he began working on his Symphony No. 6 in B Minor (Pathétique), which was destined to become his most celebrated masterpiece. He dedicated it to his nephew Vladimir (Bob) Davydov, who in Tchaikovsky’s late years became increasingly an object of his passionate love. His world stature was confirmed by his triumphant European and American tours and his acceptance in June 1893 of an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge.
On October 16 Tchaikovsky conducted his new symphony’s premiere in St. Petersburg. The mixed reaction of the audience, however, did not affect the composer’s belief that the symphony belonged among his best work. On October 21 he suddenly became ill and was diagnosed with cholera, an epidemic that was sweeping through St. Petersburg. Despite all medical efforts to save him, he died four days later from complications arising from the disease. Wild rumours circulated among his contemporaries concerning his possible suicide, which were revived in the late 20th century by some of his biographers, but these allegations cannot be supported by documentary evidence.
Tchaikovsky was the leading exponent of Romanticism in its characteristically Russian mold, which owes as much to the French and Italian musical traditions as it does to the German. Although not as ostentatiously as the nationalist composers, such as Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky was clearly inspired by Russian folk music. In the words of the Russian-born composer Igor Stravinsky, “Tchaikovsky drew unconsciously from the true, popular sources of our race.”
The first great Russian symphonist, he exhibited a particular gift for melody and orchestration. In his best work, the powerful tunes underlining musical themes are harmonized into magnificent, formally innovative compositions. His resourceful use of instruments allows easy identification of most of his works by their characteristic sonority. Tchaikovsky excelled primarily as a master of instrumental music; his operas, often eclectic in subject matter and style, do not find much appreciation in the West, with the exception of Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades. Whereas most of his operas met with limited success, Tchaikovsky nonetheless proved eminently successful in transforming ballet, then a grand decorative gesture, into a staged musical drama, and thus he revolutionized the genre.
Moreover, Tchaikovsky brought an integrity of design that elevated ballet to the level of symphonic music. To this end, he employed a symphonist’s sense of large-scale structure, organizing successive dances through the use of keys to create a cumulative feeling of purpose, in distinction to the more random or decorative layout in the ballets of his predecessors. His special sense of how melody can engender the dance gave his ballets a unique place in the world’s theatres. The influence of his experimentation is evident in the ballets of Sergey Prokofiev and Aram Khachaturian.
Tchaikovsky steered an unlikely path between the Russian nationalist tendencies so prominent in the work of his rivals in The Five and the cosmopolitan stance encouraged by his conservatory training. He was both a Russian nationalist and a Westernizer of polished technical skill. He put his personal stamp on the late-19th-century symphony with his last three symphonies; they demonstrate a heightened subjectivity that would influence Gustav Mahler, Sergey Rachmaninoff, and Dmitry Shostakovich and encourage the genre to pass with renewed vigor into the 20th century.