Thursday, May 28, 2009

According to David Gutman, Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 occupies a special place in his output. The product of 1917, the year of Revolutions, it had its belated premiere in Paris in October 1923. The score is remote from conventional expectations of Romantic and virtuoso display. The work is scored with a precise economy of means, so that lean, translucent textures predominate despite the prominent part for tuba. As if the opening melody (conceived as early as 1915) were not magical enough, its recapitulation on solo flute (pp dolcissimo) with harp, muted strings and lightly running tracery from the soloist is quite ravishing, matched by the more elaborate return at the end of the finale. The central movement, a mercurial scherzo, gives the soloist ample opportunities for high jinks. Everywhere the flow of ideas is so spontaneous that the music seems to create its own form, an alloy of innocence and sophistication."

Written 50 years after Prokofiev's Concerto, Alfred Schnittke's score for the film The Commissar (1967) comes from a completely different sound world. The film itself traveled a tragic and rocky road before receiving the special prize of the jury and the Silver Bear at the Berlinale 1988 and four professional Nika Awards (1988). It was shot in the political climate of the post-Khrushchev thaw. From the outset of the production, censors forced the film director Aleksandr Askoldov to make major changes: 1967 was the year of the 50th anniversary of 1917 October Revolution and the events were to be presented in the Communist Party-mandated style of heroic realism. After making the movie, director Askoldov lost his job, was expelled from the Communist Party, charged with social parasitism, exiled from Moscow and banned from working on feature films for life. He was told that the single copy of the film had been destroyed. Mordyukova and Bykov, major Soviet movie stars, had to plead with the authorities to spare him of even bigger charges. The film was shelved by the KGB for twenty years. In 1986, due to glasnost policies, the "Conflict Commission" of the Soviet Film-makers Union recommended the re-release of the movie but the censors refused to act. After a plea from Askoldov at the Moscow Film Festival, the film was reconstructed and finally released in 1988. Check out the first scene - this week's Pytheas Sighting ...

Sit back, close your eyes and take in a Pytheas Earful of Elaine Fine's Serenade for Oboe and Strings (2007) [sorry, no longer available], presented at the University of Illinois and made available thanks to U of I's Media Center.

And don't be put off by the setting - an empty room with music propped up a clarinet case - for this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES performance of the first of Stravinky's Three Pieces for Clarinet (1919). It's the music that counts!

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst
Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music

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