Lost Stravinsky work found

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Thanas
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Lost Stravinsky work found

Post by Thanas » 2015-09-06 05:48am

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An important early orchestral work by one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, thought for more than 100 years to have been irretrievably lost, has turned up at last in a pile of old manuscripts in a back room of the St Petersburg Conservatoire.

Igor Stravinsky composed his Pogrebal’naya Pesnya (Funeral Song) in memory of his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, shortly after Rimsky’s death in June 1908. The 12-minute work was performed only once, in a Russian symphony concert conducted by Felix Blumenfeld in the Conservatoire in January 1909, but was always thought to have been destroyed in the 1917 revolutions or the civil war that followed.

Stravinsky recalled it as one of his best early works, but could not remember the actual music. He was, he said, “curious to see what I was composing just before The Firebird”, the ballet that brought him instant fame when it was staged by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris in June 1910.

For years, Russian musicologists theorised that the manuscript materials might still be preserved among the mass of uncatalogued music in the archives of the St Petersburg Philharmonic or the Conservatoire. But in the Soviet Union rummaging was definitely not encouraged and expatriate modernist Stravinsky was regarded as a non-person. The search always ran up against the sheer confusion of storage and the absence of any system in buildings that had never been restored, extended or modernised.

Natalya Braginskaya, a Russian Stravinsky specialist, mounted a series of unsuccessful searches helped by willing Conservatoire archivists. But it was only when the whole building had to be emptied last autumn to make way for a long-delayed overhaul that piles of previously hidden manuscripts emerged from behind rows of stacked piano and orchestral scores, undisturbed for decades, and a librarian found herself staring at the missing orchestral parts which she remembered as precisely the work that Braginskaya had been looking for.

Without the librarian’s alertness, the materials might have been binned, or at best neatly restacked in some distant vault for the next 100 years. Instead Braginskaya described them in a paper delivered at a Stravinsky conference of the International Musicological Society in St Petersburg on 4 September.

Stravinsky was 26 when The Funeral Song was performed and was by no means advanced as a composer. He was completely unknown outside Russia – and barely known even there. Yet in the next four years he would compose The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring, transforming himself into the most notorious modernist of them all.

Braginskaya, who has studied the orchestral parts (the full score has not turned up and will need reconstructing), describes The Funeral Song as a slow, unvarying processional with contrasting instrumental timbres: a dialogue of sonorities, very much as Stravinsky himself vaguely remembered it in his autobiography 25 years later. There are echoes of Rimsky-Korsakov, but also, she says, of Wagner, whose music Stravinsky admired more than he was later prepared to admit.

There is a touching postscript to the story. Stravinsky was desperate to have his composition included in one or other of the memorial concerts being planned, and his surviving letters to Rimsky’s widow, to their son, Vladimir, and to the conductor Alexander Ziloti, positively cry out with the insecurity of a young composer who had never quite been accepted at the heart of musical St Petersburg and feared its judgment. They are the first hint of a split that would rapidly widen after Stravinsky’s dramatic successes in Paris. But by then of course, it hardly mattered.
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Re: Lost Stravinsky work found

Post by phred » 2015-09-07 01:36am

Very cool. So when are they going to start recording?
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Re: Lost Stravinsky work found

Post by Thanas » 2015-09-07 06:08am

Hopefully not too soon. This needs time.
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Re: Lost Stravinsky work found

Post by Darmalus » 2015-09-11 06:46pm

Thanas wrote:Hopefully not too soon. This needs time.
Why? Did musical notation change significantly since then, requiring translation?

If not, I'm not sure what would prevent just printing off some copies and handing them to an orchestra.

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Re: Lost Stravinsky work found

Post by LaCroix » 2015-09-12 12:37pm

Strawinsky is quite hard to play, demanding absolute precision timing and coordination. It takes a long time for an orchestra to play it properly.

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Re: Lost Stravinsky work found

Post by Thanas » 2015-09-13 03:03pm

Darmalus wrote:
Thanas wrote:Hopefully not too soon. This needs time.
Why? Did musical notation change significantly since then, requiring translation?

If not, I'm not sure what would prevent just printing off some copies and handing them to an orchestra.
Are you familiar with classical music?
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Re: Lost Stravinsky work found

Post by Darmalus » 2015-09-13 11:49pm

Thanas wrote:Are you familiar with classical music?
In the sense that I listen to and enjoy it, but no real behind the scenes knowledge.

I take it from LaCroix's comment that your comment was referring to Strawinsky being particularly difficult, rather than the condition of the recovered manuscript?

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Re: Lost Stravinsky work found

Post by Thanas » 2015-09-14 01:50am

Darmalus wrote:
Thanas wrote:Are you familiar with classical music?
In the sense that I listen to and enjoy it, but no real behind the scenes knowledge.

I take it from LaCroix's comment that your comment was referring to Strawinsky being particularly difficult, rather than the condition of the recovered manuscript?
Yeah, sorry if I was a dick about it.

Typically, works get a tradition of performances that orchestras can rely on in order how to interpret the pieces. Notation and comments by the composers are not set in stone, they are more like hints instead of strict directions like you would get in a movie script. Which is why for example Beethoven's ninth has different recorded versions where the max version has 40 minutes more than the hurried one. Some conductors will interpret a work to focus on specific themes. Others will follow the script more closely.

In the case of undiscovered music this help is missing, which means that an orchestra and its conductor has to find out what the composer actually means (see for example most of Beethoven's symphonies. Beethoven dictated a much faster pace to them than what is normally chosen, but there is no doubt that he himself disregarded tempo instructions a lot and thus they shouldn't be taken as gospel). This is even more problematic if there are errors in the script or if it has been improperly stored or if it was a one-off piece that never got into regular print.

For example rediscovering Salieri's Europa riconosciuta took the best lead singer of our age and a great orchestra almost two full years to pull it off. Granted, Salieri's music is so hard one cannot almost perform it today, but Stravinsky is also difficult.

So I rather they take the time, give it to a good orchestra and then let them figure it out for a while with no pressure instead of rushing it as quickly as they can to the public print, which can ruin a piece as every half-good orchestra will want to perform it for CD-deals or for selling tickets. If they mess it up people will think "oh it is just that piece, why bother with it? Sounds terrible, it was right for it to be forgotten". This kills the piece.
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