Three Great Russian Composers

And the Russian Revolution

Short Program: Three Great Russian Composers and the Russian Revolution Postponed until July 25 - 28, 2021

Sergei Rachmaninoff

The winds of social upheaval that swept through Russia in 1917 reshaped her musical landscape. Already on the wane in Europe, high romanticism lost favor with the Soviet government. How would three of the towering Russian musical figures of this era, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich cope with life in a post- revolutionary world?

Influenced by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff's works were rooted in the romantic tradition. He composed music for orchestra, chorus and solo vocalists but is best known for his piano pieces. Rachmaninoff fled Russia after the Revolution. While his music remained romantic at its core, it took on more chromaticism in its expressivity. We will examine some of his pre– and post-revolution works for piano, cello and voice to reveal the changes that took place.

Prokofiev left Russia after the revolution only to return some 20 years later. His post-Revolution music exemplified the trend toward neo-classicism that also characterized the works of Stravinsky. This leaner, cleaner style squared with the doctrine of socialist realism espoused by the Union of Soviet Composers: Music should be concrete and comprehensible by everyday citizens. We will also study examples of his piano, chamber ensemble and vocal music.

Shostakovich never turned away from Mother Russia and was generally supportive of Soviet reforms. His First Symphony was the first Soviet work to gain fame in the West. However, his use of various compositional techniques sometimes put him at odds with the government. A 1930 review of his opera, "The Nose," accused him of creating something that was incomprehensible to the people and ideologically wrong. By sampling his symphonic, chamber, piano and solo vocal works, we will reveal the paradoxes in his life and work.

Lamar Cecil, Kenan Professor of History emeritus, will discuss the historical context for these musical developments, while W&L music faculty Greg Parker and Anna Billias, and Keenan Reesor of Southern Virginia University will discuss and perform examples of the music of the three composers.

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