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ClassicsOnline Home » MEDTNER: Sonata-Ballade / Sonata Reminiscenza
in F Sharp Major, Op. 27
Reminiscenza, Op. 38, No. 1 (Zabïtïye Motivï, Cycle I, No. 1)
Tragica, Op. 39, No. 5 (Zabïtïye Motivï, Cycle II, No. 5)
in G Major, Op. 56
an early age Nikolay Medtner showed unusual ability as a pianist and a keen
desire to compose. When twelve years old he entered Moscow Conservatory, where
Alexander Taneyev declared, "Medtner was born with sonata form," and
encouraged a career in composition, while others urged him to become a concert
pianist. At the conservatory he studied piano with Vasily Il'ich Safonov, Who
also taught Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Upon graduation Medtner received a gold
medal in piano from Safonov, who said he would deserve a diamond medal if such
quickly won recognition as one of the finest pianists of his generation, but
the conflict continued between public performance, teaching and composition. In
1921 along with his friend Rachmaninov and others he chose voluntary exile
abroad, returning to Russia only once on a concert tour in 1927. Settling first
in France but finding his romantic music out of fashion there, he moved in 1935
to England, where he had a particularly enthusiastic following. Financial
Support from the Maharajah of Mysore and the cooperation of the Gramophone
Company led to the establishment of a Medtner Society in 1946. Although heart
disease had forced his retirement two years earlier, Medtner recorded his three
piano concertos, many solo pieces and some songs under the society's auspices,
and as his health permitted, composition too occupied his last years.
was a profoundly religious man, and he approached music with similar reverence.
He spoke of the mystery and the unexpected gifts of inspiration and of the
necessity of unrestrained dedication to work. For him one without the other was
pointless. In an age of artistic upheaval he asserted his independence by a
lifelong aloofness from contemporary trends. He revealed himself from the beginning
in a language fully formed and grounded in tradition. His idiom underwent a
process not of stylistic evolution but of steady maturation. Ernest Newman
called him "one of those composers who are classics in their
Beethoven and Brahms are Medtner's true ancestors. In his early works
Schumann's influence is felt, even in matters of titles and notation. Before
his period of mystical excess, Scriabin too exerted an influence, and the
harmonic language of The Divine Poem and the Fourth Sonata seeped into
Medtner's consciousness. From 1906 a gradual stylistic refinement and
simplification took place, even though the late works lack nothing in
full-blooded, romantic virtuosity. Occasionally the melodic and harmonic
intonations of Russian folk-music contribute to Medtner's musical identity, but
his Russianness exists fundamentally on the psychological plane. He seldom
employed what he called "ethnographic trimmings", and those very
characteristics that are linked in the popular perception to "Russian
music" - folk-like melody, brilliant colour, exoticism and rhythmic
excitement - are notably absent from his work.
integrated melody, harmony and rhythm to a remarkable degree. He saw music as
an indissoluble entity proceeding in a logical sequence from the bare
simplicity of the tonic itself to the greatest complexities of sonata form.
Melody is the basis of his construction: a theme is acquired intuitively, and
the fulfilment of its potential becomes the composer's command. Though hardly
innovative in itself, Medtner's melodic instinct, when linked to his consummate
knowledge of form, can be compared to Beethoven's, and form, for both
composers, was not a prefabricated mould in which to fit ideas but something
created by the ideas themselves. Medtner saw also an intimate relationship
between form and harmony: a fundamental harmonic sense is a necessary key to
the mystery of musical construction. It follows that the nonfunctional harmony
of impressionism, the clashes of polytonality and the sonic aggregates of
atonality were alien to his musical thought. Medtner's harmonic language
remained within the boundaries of nineteenth-century romanticism, albeit with a
certain individuality, but its conservatism is more than offset by a powerful,
often novel rhythmic instinct, which in its boundless variety is perhaps his
most readily identifiable feature. Even as Medtner consistently sought balance
in melodic construction, so too was he averse to asymmetry in barring. He
rarely introduced time changes; nevertheless he achieved wholly individual
complexities through all manner of syncopation, stressed weak beats, subtle
shifting of accents and the cross-play of different rhythmic patterns. Rhythm
became a vehicle of profound meaning with which Medtner expressed some of his
most intimate thoughts.
once fashionable epithet, "the Russian Brahms", is at best only
partly appropriate. Truer analogies can be drawn to the spirit of Beethoven's
late music and the fastidious craftsmanship of Fauré's. The inevitable
comparison with Rachmaninov must be mentioned, even though Medtner, retiring by
nature, never aspired to his friend's popular appeal. His contrapuntal and
formal rigour and the deceptive ease of his most daunting technical feasts
produce more of an intellectual than an emotional response, and he could not
have written otherwise.
many of his contemporaries were seeking new and novel means of musical
organization, Medtner affirmed his commitment to the sonata, and his
contribution to its on-going development lies in an increased sense of organic
unity. The Medtner sonata, whether in one or more movements, develops as an
organism from a single argument contained in two main themes of
"protagonists," and all that transpires has some bearing on the
original problem. Accordingly each sonata must be approached strictly on its
own terms, for content determines form.
published fourteen sonatas, identified by key signature and opus number and in
some cases by a descriptive title. He did not assign sequential numbers, and a
somewhat complicated situation might be clarified by doing so; [No. 1] in F
Minor, op. 5; Sonata-Triad: [No. 2] in A Flat Major, op. 11/1, Sonata-Elegy
[No. 3] in D Minor, op. 11/2, [No. 4] in C Major, op. 11/3; [No. 5] in G Minor,
op. 22; Sonata-Skazka [No. 6] in C Minor, op. 25/1; [No. 7] in E Minor, op.
25/2; Sonata-Ballada [No. 8] in F Sharp Major, op. 27; [No. 9] in A Minor, op.
30; Sonata reminiscenza [No. 10] in A Minor, op. 38/1 (from the first cycle of
Forgotten Melodies); Sonata tragica [No. 11] in C Minor, op. 39/5 (from the
second cycle of Forgotten Melodies); Sonata romantica [No. 12] in B Flat Minor,
op. 53/1; Sonata minacciosa [No. 13] in F Minor, op. 53/2; Sonata-Idylle [No.
14] in G Major, op. 56.
opening movement of the Sonata-Ballada, op. 27, was first published by itself
in 1913, owing something of its form and emotional dimate to Chopin's Ballades.
With the addition of the "Introduzione (Mesto)" and "Finale
(Allegro)" the original "Allegretto" grew into the
three-movement sonata, aptly named to reflect its romantic, narrative quality.
The central movement, in fact an introduction to the finale, begins solemnly
but is interrupted midway by a contrasting, song-like theme that is indeed
taken from the first song, "The Muse," of Medtner's op. 29 Pushkin
settings. Two diametrically opposed ideas form the crux of the finale, which
begins with a theme reminiscent of Schumann that recurs in rondo-like fashion.
Towards the end as a powerful unifying device, Medtner allows the sonata's
initial theme to reappear majestically but gives the final word to his
Reminiscenza, op. 38/1, and the Tragica, op. 39/5, belong to two cycles of
Forgotten Melodies, and were composed in 1918 and 1920. Both are
single-movement sonatas. The first is lyrical and restrained, and the second,
decidedly more animated, nevertheless has a strongly lyrical vein underlying
its dramatic pronouncements.
final sonata, the Sonate-Idylle, op. 56, was composed in 1937 and has two
movements. The brief and lovely "Pastorale (Allegretto cantabile)" is
classical in its lucidity and discreet ornamentation, and its feeling of
natural grace flows over into the more ambitiously developed "Allegro
moderato e cantabile," which conveys an impression of luminous delicacy.
Hungarian pianist Ádám Fellegi was born in Budapest in 1941. Graduating from
the Budapest Academy in 1963, three years later he went on to win first prize
at the International Cultural Centre in Vienna, where he took part in master
classes given by Paul Badura-Skoda, Alfred Brendel and Jörg Demus. In the same
year he won a special prize at the Budapest Liszt-Bartók Competition for his
interpretation of contemporary Hungarian music. In 1974 he won the Artur
Rubinstein prize in Rio de Janeiro. Fellegi has appeared on the concert
platform throughout Europe, in Russia and in the United States of America, and
has recorded for many of the major broadcasting stations. For Hungaroton he has
recorded works by major twentieth century composers, including new Hungarian
music that he has commissioned. He was awarded the Liszt Prize by the Hungarian
government in 1981.
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MEDTNER: Sonata-Ballade / Sonata Reminiscenza