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ClassicsOnline Home » TCHAIKOVSKY: Manfred Symphony / Voyevoda
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840- 1893)
Manfred (Symphony after Byron) Op. 58
The Voyevode (Symphonic Ballad after Mickiewicz), Op. 78
Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky must be regarded as the most popular of all
Russian composers, his music offering certain obvious, superficial attractions
in its melodies and in the richness of its orchestral colouring. There is more
to Tchaikovsky than this, and it would be a mistake to neglect his achievement
because of what sometimes seems to be an excess of popular attention.
Born in Kamsko-otkinsk in 1840, the second son of a mining engineer,
Tchaikovsky had his early education, in music as in everything else, at home,
under the care of his mother and of a beloved governess. From the age of ten he
was a pupil at the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, completing his
course there in 1859 to take employment in the Ministry of Justice. During these
years he developed his abilities as a musician and it must have seemed probable
that he would, like his contemporaries Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and
Borodin, keep music as a secondary occupation, while following another career.
For Tchaikovsky matters turned out differently. The foundation of the
new Conservatory of Music in St. Petersburg under Anton Rubinstein enabled him
to study there as a full-time student from 1863. In 1865 he moved to Moscow as a
member of the staff of the new Conservatory established by Anton Rubinstein's
brother Nikolay. He continued there for some ten years, before financial
assistance from a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, enabled him to leave the
Conservatory and devote himself entirely to composition. The same period in his
life brought an unfortunate marriage to a self-proclaimed admirer of his work, a
woman who showed early signs of mental instability, and could only add further
to Tchaikovsky's own problems of character and inclination. His homosexuality
was a torment to him, while his morbid sensitivity and diffidence, coupled with
physical revulsion for the woman he had married, led to a severe nervous
Separation from his wife, which was immediate, still left practical and
personal problems to be solved. Tchaikovsky relationship with Nadezhda von
Meck, however, provided not only the money that at first was necessary for his
career, but also the understanding and support of a woman who, so far from
making physical demands of him, never even met him face to face. This curiously
remote liaison only came to an end in 1890, when, on the false plea of
bankruptcy, Nadezhda von Meck discontinued an allowance that was no longer of
importance, and a correspondence on which he had come to depend.
The story of Tchaikovsky' s death in St. Petersburg in 1893 is now
generally known. It seems that a member of the nobility had threatened to
complain to the Tsar about an alleged homosexual relationship between
Tchaikovsky and his son. To avoid open scandal a court of honour of
Tchaikovsky's old school-fellows met and condemned him to death, forcing him to
take his own life. His death was announced as the result of cholera, and this
official version of the event was, until relatively recently, generally
As a composer Tchaikovsky represented a happy synthesis of the West
European or German school of composition, represented in Russia by his teacher
Anton Rubinstein, and the Russian nationalists, led by the impossibly aggressive
Balakirev. From Rubinstein Tchaikovsky learned his technique, while Balakirev
attempted time and again to bully him into compliance with his own ideals. To
the nationalists Tchaikovsky may have seemed relatively foreign. His work, after
all, lacked the primitive crudity that sometimes marked their compositions.
Nevertheless acceptance abroad was not universal. Hanslick, in Vienna, could
deplore the rivial Cossack cheer?of the violin concerto and other works,
while welcoming the absence of any apparent Russian element in the last of the
six symphonies. In England and America there had been a heartier welcome, and in
the latter country he had been received with an enthusiasm that exceeded even
that at home.
Byron, above all other English poets of the early nineteenth century,
exercised a fascination over the European imagination, seeming to writers such
as Goethe or to Mazzini to be the epitome of the age. The French composer
Berlioz had, in Harold in Italy, drawn inspiration from Byron Child Harold,
and his visit to Russia in the winter of 1867 and a performance of the work had
suggested to Vladimir Stasov, mentor and inspiration to the Five, the group of
Nationalist Russian composers, the possibility of a similar orchestral work
based on Byron's poetic drama Manfred.
Stasov sketched a possible programme for such a composition, and
proposed to Balakirev that he should attempt the work. The latter thereupon
urged Berlioz, now near the end of his life, to undertake such a composition,
providing him, without acknowledgement to Stasov, with a plan for the work.
Berlioz was unable to oblige him.
It was some fifteen years later that Balakirev was to renew proposals
for a symphonic poem on the subject of Manfred,
this time to Tchaikovsky, who had been bullied by Balakirev into the composition
of Romeo and Juliet in 1870. Your Francesca suggested to me that you would be
able to tackle this subject brilliantly - provided, of course, that you make an
effort and criticize your own work strictly", Balakirev wrote, assuming
once again the habit of command, after a break in relations with Tchaikovsky of
a decade. This was in 1882. Tchaikovsky, however, rejected the notion, having no
copy to hand of Byron's poem, and finding the outline proposal uninspiring.
Two years later Tchaikovsky was to meet Balakirev in St. Petersburg. his
own religious doubts and uncertainties receiving some answer from the latter's
newly found brand of Christianity. The subject of Manfred
was again raised, and Tchaikovsky, summoned to the deathbed of his friend, the
young violinist Kotek, in Switzerland, took the opportunity of reading Byron's
poem. In 1885 he embarked on the work of composition, and the symphony was
completed in September of the same year, to be performed in Moscow for the first
time the following March. The next year he could describe it as his best
symphonic work, yet by 1889 he was writing of it as .an abominable piece",
and planning its destruction. The composer ambivalence towards his own work
Goethe, in an article written in 1808, described Byron's Manfred
as a derivative of his own hero Faust. For Tchaikovsky, as for Byron, Manfred
represented the figure of the outsider, an outcast from society, a role in which
the composer, haunted by his own homosexuality, saw himself. In the first
movement of the symphony Manfred
in a Gothic gallery in his Alpine castle seeks self-oblivion, haunted by
memories of forbidden love. He calls up seven spirits to his aid, one of which
takes the shape of his beloved Astarte. At this Manfred falls senseless to the ground.
The second movement, the third in Stasov original outline, evokes
the spirit of the Witch of the Alps,
appearing in a rainbow through the spray of a waterfall, but imposing conditions
on Manfred in his quest that he is unwilling to fulfil, so that he must continue
fatal and fated in his suffering.
There follows a pastoral Andante con moto, a colourful picture of rural
Alpine simplicity, the counterpart of Act II, Scene l of Byron work, where a
chamois hunter offers Manfred what comfort he can, his wine seeming to the
latter blood that mingled as he and his beloved "loved each other as we
should not love."
The final movement opens in the subterranean hall of Arimanes, in the
form of a globe of fire, surrounded by spirits and Nemesis and the Destinies.
The spirit of Astarte is summoned, an ideal vision, who announces Manfred's
coming death. The phantom disappears, and the last scene brings Manfred's death,
an equivocal end. In the words of the Abbat, in Byron's poem:
The Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz occupies a position of the greatest
importance in the history of nineteenth century Romantic nationalism. Born in
Lithuania, he spent some years in comfortable political exile in Russia, but was
for the last 25 years of his life, until his death in 1855, resident largely in
Paris, a member of the Polish 幦igr?group that formed part of the circle of
George Sand, Chopin's mistress and lecturing at the College de France on
Slavonic literature, mingled with his own increasingly eccentric notions about
the Messianic role of Poland in world history. Contemporary enthusiasts compared him with Goethe and with Byron, and
his work apparently provided inspiration for Chopin's Ballades as well as texts
for songs for other composers. Pushkin, one year his junior, took Mickiewicz as
a source for his ballad The Voyevode,
the basis of Tchaikovsky's work.
Tchaikovsky sketched his symphonic ballad The Voyevode
in the autumn of 1890, while he was staying with his brother Anatoly in Tblisi (Tiflis),
but there were to be some delays in orchestrating the piece, completed only
after his visit to Paris, en route to the United States of America, in 1891, and
his discovery of a new instrument, the celesta, put to better known use in the Dance
of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The story of the ballad concerns a Voyevode,
a noble warrior, who surprises his wife in infidelity and bids his servant shoot
her: in error the servant kills his master instead. Sinister in effect, the work
may reflect in some measure the composer's sombre reaction to the breach of
relations with Nadezhda von Meck, whose letter of apparent rejection he had
received in Tblisi in October 1890. The
Voyevode was performed for the first time in Moscow on 18th November
1891 in a programme that included Grieg's new Piano Concerto. Tchaikovsky
conducted, but, in spite of the good reception given to the work, resolved to
destroy it, fearing, with his usual diffidence, that his powers were declining.
The score was later reconstructed from the orchestral parts.
Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czed1oslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest
symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos
Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music.
Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its
conductor-in-chief. The ord1estra has given successful concerts both at home and
abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain,
Italy, and Great Britain.
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava,
where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study
under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak
Philharmonic Ord1estra and during his two years of military service he conducted
the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the
Slovak National Opera, where he has continued to direct performances.
Lenard's work with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava
began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time
he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and
elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as
General Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for OPUS operas by
Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.
For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies by Tchaikovsky and works by
Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov.
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TCHAIKOVSKY: Manfred Symphony / Voyevoda