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ClassicsOnline Home » 101 GREAT ORCHESTRAL CLASSICS, Vol. 5
The Russian composer Aram Khachaturian, of Armenian extraction, drew frequent
inspiration from the ethnic minorities in the South of the Soviet Union. His
ballet Gayane, written in 1942, is set in an Armenian cotton cooperative, where
the heroine of the title is eventually able to dispose of her drunken husband
and marry the chairman of the cooperative. The most famous dance in the ballet
is the energetic Sabre Dance.
An earlier Russian composer, Sergey Rachmaninov, chose exile in 1917, rather
than subservience to the new regime. Although he had established himself as
a composer and conductor in Russia in the first years of the present century,
abroad he was obliged to concentrate rather on performance as one of the greatest
pianists of his time. The second of Rachmaninov's four piano concertos was written
in 1900 and 1901 and represented a return to composition after a period of sterility
brought about by the failure of his first symphony. Psycho-analysis brought
a cure, of which the concerto, in all its romantic extravagance, is the first
Composers have not always been happy in their literary collaborators. Franz
Schubert, born in Vienna in 1797, never found official musical employment in
his native city, although publishers were beginning to show interest in his
work at the time of his death in 1828. His Rosamunde music was written in some
haste in 1823 for a romantic drama by the blue-stocking Helmina von Chézy.
The play died almost at once, but Schubert's music, some of which he re-used
elsewhere, was revived and finally published in 1891.
The priest-composer-cum-violinist Antonio Vivaldi was an active figure in the
music of Venice during the first forty years of the eighteenth century. His
compositions, many of them written for the girls' orphanage where he was intermittently
employed as violin teacher and director of instrumental music, include some
500 concertos, and of these the most famous now, as then, are the Four Seasons.
The first of the set, Spring, makes use of bird-song, interrupted by a brief
thunder-storm, before the first mood is restored.
The symphony, an orchestral work usually in three or four movements, developed
as a form during the course of the eighteenth century, its progress more or
less coinciding with the life of Joseph Haydn, who was born in 1732 and lived
until 1809. Haydn, for much of his life Director of Music to one of the richest
men in the Habsburg Empire, was released by the death of his patron in 1790
to accept engagements elsewhere. There followed two visits to London, the city
for which he wrote his last twelve symphonies. No. 94 was composed in 1791 and
first performed in London the following year. The symphony is known as The Surprise
because of the sudden loud chords that interrupt the course of the present slow
Edvard Grieg was closely involved with his compatriot Ibsen in work for the
Norwegian theatre. Ibsen's play Peer Gynt follows the curious exploits of a
folk hero, taking him from Norway as far away as Egypt and the desert, where
he is greeted and entertained by the exotic Anitra.
The Venetian composer Albinoni, a contemporary of Vivaldi in early eighteenth
century Venice, did not write the famous Adagio attributed to him. This charming
piece is in fact the work of Remo Giazotto, an Italian music critic and musicologist,
born in Rome in 1910.
The violin is among the most beautiful of instruments, its sound closely resembling
the better sounds of the human singing voice. Tchaikovsky wrote only one violin
concerto, assisted by his young friend, the violinist Kotek, a former student
of Moscow Conservatory, where the composer had been teaching. The Canzonetta
is the slow movement of the concerto, replacing Tchaikovsky's first thoughts,
which were later issued as a separate composition.
Joaquin Rodrigo, blind from the age of three, is among the best known of Spanish
composers of the twentieth century. The guitar, in the improved concert form
developed by the great virtuoso Segovia, has allowed the composition of concertos,
in which the instrument is joined by the orchestra. The evocatively Spanish
slow movement of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez is part of a work written in
1939, on the composer's return to Spain after the Civil War.
Weber was a cousin of Mozart's wife and son of a man whose varied interests
had led finally to the management of a troupe of actors. He wrote the first
significant German romantic opera, Der Freischütz. His Invitation to the
Dance, originally for piano, follows a programme: a gentleman asks a girl to
dance, she accepts and there is desultory conversation as they dance, until
it comes to an end and they part.
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101 GREAT ORCHESTRAL CLASSICS, Vol. 5