REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » BALAKIREV: Chopin Suite / Overtures
"atmosphere and a remarkable feeling for the idiom"
Alexeyevich Balakirev (1837-1910)
a Spanish March Theme
described by Gerald Abraham as a flawed genius, Balakirev continues to dominate
the story of nineteenth century Russian musical nationalism, although much of
his music remains relatively unknown. We hear of the encouragement that he
offered to others, to Mussorgsky, Cui and Borodin, and the aggressive bullying
to which he subjected the diffident Tchaikovsky, and of his leadership of the
group of five that came to be known, ironically, as the mighty handful, with
Rimsky-Korsakov the fifth member, all indebted too to the ideas put forward by
the polymath librarian Vladimir Stasov and his brother.
Alexeyevich Balakirev was born at Nizhny-Novgorod in January 1837, the son of a
minor government official. His early piano lessons were with his mother,
supplemented by a summer visit to Moscow in 1847, when he had some lessons from
Alexander Dubuque, a pupil of John Field. It was later in his schooling that he
was introduced, through his teacher, to Alexander Ulibishev, a well-to-do
landowner, patron of music and writer of books on Mozart and Beethoven. It was
through Ulibishev that he was to receive every encouragement, with access to
music and opportunities to hear performances at his house, however inadequate
these may sometimes have been.
the musical world of St. Petersburg was effected when Ulibishev took Balakirev
there in 1855, introducing him to Glinka, the great pioneer of Russian music,
and allowing him the opportunity to give public concerts, with considerable
success. Nevertheless Balakirev found difficulty in supporting himself,
although the death of Ulibishev in 1858 brought him a legacy of 1000 roubles,
two violins and his patron's music library.
subsequent career brought him, initially, friendship with Cui, Mussorgsky,
Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, his meeting with the last-named in late 1862, nine
months after the foundation of the Free School of Music that was to occupy his
attention for the next ten years. The financial failure of the Free School
concerts brought about his withdrawal from music altogether, his eventual
resignation from the directorship of the School in 1874 leading to the succession
of Rimsky-Korsakov, whom he was to replace in 1881.
Balakirev worked for the Warsaw Railway, his interests becoming increasingly
devoted to religion. His gradual return to musical life began in 1876,
recognised in 1883 by his appointment as Director of Music to the Imperial
Chapel, a position he relinquished in 1894. A pension now allowed him to devote
his time for the remaining years of his life to composition, but by the time of
his death in 1910 his music had been largely forgotten, so that a projected
concert of his works planned for 1909 was abandoned for lack of support.
character Balakirev was a difficult man. His influence had, at one time, been
very great in his own circle, but his friends and associates were to tire of
the self-assertive dominance he exercised over them. At the same time he had
shown occasional signs of mental instability, even as early as 1859, when
Dmitry Stasov nursed him back to health, and again in the 1870s, when he was
indebted to the help given him by Lyudmila Shestakova, Glinka's sister. He was
outspoken, tactless and completely devoted to the cause of Russian music as he
saw it, intolerant of any divergence of opinion. For Belyayev, whose
encouragement and practical assistance was of such service to the young
composers of the last quarter of the century, he developed a strong aversion,
regarding him as a pernicious influence. Rimsky-Korsakov, who had dared to
attend Belyayev's Friday evenings, instead of Balakirev's musical Tuesdays, was
accused of selling himself for thirty pieces of silver to Satan, who,
disastrously for Russian music, appeared in the form of M.P. Belyayev.
At the same
time Balakirev was responsible for many disinterested acts of kindness, not
least in his work for the Free School of Music. His devotion to the furtherance
of Russian music was unquestioned: the means by which he chose to carry out his
mission sometimes proved offensive, but his example and inspiration was largely
responsible for the shape Russian music was to take.
Balakirev travelled to Prague, at the request of Lyudmila Shestakova, to direct
projected performances there of her brother's operas, a task he readily
undertook. He was in Prague long enough to find in the Public Library a book by
B.M. Kulda, Marriage among the Czechoslovak People, from which he extracted
three melodies that were to be used in his Czech Overture, revised in 1906 as a
symphonic poem, In Bohemia.
Balakirev's time in Bohemia had not been free of problems. His first visit was curtailed
by the Seven Weeks War between Austria and Prussia, and on his return early in
the following year he found that A Life for the Tsar had been put on very badly
in his absence, with impossible costumes and what he regarded as a deliberate
attempt at sabotage by Smetana, the principal conductor at the Prague Opera. He
was able, however, to mend matters to his own satisfaction in a subsequent
production of that opera and of Ruslan and Lyudmila.
Overture on Czech Themes was first performed at a Free School concert in St.
Petersburg in May, 1867. The three themes are contrasted, the first announced
on the oboe, completed by the answering strings, and the second an energetic
dance-song from the strings. This is followed by the third theme, presented in
varying circumstances, but forming something of a climax before it is
developed, the music leading to a brilliant and triumphant conclusion.
originally supposed that Balakirev would provide music for a production of
Shakespeare's play King lear at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in
1858. Vladimir Stasov, whose wife had English connections, had provided the
composer with English themes, including the Fool's song from As You Like It,
When that I was and a little tiny boy, and urged him to complete incidental
music that was in fact, only to be finished in 1861. The Overture, however, in
which the tragedy is summarised, was performed in November 1859, winning
success then and on future occasions, in spite of the composer's misgivings about
the orchestration. It was revised in 1902 and finally published two years
Overture opens with the vain pomp of King lear's entry, every inch a king, but
at the same time a foolish, fond old man, intent on dividing his kingdom
between his daughters, the evil Goneril and Regan, and the truthful Cordelia.
The dilemma of the loyal Kent, before such folly leads to Lear's theme set
against the ominous motif in the bass representing Goneril and Regan. The
second subject, of clear serenity, shows Cordelia, replaced by the theme of her
sisters, leading to a development section, the storm in which the King,
deprived of kingdom and followers, wanders in madness, accompanied by the Fool.
The King's theme returns in the recapitulation in frantic madness, leading to
his death after the death of his loyal daughter Cordelia, the music ending in a
brief epilogue for solo violin.
Petersburg, Ulibishev had introduced Balakirev to Glinka, the composer who had
led the way to Russian musical nationalism. At the same time Glinka had been
attracted to the music of Spain, which he had visited in 1845, to be attended
thereafter by a Spanish music student, who served as friend and assistant.
Glinka was impressed by the obvious ability of Balakirev, to whom he entrusted
the musical education of his niece, in his absence, and gave him some melodies
from his collection of Spanish music.
Russia in 1856 and died abroad in the following year. His acquaintance with
Balakirev had been a short one, although his sister Lyudmila Shestakova was to
remain a good friend for many years to come. The Overture on a Spanish March
Theme is a token of Glinka's generosity to the younger composer, based, as it
is, on a theme from his collection. It was revised and published in 1886,
apparently intended as an overture to a play The Expulsion of the Moors from
Overture opens with a piccolo Oriental theme, representing the Moors, a melody
taken up by the rest of the orchestra with dramatic force. The Spanish march
theme follows, after the brief appearance of another theme that assumes a later
role characterising the chant of monks. In accordance with the dramatic
requirements of the explanatory title, the Spanish theme finally puts to flight
the Moorish theme, neither Moors nor monks having much to say to this
arrangement for orchestra of four Chopin pieces was made in 1910, the last year
of Balakirev's life, in connection with celebrations of the centenary of
Chopin's birth. He had already arranged for strings a Chopin Mazurka and
transcribed for solo piano the Romance from the E Minor Piano Concerto, a work
for which he had always had considerable affection, since he first heard it
with his teacher Karl Eisrich at Ulibishev's.
Suite he creates something movingly original from the D Minor Etude, followed
by the B Flat Mazurka, a light-hearted contrast. The G Minor Nocturne leads to
the D Minor Scherzo in conclusion, bringing to an end a remarkably cogent
tribute to Chopin, whose influence on Balakirev had been incalculable,
particularly, perhaps, on the piano music of his last twelve years.
Singapore Symphony Orchestra was set up, with the encouragement of the
Singapore Government, in 1979. Under the direction of its Resident Conductor
Choo Hoey it has grown in size, and now has a complement of some ninety
musicians. While partly dependent on foreign players, a realistic long-term
scheme sees to the training, in Singapore and abroad, of local players of the future.
is a native of Singapore and was invited to establish the Singapore Orchestra
after a career in Europe, where he had most recently served as Resident
Conductor of the Athens State Orchestra, the Greek National Opera Orchestra and
the Hellenic Radio and Television Orchestra.
début was in 1958, with the Belgian National Orchestra. He has appeared with
many famous European orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the
London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire and
the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
Choo Hoey has been Resident Conductor and Music Director of the Singapore
Symphony Orchestra, and has continued to appear in Europe as a guest conductor,
as well as accepting invitations to conduct other orchestras in Asia, including
the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the China Philharmonic in Beijing.
Last Albums Viewed
BALAKIREV: Chopin Suite / Overtures