Peak performance by a “Sunday musician”

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Glow. © Charles Thibo

A clever dilettante, huh? That’s what the composer Sergey Taneyev initially thought about his colleague Alexander Borodin. He later revised his judgment and treated Borodin’s compositions with due respect, which is fortunate since I like both composers equally well. In June 2016 I enjoyed the Russian Borodin Quartet performing Borodin’s second string quartet in Luxembourg, a lovely experience that I discussed in the related post, and now it is about time to have a look at his String Quartet No. 1 in A major.

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Musical austerity derived from Bach’s logic

Taneyev Trio B minor_final
Morning aesthetics. © Charles Thibo

A disturbing first movement, a gentle second movement – and the rest will remain a mystery for us for ever. The composer did not finish the work, he set it aside and two years later he was dead. Sergei Taneyev worked in November and December 1913 on the first two parts of his String Trio in B minor. It was one of his last compositions and the last piece of chamber music, his preferred genre, the one in which he excelled. Taneyev was a conservative man in questions of music aesthetics. He found endless opportunities for creativity in contrapuntal* technique, and chamber music gave him the means to express this.

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Tonal instability illustrating the vagaries of life

To fear or not to fear? © Charles Thibo

Restlessness. Tension. Suffering. I feel it the moment I write this post. Pyotr Tchaikovsky must have felt the same way. His music depicts a life in disarray, marked by a troubling uncertainty, a deep personal vulnerability. The music triggers those sensations all the more easily since I am myself tense at the moment, restless, quickly irate. And while moments of joy and happiness pop up every now and then in Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No. 2 in F major (Op. 22), I find it hard not to feel miserable.

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Murder, madness and stirring melodies

Delusions. © Charles Thibo

“Du blanc, rien que du blanc! Je suis la mariée!”1 Ophelia has lost herself once more in her delusions. The grief over the death of her father Polonius, killed inadvertently by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, has driven her crazy. What a tragedy! While Hamlet feigns to be mad to plan in secrecy the death of King Claudius, brother and murderer of Hamlet’s father, Ophelia, the woman he loves, has succumbed to true madness because her father Polonius’s death through Hamlet’s hand. William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” is one of my favourites, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky has composed in January 1891 a wonderful incidental music inspired by the play.

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