Flying into a sunrise – it’s always a fascinating moment. Having been a frequent flyer throughout my professional life, I have seen many such moments and they have never lost their magic. Anticipation, peace of mind, hope… Some time ago I flew to Finland. We took off at dawn and reached our cruising altitude just when the sun went up. I had unpacked my Pushkin novel and my tablet, I stared at the golden light, the clouds, I heard the humming of the two turboprops and more importantly, I listened to a great piece of music: Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Grande Sonate in G major, Op. 37
What a strange piece to celebrate autumn! But than again it was written by a strange man. Mily Balakirev. The focal point of the “Mighty Five”, a group of Russian musicians that we have met already several times on this blog. A group that devoted itself to develop a Russian music style, devoid of the Western European influence of the 19th century. Isn’t it ironic that Balakirev’s own style was substantially influenced by Franz Liszt, an Austrian/Czech, and the French composer Frédéric Chopin? But let’s sort this out!
A forceful statement by the strings and the piano mark the beginning of this trio, and my immediate idea was Ludwig van Beethoven. But no, this piece was not written by the Vienna master, it stems from the “Father of Russian music”, Mikhail Glinka. The Trio Pathétique in D minor was written in 1832. Glinka was at that time 28 years old, a student at the Milan Conservatory. He had immersed himself in the works of opera composers such as Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini, which, according to writer Michael Jameson, “in part explains the character of this peculiarly un-Russian sounding work”.
What a gentle introduction – the warm light of the autumn sun bathes a rural landscape in soft yellow, orange and brown colours, but here, sharp, black patches, rocks, splintering dead wood – contrasts mark the Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32 that the Russian composer Anton Arensky composed in 1894 from the first bars on. It closely follows the Romantic language of a trio that had deeply impressed upon the composer: Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, that I have presented in an earlier post.