Remembering a Dead Brother

Life and death. © Charles Thibo

When I started this blog back in 2015, I had a certain idea about who my favourite composers were. After having discussed more than 500 different pieces of music and after having discovered dozens of composers previously unknown to me, it has become increasingly difficult to come up with a list of composers I prefer over others. A few however have struck me from the first moment on. Once I started to listen to such a piece – wham! Not shock and awe, rather awe and delight. Those few composers never let me down. Nikolai Medtner is one of them. Today’s post is about a work for piano and violin, the Sonata Epica No. 3 in E Minor, op. 57, recorded by Hamish Milne (piano) and Manoug Parikian (violin).

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An Emotional Struggle in a Desolated Country

Desolation. Charles Thibo

The quartet starts with an element of pain, a nervous anxiety. But Dmitry Shostakovich quickly introduces a balancing element, a comforting melody, trying to cover the repetitive pattern in a struggle for acoustic supremacy – in vain. Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major (Op. 92) is one more example of the composer’s amazing talent to express emotions with maximal clarity in a few, essential bars.

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A Romance Gives Birth to Dmitry’s First Trio

Can you see it? © Charles Thibo

Shostakovich in love! Young Dmitry – he is 17 – spends the summer of 1924 on the Crimean peninsula and falls in love with Tatyana Glivenko, the daughter of an eminent Moscow philology professor. There’s nothing than love to cure a tuberculosis. He has traveled south with his sister Mariya for health reasons. Mariya is not amused by this romance and when she reports home, Shostakovich’s mother is quick to warn the young man about the pitfalls of love. Shostakovich however has his own ideas, in line with the ideology of the day. “Of course the best thing imaginable would be the total abolition of the institution of marriage, with all its fetters and constraits on love.” It would be a long and tormenting affair, they would see each other on and off, but Dmitry would not commit.

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Myaskovsky, a Memory and a Promise

Myaskovsky cello sonata2
Warmth. © Charles Thibo

He had earned the nickname “Father of the Soviet Symphony”. Soviet symphony, not Russian. He was a shy, introverted musician, and he the critic Boris Afsayev described him as “not the kind of composer the Revolution would like; he reflects life not through the feelings and spirit of the masses, but through the prism of his personal feelings. […] He speaks not only for himself, but for many others.” Nikolai Myaskovsky was awarded the Stalin Price five times, more than any other composer, still, like Dmitry Shostakovich, he was accused in 1947 of writing “anti-proletarian” and “formalistic” music. Oh, brave, new Soviet world!

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