Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Music for Violin and Harp - Gaetano Donizetti - Adrian Shaposhinikov - Alan Hovhaness - Angel E. Lasala - Murray Boren - Camille Saint-Saens - The Aurora Duo (Donna Fairbanks, Violin - Lysa Rytting, Harp) - 4-Tay 1998

This is a truly lovely collection of works for violin and harp, an atypical instrumental duo in most cases. Needless to say, I bought this disc years ago for the Hovhaness Sonata (his Opus 406) which was everything I expected it to be, especially given the instruments-mystical, airy, and really beautiful. 

The huge discovery for me was Adrian Shaposhinikov's "Sonata in D minor for Violin and Harp" (usually performed on Flute and Harp-I still have never heard the original version, I've been itching to for many years!). Adrian Grigoryevich Shaposhnikov (May 29th 1888-June 22th, 1967) was a Russian/Soviet composer who worked for some time in the Turkmen/Soviet Republic. His music is (supposedly) stylistically similar to Alexander Gretchaninov's, however it's impossible to speculate as this Sonata is apparently his ONLY surviving work. It's near impossible to find any real information about him, however he did apparently write several operas and some orchestral music-and possibly more. He studied with Glazunov, and graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1913. The only other info I have is that he worked in Moscow from 1920-1935, as an engineering economist and freelance composer. Why this fantastic Sonata is his only surviving piece I haven't a clue-I have looked for answers, but with no luck. Tragic really, as the Sonata seems to have been conceived by a very talented composer with an obvious and strong lyrical gift.

Shaposhinikov's Sonata is cast in three movements. The first is dreamy and atmospheric, the second conjures up perhaps echoes of centuries past with it's minuet rhythms, and the third and final movement is a swashbuckling jig of sorts, as beautiful as can be, and brings this most memorable Sonata to a rousing conclusion. A gem.

Adrian Shaposhinikov-perhaps the only photo on the planet
Donizetti (like Hovhaness) was a prolific composer, he wrote over 60(!) operas, dozens of cantatas, about one hundred sacred works, and hundreds of other vocal and chamber works including nineteen very fine string quartets. This Sonata is a great opener, really lovely and with memorable tunes. The Larghetto has all the operatic passion of a tragic aria, and the second movement will be quite familiar (perhaps this is where it came from originally, I don't know)-and how perfect is sounds in this setting! 

Angel Lasala is an Argentinian composer and the "Poema Del Pastor Coya" was written in 1942. The work draws its material from the native music of South America. The titles of the movements evoke pastoral associations: 1)"With the native woman and boy" 2)"Quena" (a traditional flute of the Andes)
3)"Dance". The pentatonic scale, so common in music from indigenous cultures throughout the world, adds quite a bit of exoticism to the score, especially in the final "Danzando" movement. Great stuff.

Murray Boren is a prolific composer (although I know very little of his work) whose works include seven operas, dozens of songs and choral works, and apparently one hundred or so chamber works. "Movements from the Liturgical Dance", written for the Aurora Duo, began as "imaginations of what it would be like to worship through movement". These five short pieces are not meant as music to which a dance might be performed (I personally think it's best left that way..), but are, rather, "dances for the imagination and of the spirit".

In addition to being a (imo one of the most interesting) composer, Saint-Saens was an organist, pianist, and a writer. He became a student at the Paris Conservatoire in 1848 and quickly made a name for himself by winning the "second prix" in 1849 and the "premiere prix" in 1851. Throughout his life he enjoyed the friendship and patronage of Gounod, Rossini, and also Berlioz. Saint-Saens harbored a dislike for the more modern styles of Debussy and Stravinsky, something that surprises me somewhat as Saint-Saens was an adventurous spirit. Berlioz once said of him: "He knows everything but lacks (in)experience". Saint-Saens's music often has identifiable French qualities (a surprise to you all, I'm sure), including neat proportions, formal clarity, polished expression, and elegant lines aplenty. He wrote his "Fantasie for Violin and Harp" in 1907, the only work he composed for this combination. It is a long, moody work with a chain of diverse melodies until about 2/3 of the way through when, for two minutes, the harp obstinately repeats the same phrase twenty-one times while the violin plays an unusually long-breathed wave of sound which grows ever louder to the climax and then drifts away into silence.

Enjoy people (and enjoy music too..haha?)


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your wonderful blog, not least for all you've posted about Alan Hovhaness. I first got here while searching for info about him, and have since enjoyed much else that you've written, though this is the first time I've said "thank you". So please take it as a good many thank you's! It's so good to read about music as direct personal experience, especially when there's so much positivity around it.

There's some background information about Adrian Grigoryevich Shaposhnikov in an article about his son in a facebook post here:

My apologies for doing this anonymously.
Best wishes.

Tzadik said...

Thank you so much for a wonderful message. I am running out the door (picking up family at an airport)
now but I shall comment thoroughly later! Kind regards,


theblueamos said...

Howdee Tz? you sound better.Thank you for the V.W's as well. All the very best from Jerusalem.

Tzadik said...

Howdy-Doo Blue. Ha.....thanks I was feeling better. ("was"... currently having hellish problems due to my ex, her name might as well be mephistopheles) Tonight's been all-music listening though so that helps!

You are welcome. RVW is my musical deity ;)