Orchestral Works vol. 2
Performer Andrej Borejko, Sergej Jakovenko, Ural PhilharmonicNULL
CD MDC 7836 20€ / order
About VALENTIN SILVESTROV
Orchestral Works vol. 2
SILVESTROV, Valentin Vassilievitch
Kiev, september 30th 1937
Having studied a couple of years to become a constructional engineer, Silvestrov enrols in courses taught by Lyatochinski and Revoutski at the Kiev Conservatory in 1958. When he graduates six years later, he already has various compositions to his credit that are remarkable for their originality,A Piano quintet and a Quartetto piccolo of nearly Webernian concision, a Trio for flute, trumpet and celesta (1962), a First Symphony (1963), Mysterium for alto flute and six groups of percussion (the composition is dedicated to S. Gazzelloni, famous interpreter of the most advanced European musicians)(1964), Monodia for piano and orchestra and Spectre for chamber orchestra (1965). His style is akin to the modernism that has its origins in Western Europe. In 1961, Valentin Silvestrov and his friend Leonid Grabovski send in their entries for K.H. Stockhausen’s seminar in Darmstadt, but the regime, ever vigilant, denies them a visa. Grabovski makes up for the refusal by translating the works of H. Jelinek, E. Krenek and K.H. Stockhausen in Ukrainian. As an internationally acknowledged composer, especially by the Koussevitsky Foundation in Boston and Gaudeamus in Amsterdam, and as a composer who had his work played in P. Boulez’ Musical Domain( be it only once), Silvestrov’s Third Symphony “Eschatophony”, was even hosted and created in 1968 in Darmstadt under the direction of Bruno Maderna.Theodore Adorno welcomed an extraordinarily gifted musician and he refuted the objections of those purists who deem Silvestrov’s work too expressive. Silvestrov’s success irritates Moscow which is why the regime brands him as the leading light of a Ukrainian avantgardist movement. In December of 1968, Moscow uses a year-old interview with Younost, an official publication aimed at Russian youths, as a pretext to attack the “Kiev group” in December of 1968.Apart from these problems, Silvestrov ponders over the meaning of his music, the relation between the past, viz. the culture inscribed in memory, and the spontaneous, magical, primitive and eternal dimension of inspiration. This period of reflection ultimately results in a score entitled Drama. It is what one might call a dialectical debate, subdivided into three distinct parts : a sonata for violin, a sonata for cello and a trio which combines these two instruments with the piano. The drama announced in the title is not restricted to the musical level.The performers are required to lend a scenic dimension to the piece through their attitude and gestures. These represent the conflicting phases of thesis versus antithesis, cultural fact versus unforeseen and magical event, text versus context. Silvestrov is convinced that the key to thesis lies in the past, as demonstrated by the titles of the compositions that follow : Music in classical style, Pieces for children in classical style, a First Quartet (1974), which, in fact, is a long Adagio in G major. This is where Silvestrov’s music takes a highly interesting and distinctive turn. It becomes impregnated with slow expressive confidence and exhibits greatly prolonged melodic lines. Numerous instrumental, vocal and orchestral compositions provide different musical translations of this neoromanticism : Meditation for cello and chamber orchestra (1972), dedicated to Rostropovitch, a Cantata(*1) written on texts by F.Tioutchev and A. Blok (1973), a long melodic cycle, Silent Songs (1974/77), a Second Sonata for piano (1975), the Fourth Symphony (1976), Serenade for strings and Cantata for a cappella choir(*1), both 1977, six Simple Songs written between 1974 and 1981, Kitsch Music for piano (1977), Poem in memoriam Lyatochinski (1978),Forest Music for soprano, horn and piano (1977/81),Third Sonata for piano (1979), the Fifth Symphony (1982), Postlude for solo violin (1981), Postlude DSCH for soprano, violin, cello and piano (1981), Sonata for cello and piano (1983), Postlude for piano and orchestra (1984), a third cycle of melodies,Degrees for soprano and piano (1982), the stunning beauty of which reminds us of Mahler, Ode to a Nightingale(*1) (1983), written on Keats’ famous text, Exegi Monumentum,a symphony for baritone and orchestra based on Puskhin (1985/87), a Second Quartet in 1988. In November of 1993, one of his latest compositions is performed in Berlin : Dedication, a concerto for violin dedicated to Gidon Kremer. Dating back to the same period, we could also mention Metamusic for piano and orchestra and a Cantata in two parts entitled Diptych(*1), written on the text of Our Father and on Testament, the famous poem by national Ukrainian author Taras Chevtchenko (1814-1861). Thus, the careful observer will distinguish three periods in Silvestrov’s compositional endeavours : the years of exploration and adherence to postserial modernism, the interrogation as to the sense and the authenticity of such an orientation (1968-1976), and, finally, the resulting prosperity of a language that transforms every composition into an epilogue, a postlude to music history, in particular a postlude to the form music history assumed at the end of the nineteenth century, a century which is engraved in the listener’s conscience in capital letters.The first period comprises oeuvres such as Monodia – also recorded on Megadisc – and Spectre for chamber ensemble,two partitions that date back to 1965.Thirty years later, the term “spectral” belongs to the canons of contemporary music. Does this mean that Silvestrov is one of its precursors ? Not so much in the physical-acoustic implications than in the search to recover the cosmic force of sound, a quest which Silvestrov shares with G. Scelsi.The most ambi- tious work of this period, the Symphony Eschatophonia, is well received in Darmstadt and by Th.Adorno, the philosopher of “the veracity of art”. Nevertheless, this success does not withhold Silvestrov from questioning the degree of truthfulness of his own work. He attaches his wagon to the train of modernity, but, like Schnittke, it does not take him long to realise that he is a prisoner of modernity’s narrow path where some composers make an even bigger nuisance of themselves than others.This is why he, too, prefers to alight from the train and seek his own path on foot.This decision results in the triptych Drama (1970/71) and in the elaboration of a new language – a metalanguage – that transcends the existing systems and fulfils the composer’s most heartfelt feelings.They are expressed in, successively, the First Quatuor (1974), the Second Sonata (1975) and the Fourth Symphony in particular. These three compositions are to be played without interruption, a characteristic that will mark practically all of Silvestrov’s work as of this moment : music is not a game to be played in episodes, it is not a work of architecture to be subdivided in specific spaces. It consists of a continuum that forms a tight unit, it is a long meditation that drifts on the wings of melodic and harmonic tension.The April 1990 issue of Sovietskaja Muzyka features an official declaration by Valentin Silvestrov that captures the essence of his music to perfection :“My music is based purely on intuition. During the creative process, it is in need of beauty. Its process of formation must be marked with melodic tension from beginning to end. Its form must be constructed like a melody.” Silvestrov’s musical journey started in the domain of pointillism, but along the way he restores the lines and the melody to their original function, one which the serialists all too often reserved for the dots. In restoring the melody to its all-powerful position, Silvestrov’s music recovers the melody’s exaltations and the incandescence of its power. Like a river flowing into the sea, the waves of this music travel towards the sea of silence in consummate accomplishment. This musical eschatology(*2), this Eschatophony, can be discerned in other titles such as Metamusic, Postludium (Postlude) or Postsinfonia.When music transcends the past without forsaking it, when it engages in introspection in order to define the ultimate goal of the musical culture with which we are impregnated (rather than rejecting it with hopes of making it obsolete), we should classify it as what we would nowadays call post-modernism : to restore subjectivity to inspiration, to forsake the auto-censorship of systems and modes, to isregard the twiddley bits of modernity and the propagandist language of its justifications in order to rediscover Adorno’s cherished “veracity of art”.
Fifth Symphony (1980/82) The fact that Silvestrov restores subjectivity to inspiration is beautifully illustrated by the Fourth Symphony that marks the end of this second period. The Fifth Symphony (subtitled Postsinfonia) is an even better example. It is an extensive orchestral monologue whose successive episodes simultaneously avoid the typical post-Chostakovitch melodrama and Pärt or Kancheli’s dreamy stillness. Nevertheless, the oeuvre does convey a similar “lethargy of time”, the slow nostalgic reflection on an impossible whole. Silvestrov states that “music is not a philosophy, a world view, a Weltanschaung. Above all, it is a chant, a song the world sings about itself, it is the musical testimony to life.” Thus, the pathetic quest for a metaphysical meaning and a tragic mysticism (in the words of Silvestrov’s friend of Ukrainian origin, composer and conductor Virko Baley)(*1) is magnified. It is “after-music”, “end-music”, music from beyond and not introductory music. It is a unifying synthesis and not a mosaic, it is the music of an affect who is swept off his feet and does not look back, it is not the music of an intellectual who constantly seeks to correct himself. Silvestrov,who had been composing spectral and modernist music long before these notions were moulded into modes and concepts, no longer feels the need to commence a composition at the beginning since the contemporary listener has become a memory bank of the music he has already heard.What matters is the accomplishment of the oeuvre in its final estuary. What has already been expressed, tersely and concisely, in the coda of traditional forms, comes to cover the entire composition, with a total running time of up to forty-five minutes, as is the case with this Fifth Symphony. In other words, Silvestrov’s symphonies are to be perceived as the musical and eschatological coda of great implicit symphonies that silently exist within the auditor’s conscience, but which have not yet been completed. Room remains for an epilogue, a postlude that is worthy of this symphony of symphonies, an ending which both postulates and glorifies its meaning.The fact that the references to this dream-like symphony are often of the Mahlerian variety is made obvious by the hardly disguised reminders : recitatives for trombone, melodic patterns with declining profiles, arpeggio-accompaniment, prolonged descents toward silence.The listener who allows himself to be swept away will discover, beyond the boundaries of that which has already been mentioned, how the singular power of a metamusic never heard before, captures new emotional dimensions and provides new evidence of beauty.
Exegi Monumentum (1985/87) Naturally, such an aestheticism is vulnerable in the present context of dogmatic criticism for which innovation is possible only by disavowing the past and by refusing everything that might inspire spontaneous adhesion on behalf of the public (*3). Seized by a premonition with regard to criticism that is to be uttered a decade later, Silvestrov already formulates his personal answer by writing Exegi Monumentum (1985/87), a symphony for baritone and orchestra, written on a poem by Puskhin. In its turn, this partition constitutes a kind of epilogue to the Fifth Symphony. Dedicated to the memory of one of his friends, painter Grigori Gravilenko, it deals with the problem which is common to all poets,musicians and painters, viz. the life and survival of his work in the face of the indifference or hostility that often surrounds it.The title is the translation in Latin of Puskhin’s first words : “I have completed a monument”. What will become of it, what kind of reception can I expect for an oeuvre that was so lovingly written ? The answer lies in the closing stanza : Whether or not people speak kindly of you, Do not expect them to laurel you, do not worry about prejudice And do not argue against stupidity. Frans C Lemaire
(*1) Features on a Megadisc-CD (MDC 7842), released in 1997, recorded in Kiev with the collaboration of both the Kiev Camerata Ensemble, conducted by Virko Baley, and the Dumka national choir, conducted by Evgueni Savchuk. (*2) Eschatology: according to etymological sources, it is the discourse on “the ultimate”. Eschatology concerns itself with the final individual or collective goals. Silvestrov is in search of a musical equivalent, viz. an Eschatophony. It may even be the only possible eschatology, since music does not operate like a semantic language, it can replace a hollow flood of words by its metalanguage, nonsensical but loaded with meaning.. (*3) The success that befalls certain Russian musicians from the second half of the twentieth century is still an object of ridicule for P. Boulez. In 1996, Boulez dubs Chostakovitch’ and Schnittke’s music “fast food of inferior quality” or “the Telemann and Méhul of the twentieth century”. Stimulated by this intellectual acuity, a whirlwind of criticism gives short shrift to important composers such as Sofia Goubaidulina (“very disputable success”) and V. Silvestrov (“minimalist”) without further justification.This justification can be found, however, in J.N. von der Weid’s Music of the Twentieth Century, a pocket with a wide circulation (Hachette Pluriel, Paris, 1997). It features eight full pages on a spectral epigone of a musician whose music is performed less than once in every 10,000 concerts in countries such as Germany or Great Britain. The situation in France is different of course.