Pianist Boris Giltburg performs Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Medtner, Scriabin et Stravinsky

Boris Giltburg performs Rachmaninoff's Variations on a theme by Corelli, his transcription of Shostakovich's Quartet no.8, Nicolaï Medtner's sonata no.10 , Scriabin's Piano sonata no.5 , and three movements from Petrushka. Concert recorded on 4 November 2017 at the Auditorium of Radio France.

Auditorium, Maison de la Radio, Paris

Concert given by Boris Giltburg on 4 November 2017 for the weekend "1917 Russian Revolution".

1917: barely at the close of the Revolution, Anatoli Lounatcharski and the Narkompros (the People's Commissariat for Education, P.C.E.) took over the matters of culture and education. As Rachmaninoff hurried to leave the country, the P.C.E. took control of the Muzo, the musical department headed by Arthur Lourié. A musical studio was founded within the Moscow Theater, placed under the authority of Vladimir Nemirovitch Dantchenko.

However, popular aspirations quickly turned into a destructive folly; ultra-chromatic composer and theorist, Arseny Avraamov opined that all pianos should be burned so as to free the people from Bach's well-tempered system, the "greatest culprit of history", whose music had warped permanently the musical senses.

For years, alongside Sergueï Dianine and Evgueni Sholpo at the Leonardo da Vinci Society, Avraamov advocated a fusion of the arts and sciences, the use of the latest technology, machines and mechanical orchestras associated with cinematic projections, better suited to the work and lifestyles of his day. In 1922, orchestral hierarchies were overthrown with the idea of an ensemble without a leader: the Persimfans. The rise of worker choirs was swift, and the growing influence of radio broadcasting was increasingly felt. Between 1919 and 1923, in Novgorod, Rostov, Bakou, and Moscow, the principal order was to conquer towns through impressive spectacles. Marked by “Textonoti" [text-scores] and indications by the composer using coloured flags from his platform, Avraamov’s Symphony of Factory Sirens celebrated the memory of the October Revolution. Factory and ship sirens were used alongside artillery canons, infantry regiment weapons, hydroplanes, locomotives, trucks and other “magisterial” whistling machines, all performing the Internationale. Spectators were also invited to sing along following instructions published in the local paper, with descriptions of each intervention, the name of the songs performed by the fanfare, and the victorious exclamations.

Naturally, a great number of works appeared, paying homage to the events: composed so as to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution, Shostakovich’s Symphony no.11 recalled above all the events twelve years before, in 1905, during the first Bolshevik revolution, starting point of the following conflict. Songs reminisced the fate of political opponents of the previous century, followed by references notably to the prayer sung by Lenin and his exiled brothers when they first learned of the disastrous Red Sunday, on 22 January 1905, when the army opened fire on a crowd of protesters.

The Revolution introduced a new era for music: a century later, it is necessary to count the victims and profiteers. Though the situation was clear. One need only examine the troubling career of Tikhon Khrennikov: at the head of a plenipotentiary institution, he undoubtedly decided the fate of his peers, but appears to have been no more than a relative obstacle for Shostakovich, whose Piano Quintet and Symphony no.7 were awarded the Stalin Prize. Khrennikov was also a victim of censorship, most notably for an opera, though he was widely defended by various musicians, above all Mstislav Rostropovitch, who performed his first cello concerto. 

Confirmed in his role in 1986 and 1991, he experienced an unexpected longevity, in particular when considering the fact he condemned seven young musicians during the Sixth Congress of the Composers' Union in 1979, the only pretext being the unapproved performance of their works in the West! The accused (Elena Firsova, Dimitri Smirnov, Alexander Knayfel, Viktor Suslin, Wiacheslav Artyomov, Sofia Gubaidulina et Edison Denisov) long remembered this ruling, a sad echo of the convictions in 1948. Can we, today, judge Tikhon Khrennikov without running the risk of mistaking the intentions of the man? Judge the music by removing it from its terrifying context? Understand the work without the unbearable urgency of its time? 

Text by François-Gildas Tual