Nov. 15, 2021Print | PDF
Armenian-Soviet composer and conductor, Aram Khachaturian was born in Tbilisi, the county of Georgia and later moved to Moscow, where he studied at the Moscow Conservatory. Khachaturian’s musical contributions include three symphonies, ballet music to Spartacus and Gayane (later of which includes the famous “Sabre Dance”), film scores, and numerous concertos, including the widely-performed 1940 violin concerto. The composer is perhaps best known for his use of folk music and sensuous melodies, the inspiration for which he drew from his childhood, life events, people, and Armenian and Georgian songs and dances. In early 1950s he taught at the Moscow Conservatory and the Gnessin Institute, and later, in 1957, became the Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers.
In 1948, The Central Committee of the Communist Party accused Khachaturian, along with other Soviet composers including Prokofiev and Shostakovich, of writing “formalist music”—music that went against the Soviet ideal. Khachaturian responded to the charges, stating “I want to warn those comrades who, like myself, hoped that their music, which is not understood by the people today, will be understood by future generations tomorrow. . . What can be higher and nobler than writing music understandable to our people and to give joy by creative art to millions?”
Khachaturian composed incidental music for a 1941 production entitled Masquerade. A few years later, in 1944, the composer formed a stand-alone symphonic suite containing five movements from the original production. The movements are based on romances and dances and include a hauntingly-dark Waltz in a minor key, a nostalgic and mournful Nocturne featuring a solo violin, a stately and upbeat Mazurka, a film noir-like Romance with a legato and sustained melody heard in a solo trumpet, and a final fast and quirky Galop.
Steve Danyew’s music has been hailed as “startlingly beautiful” and “undeniably well crafted and communicative” by the Miami Herald, and has been praised as possessing “sensitivity, skill and tremendous sophistication” by the Kansas City Independent.
Danyew (b. 1983) is the recipient of numerous national and international awards for his work, and his compositions have been performed throughout the world in venues such as the Sydney Opera House, the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and the steps of the US Capitol. Danyew’s recent work Into the Silent Land was named the winner of the 2019 Walter Beeler Memorial Composition Prize. Three of his compositions for wind band are featured in Volume 11 of Teaching Music Through Performance in Band (GIA).
In addition to composing, Danyew is a passionate educator who teaches courses focused on helping young musicians craft their own creative careers at the Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership. He is the contributing author for the 2nd edition of Ramon Ricker’s book Lessons from a Street-Wise Professor: What You Won’t Learn at Most Music Schools (Soundown, 2018). He is also a frequent guest composer and lecturer at schools throughout the United States.
Danyew received a B.M., Pi Kappa Lambda from the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami and holds an M.M. in Composition and Certificate in Arts Leadership from the Eastman School of Music. Additionally, Danyew has served as a Composer Fellow at the Yale Summer Music School with Martin Bresnick, and as a Composer Fellow at the Composers Conference in Wellesley, MA with Mario Davidovsky.
For more information on the composer, visit: https://www.stevedanyew.com/
Hear the composer talk about the piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iO-DvG721yY&t=1s
About 300 years ago, Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi created The Four Seasons, a set of four violin concerti that would become one of the most famous pieces of classical music that we have today. Along with the music, Vivaldi included short poems about each season. The poems for Spring, Autumn and Winter are largely joyful, celebrating the unique qualities of each season and painting a vivid scene for the reader. It seems that Vivaldi is celebrating nature and the life of each season.
Then, interestingly (especially given our 21st century understanding of climate change) the poem for Summer is much darker. There is almost nothing positive mentioned – nothing redeeming to this season of harsh sun and burning trees. A shepherd fears that damaging storms are ahead and the poem ends with the sky opening, dropping hail that destroys the crops of the field.
Vivaldi could not have known what was in store for us, 300 years later, as human-caused climate change has accelerated at a rapid pace in recent decades. By all accounts, the human race has not taken the threat seriously and has delayed acting.
Today, in 2021, we find ourselves in a crisis.
It is my hope that this work provides a space to contemplate what has already been lost and what will be lost in the future if our society continues to respond to the climate crisis with apathy.
David Wallace-Wells opens his book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming with this sentence: “It is worse, much worse, than you think.” He goes on to state that this century, the planet is facing a rise in temperature of 3-5 degrees Celsius, which could render entire areas of the United States, Africa, Asia and others unlivable. This century.
We are learning that climate change will affect every aspect of human life, not just rising sea levels. Climate change will cause mass migrations of people who can no longer live in the hottest areas of the world. It will cause crop shortages, increased wildfires, more hurricanes, more disease, more heat waves, lower air quality, economic collapse, more conflict. (Wallace-Wells, 2020)
In the foreword to the book, The Fragile Earth, David Remnick notes, “It is now generally agreed among biologists that another mass extinction is under way…it is estimated that, if current trends continue, by the end of this century as many as half of earth’s species will be gone.”
In the 1989 essay "The End of Nature,” Bill McKibbin argues that humans have conquered nearly every corner of the earth and plundered its resources so quickly that the end of nature as we know it is upon us.
McKibbin writes, “The problem is that nature, the independent force that has surrounded us since our earliest days, cannot coexist with our numbers and our habits. We may well be able to create a world that can support our numbers and our habits, but it will be an artificial world—a space station. Or, just possibly, we could change our habits.”
This piece not only reflects on the current and future loss of nature as we know it, but also contemplates the ravaged, desperate civilization that might inhabit the earth just a few short generations from now if we are unable to slow or reverse the widening impacts of climate change.
The music here is original–I chose not to use any of Vivaldi’s music. Yet in the spirit of Vivaldi’s poems that accompany The Four Seasons, I included a short poem, written by my wife, Ashley Danyew, for each of the three movements. The poems continue the story that Vivaldi began in his sonnet for Summer.
The music is organized into three movements. The first, “Procession of Heat and Fire” reflects upon the slow warming of the earth and the impacts of increased wildfires. The music paints a dichotomy–the simultaneous beauty of the earth, and the anguish caused by warming. The second movement, “Water Chorale” focuses on another dichotomy–the importance of water to our survival and the impacts of melting ice, rising seas, water scarcity, hurricanes, and other water-related challenges. The final movement, “Quiet (The End of Nature)” reflects on the loss of species (current and future) to climate change.
Recognized for his symphonic music, Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed ballets, such as Swan Lake, The Nutcraker, and Sleeping Beauty, as well as numerous operas, overtures, a violin concerto, and six symphonies. Though not a member of the Russian Mighty Five, Tchaikovsky achieved international reputation and success throughout Russia, Europe, and North America.
However, what makes Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music so recognizable and memorable? Tchaikovsky was a master of classical form and musical style and also quoted Russian folk songs in his music. Though his writing is tonal, pleasing to the ear, and has clear phrasing, the composer expanded the color and timbre of the orchestra, exploring the use of the orchestral instruments in different and unexpected ways. For example, strings often provide underlying rhythmic drive and accompaniment while the wind instruments present main melodic ideas. Other times the development section is extended by further developing smaller motifs within a particular section.
Tchaikovsky’s range of orchestration can go from dark and mysterious to full, bright, and triumphant in any given moment. His musical style contains dramatic melodies which can only be described as an endless surge of emotions and outward angst. Sudden crescendos, diminuendos, rubatos, as well as drastic tempo changes enhance his symphonic writing and present a wide range of emotions. Finally, there is an underlying rush of adrenaline that is present throughout various fast-note passages that weave seamlessly from one instrument to another. Melodic phrases are prolonged with motifs being layered on top of one another, creating a rich, sonorous, and complex texture. Such elements and characteristics of Tchaikovsky’s orchestration can be observed in his Symphony no. 5.
Symphony no. 5, op. 64 was composed in 1888 with Tchaikovsky conducting the premiere performance on November 17 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. The clarinet begins the symphony with a slow and solemn minor theme. This theme reappears in various forms, characters, and instruments, becoming a central theme to reoccur throughout the four movements. The slow, second movement features a nostalgic melody played by a solo horn, while the third movement is a graceful waltz with a lively scherzo trio section. The final movement commences with the central theme, now in a major tonality in the strings, and concludes with a triumphant and stately march.
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