#1 - Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrucken Leitung: Heinz Holliger (1990 B. Schott's Sohne, Mainz)
#3-4 Tatjana Grindenko, Violine Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrucken Leitung: Heinz Holliger (1990 B. Schott's Sohne, Mainz)
Recorded: 18 june 1990
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The old dispute as to whether biographical information about authors or composers is useful or even essential for an understanding of their works is easily resolved in the case of Nicolai Roslavec. It is almost impossible to find an important event or decision in his life that was not intimately connected to the social conditions and political upheavals of his homeland. Roslavec grew up in czarist Russia and played a vital role in the cultural renewal of the early Soviet Union, but he was then to be one of the victims of this revolution which devoured its own children. Thus it is futile to speculate what course his life might have taken had Roslavec managed in time to free himself from the relentless machinery of the revolution and continue his artistic development in exile, as did composers such as Arthur Lourie, Nicolai Obuchov and Ivan Wyschnegradsky, or the painters Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall.
Roslavec was born in the Ukrainian town of Duschatin in 1880 (on December 23, 1880 according to the Julian calendar, on January 4, 1881 according to the Gregorian or Western calendar, respectively) -six years after Schoenberg, one year after Bartok and two years before Stravinsky. His early musical instruction was unsystematic but he was accepted as a student at the Moscow Conservatory, from which he graduated in 1912, having studied violin with Jan Hrimaly and composition with Sergei Vassilenko. The cultural climate in the capital must have been exhilarating for the young musician. His generation enthusiastically espoused new artistic currents, following with particular interest the bold proclamations of the Italian Futurists such as Marinetti, Pratella and Russolo. On the occasion of the St. Petersburg Futurist symposium in 1914, a Russian group including the composer Arthur Lourie confidently presented their own manifesto, Our Answer to Marinetti. Roslavec, too, who had already composed In the Hours of the New Moon in 1910, was intensely involved in this discussion and exploration of new compositional techniques. It was believed that the use of four, five and six-tone chords in constantly changing transpositions would more spontaneously and effectively make use of the twelve-tone space, free of traditional tonal restraints. Under the influence of Ferruccio Busoni the demand for the inclusion of micro-intervals was also soon heard. Roslavec's compositional output in these years was prolific. He produced songs, works for piano and chamber music in quick succession.
At first the political upheavals in the revolutionary year of 1917 seemed to provide new stimulation for Roslavec, who was by this time 37 years old. Lenin had placed the visionary writer and art critic Anatoly Lunacharsky, a friend of the poets Maxim Gorki and Vladimir Mayakovsky, in charge of education and cultural politics, thus opening the door for astonishing avant-garde experiments. Roslavec directed the conservatory in the Ukrainian city of Charkow before being summoned to Moscow for a position at the state music publishing house. Starting in 1924 Roslavec edited the innovative periodical Muzykalnaya Kultura, he directed the influential "Political Department" of the publishing house, and as one of the leaders of the Association for Contemporary Music he was a determined champion of the music of Western composers such as Schoenberg and Stravinsky. It is interesting to note that a concert celebrating the tenth anniversary of the revolution featured Roslavec's cantata October together with Shostakovich's second Symphony, Dedication to October, which had been commissioned by the Political Department. 1927 also saw the publication of a piano reduction of Roslavec's Violin Concerto No. 1, which he had completed two years earlier.
The political situation soon grew darker, with inevitable consequences for the cultural life of the country. Lunacharsky left his position in 1929 and died shortly thereafter. The revolutionary poet Mayakovsky's fears that the old Philistines would return in socialist guise were soon confirmed.
Radical Stalinist advocates of "proletarian" music demanded the proscription of all "bourgois-formalist" art and attempted to force many progressive artists to change their attitudes as well as the style and content of their works. Roslavec was by no means spared in this witch-hunt, being forced to denounce his earlier artistic convictions. In 1930 the magazine Proletarian Music published an "explanation" which Roslavec had been required to deliver before a committee for the "purification of the Party apparatus". There followed years of extreme isolation in Tashkent, the remote capital of the Soviet republic of Usbekistan. Brought back to Moscow to train military band leaders, he died in the year 1944. All of his later work remained unpublished. Today the archives are being opened, revealing compositional documents which shed new light on a little-known period of musical history.
In the Hours of the New Moon Tone Poem for Orchestra
In the years between 1910 and 1920, it was not difficult for a young Russian composer to acquire the reputation of being a "Scriabinist". This was much like the tendency in Western countries to apply the labels "Debussyist" or "Impressionist" to any work that did not utilize conventional triadic or cadential forms, or which did not exhibit easily perceived periodic structures. Roslavec also fought against such simple generalizations, though in the case of his tone poem his arguments were not particularly strong. This work, composed in 1910, does avoid tonal resolutions for the most part, attempting also to eschew the "march-like" effect of regular metrical structures. And yet the thirty-year-old composer did not yet have a clear enough harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary at his command to completely compensate for the loss of these elements. The kinship to Scriabin is especially clear in the outer sections of this large, one-movement work, where the signal motif is intoned by the trumpet (at Number 7 in the score) or by horn and trombone (at Number 40), an unmistakable reference to the Impehoso trumpet fanfare in the Poem of Ecstasy (1905- 07).
The title, In the Hours of the New Moon, is possibly a poetic quotation, though Roslavec was not specific about this. The piece begins in vague darkness, and recognizable thematic forms only gradually appear. Their contours are sharpened until finally they are presented in the brightest light. The two spacious outer Lento sections surround a central section (Allegro-Presto-Allegro) which has the character of a Scherzo. Short motivic elements are repeatedly joined together and, through sequential transformations of rising intensity, built into dynamic climaxes. Roslavec shows himself to be adept at a kind of music which is flowing and concerned with elements of color, music which is less interested in the delineation of continuous formal contours than with an abundance of magnificent musical figures.
Apparently this work for a large symphony orchestra was never performed in Roslavec's lifetime. After far too many years of storage in the Central State Archives for Literature and Art it was finally heard on 14 June 1990 in a performance organized by the Saarbrucken Radio. This recording was made subsequent to the world premiere.
Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra
The fate of this work between its conception and eventual first performance was a true odyssey, as Detlef Gojowy points out in his fascinating program notes for the German premiere in Saarbrucken. Composed in 1925, while Roslavec still held a position of responsibility at the State Music Publishing House, it was published two years later in the common form of a reduction for violin and piano. Two more years passed before the work was first publicly performed, though in this reduced form, at a 1929 concert in Moscow sponsered by the Association for Contemporary Music. After Roslavec's death, the orchestral score was believed to be lost, like so many of his other manuscripts. As critical interest in these important documents of recent Russian musical history began to reawaken in the 1960s and 1970s, the well-known composer Edison Denisov even considered reconstructing the orchestral version from the piano reduction, which had been preserved and which continued to receive occasional isolated performances. Happily, however, the orchestral score was rediscovered and in the autumn of 1989, more than six decades after its composition, the work was finally presented in its original form. Since then, the Concerto has been performed many times around the world, in large measure due to the untiring commitment of the violinist Tatyana Grindenko.
Roslavec's method of deliberately employing "thematic" chords (which he called synthetic chords] is masterfully displayed in this concerto. Often the solo part is formed from the notes of one chord, while the rich orchestral accompaniment counters with another chord. Sections of rather immobile chord structure alternate with others in which the chordally determined musical material flys rapidly past. The earlier Scriabinist is still recognizable in the strictly controlled use of such tonal centers. But Roslavec's new mastery of a more concise, virtuosic and elegant musical language is unmistakable. Only occasionally, as in the finale, does the composer become rather too involved with elaborate schemes of transposition and repetition.
Equally unmistakable is Roslavec's decision to balance the piece's daring harmonic innovations with a relatively traditional formal structure: that of the familiar Classical-Romantic Concerto in three movements. Two energetic movements with concertante elements surround a slow and emotional middle movement which is, however, closely connected to the first movement by the recitative-like solo cadenza. It is true that in the Violin Concerto the earlier high-flying futurist dreams have for the most part been replaced by a more down-to-earth classicism. But this music, too, particularly in the first movement where there are certain similarities to Alban Berg's Lulu (at Nos. 9 and 26 in the score), enters into realms of expression where Roslavec seems to have achieved his old dream: in a moment of the greatest human intellectual tension ... to bring the unconscious into conscious form.
-Klaus Schweizer (English translation by W. Richard Rieves)