On Russian Music

On Russian Music

On Russian Music

On Russian Music

Synopsis

Over the past four decades, Richard Taruskin's publications have redefined the field of Russian-music study. This volume gathers thirty-six essays on composers ranging from Bortnyansky in the eighteenth century to Tarnopolsky in the twenty-first, as well as all of the famous names in between. Some of these pieces, like the ones on Chaikovsky's alleged suicide and on the interpretation of Shostakovich's legacy, have won fame in their own right as decisive contributions to some of the most significant debates in contemporary musicology. An extensive introduction lays out the main issues and a justification of Taruskin's approach, seen both in the light of his intellectual development and in that of the changing intellectual environment, which has been particularly marked by the end of the cold war in Europe.

Excerpt

This book shares its title with another. Its namesake, Gerald Abraham’s On Russian Music: Critical and Historical Studies of Glinka’s Operas, Balakirev’s Works, etc., with chapters dealing with Compositions by Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Glazunov, and various other aspects of Russian Music, was published in 1939 and has been a foundational part of my personal musical consciousness since about 1958, when as a high-school student I began to frequent the New York Public Library’s circulating music branch (then located on East 58th Street in Manhattan) in hopes of slaking what was becoming a tormenting thirst to learn, and learn about, every composer’s every composition.

Abraham’s book was like this one in two distinct ways. It covered a lot of the same ground. Here too one will find mention of Glinka, Balakirev, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky (here spelled Chaikovsky in keeping with a personal quirk of the present author, who cannot abide reminders of the former dependent status of Anglophone musicography on that of the continent; if we’re past Tchekhov, why not get past Tchaikovsky?), Mussorgsky (spelled Musorgsky in accordance with the Russian orthography; the English—or is it just American?—word “busing,” once a battle cry in Boston, refutes the alleged spelling rule that mandated the double “s”), and Glazunov, though there is as much or more here about Prokofieff (spelled that way, like Rachmaninoff, because that is how the composer spelled it during his years abroad), Shostakovich, and their contemporaries—composers who (but for a single contribution to the Allied war effort, a 1943 booklet called Eight Soviet Composers) never interested Abraham, for reasons, then widely shared, that are well spelled out in the one exceptional book.

The other way in which my book resembles Abraham’s is in the fact that they both consist of recycled material: articles previously published in . . .

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