Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rimsky-Korsakov: Symphony #3

Today we'll cover the third of Rimsky-Korsakov's three symphonies, yet another of his works that, surprisingly, tends to be unknown by most classical music listeners.
Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

3 Symphonies; Capriccio espagnol; Russian Easter Overture
Deutsche Grammophon, 1988

I've talked about Rimsky-Korsakov twice before (see Scheherazade and Symphonies 1 and 2) , but I haven't yet talked about his Brucknerian self-consciousness, a trait that sadly seems all too common among the great classical music composers. In his own autobiography, entitled My Musical Life, he described himself as a "dilettante" who was "undeservedly accepted at the [St. Petersburg] Conservatory as a professor."

All three of his symphonies were written before age 30, and each was revised mercilessly by the sheepishly embarrassed composer. And, as we saw with Bruckner, no one hears his works in their original form.

Rimsky-Korsakov's Third Symphony was composed in 1873, but was heavily revised in the years 1884-1886. And after finishing his Third, Rimsky-Korsakov dropped symphonic composition and for the rest of his life he wrote mostly operas, all of which remain obscure and are almost never performed for modern audiences.

Listener notes on Rimsky-Korsakov's Symphony #3:
1) This symphony is surprisingly easy to play; in fact it could be capably performed by any above-average community band. The parts don't sound technically or physically demanding (and the trumpet parts sound particularly easy). Just goes to show that you can make gripping, beautiful music without torturing your musicians.

2) Note the unusual meter in the second movement? The sense that there's an extra beat or note in every measure comes from the fact that the movement is in a fast 5/4 time. R-K's choice of meter adds extra stress and tension to what would otherwise be a calming, beautiful movement. It's an interesting device.

3) Listen to the rich voices and layers of sound throughout the third movement. It's shocking to me that this symphony isn't more popular. To me, it's just as beautiful as any Mahler or Bruckner symphony. And yet in my otherwise exceptional music reference book,Rimsky-Korsakov's Third Symphony doesn't even warrant a mention.

Stay tuned for one last post on Rimsky-Korsakov, where we'll discuss his Russian Easter Festival Overture and his Capriccio Espagnol.

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