Wednesday Music: Mussorgsky’s ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’

Wednesday Music is back, everyone! Since the poll I conducted last week was overwhelmingly in favor of it—well, it’s here to stay, at least for a while.

This week’s piece is Modest Mussorgsky’s “The Great Gate of Kiev.” Here’s a bit about it.

  • This piece is actually part of a larger work Mussorgsky wrote for piano called Pictures at an Exhibition. It is made up of ten movements and five promenades, for a total of fifteen parts.
  • The original name of this piece in Russian isn’t actually “The Great Gate of Kiev.” It’s usually translated into other languages that way—for example, in French, it’s called La grande porte de Kiev. The Russian title is Богатырские ворота (В стольном городе во Киеве). That more closely means “The bogatyrs’ gate in the capital city in Kiev.” A bit wordy, for sure!
  • Even though this piece was written for piano, the video I have embedded below is an arrangement for orchestra. I usually try to go with whatever the composer intended when I choose the videos—as in, if it was written for piano, I’ll find the piano version—but I really wanted to share an arrangement this time because I played this piece in youth orchestra years ago. I’ve actually never listened to the piano version.

Enjoy!

Click here to listen on YouTube.

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Wednesday Music: Khachaturian’s Waltz from ‘Masquerade’

You guys, I discovered this piece recently and immediately loved it, so obviously I said to myself that I just had to share it with my blog readers. The piece in question is the Waltz from Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade. I’d never heard about it until a couple of weeks ago, so all the facts I researched were new to me, too. Here’s a bit about it.

  • This piece is a bit—okay, a lot—more modern than what I usually post since it was written in 1941. By my standards of posting pieces from the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries, that’s practically yesterday! 😉
  • Khachaturian wrote this as incidental music for a production of a play in the USSR. The play was also called Masquerade and was written by Mikhail Lermontov, one of my favorite authors. (He wrote the excellent novel A Hero of Our Time, which I greatly enjoyed.)
  • Later on, Khachaturian extended the music he wrote into five movements to make a symphonic suite. What I’m posting is just the first movement of the suite, the waltz.

Enjoy!

Or click here to see on YouTube.

The Coolest Video on YouTube

You guys, I’ve discovered what just may be the coolest video on YouTube.

That’s quite a claim to make, so let me explain. My readers probably know I’m very interested in the Russian Empire. (Obsessed may be a better word!) While browsing the blog of a person I’ve talked to on Goodreads who, judging by her reading choices, seems to share the obsession, I found this amazing video embedded in a post. It’s a recording the voice of Tsar Nicholas II.

Tsar Nicholas II died in July 1918 (which means I need to prepare a post in commemoration of him since that’s coming up next month), so recording technology was in its infancy back then. The quality of the recording is horrible, but you can clearly hear his voice. First, here is the video:

Here’s a transcription of what’s going on, For reference, a person named Lieutenant-General Baron von Eck Eduard Vladimirovich is commanding the parade in honor of the tsar’s birthday. Also, I am unsure what year this recording was made.

0:01 – 0:04: Lt. Gen. Edward V. Eck:
“Listen to (inaudible)! Brothers! I drink to the health of our dear Sovereign Leader Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich [i.e. Tsar Nicholas II]! Hurrah!”

0:39 – 0:41: Children’s voices, probably the tsar’s son Aleksei:
“Hurrah Hurrah!”

0:05 – 1:02: The orchestra plays the national anthem of the Russia Empire.

1:03 – 1:12: Lt. Gen. Edward V. Eck:
“To the ceremonial march – rifle on his shoulder! Quick march!”

1:13 – 1:48: The orchestra plays military march, “Homesickness.”

1:49 – 1:53: Tsar Nicholas II:
“Brothers! Thank you for the nice parade!”

2:08 – 2:13: Tsar Nicholas II:
“Thank you, brothers, for a excellent apprenticeship!”

If that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is. Now you know what the last tsar’s voice sounded like. You may not have been wondering… but I was! It’s the prerogative of a historian to wonder such things.

This Day In History, 1941: Operation Barbarossa Commences

On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It was a decision from which Hitler would never recover, though he was too dumb to know it at the time.

German soldiers in the Soviet Union, June 1941. Source.

In Hitler’s defense (I never thought I’d write those words!), maybe the Soviet Union didn’t look so strong. I know the Germans thought it would collapse like a house of cards. Plus, Stalin had purged many of the competent officers in the Red Army, so I suppose it may not have been so farfetched to think this. Still, Hitler must have thought himself immune to the problems Napoleon experienced when he attempted to invade Russia. (If you need a refresher, things didn’t go so well for Napoleon, either. His failure in Russia contributed to his eventual defeat.)

Most importantly, Operation Barbarossa opened up the Eastern Front of the war, which ensured Nazi Germany would be fighting a war on two fronts. Obviously, this didn’t work out so well for them.

In addition to a military operation, the Nazis also sent the Einsatzgruppen into the Soviet Union as well. The Einsatzgruppen were death squads who shot people—specifically, unarmed civilians—in cold blood. There have been many academic works on the Einsatzgruppen and they make for grim reading. Richard Rhodes’ Masters of Death is the one that immediately comes to mind for me.

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Hitler’s notorious Commissar Order, which ordered the immediate execution of any Soviet political commissars captured. The order also called for any prisoners who were “thoroughly bolshevized” to be shot as well. This actually made the Soviets fight harder—often to the death—because they knew they faced certain death if they surrendered.

I’ll leave you with a recording of an old Soviet song called Двадцать второго июня, ровно в 4 часа [On the 22 of June at 4 in the morning]. This song is about the Nazi invasion of the USSR. The song is basically about the Germans invading and the Soviet arising to defend their homeland. Despite my love for all things imperial Russia-related, I quite like this song.

Wednesday Music: Gounod’s ‘Fantasy on the Russian National Hymn’

This post may be a little late, but you know what they say: better late than never. Plus, it is still Wednesday where I reside, even though it’s already Thursday for my European and Australian and Asian readers. (I don’t think I have any readers in Africa, but if I do, I know it’s Thursday there, too.) Anyway, I haven’t done a Wednesday Music post in a really long time, so I am so excited to post today because I have found the most fabulous piece of music. It’s called Fantaisie sur l’Hymne National Russe (Fantasy on the Russian National Hymn) by Charles Gounod and it is simply glorious.

I wrote earlier this week about my love for the tsarist national anthem and if you like that anthem, you’ll probably like this piece. Gounod basically built the entire thing on the melody of the national anthem. If you listen to a recording of the anthem, then this piece, you can clearly hear the melody right from the start. Here’s a bit about it.

  • Gounod wrote this fantasy in 1885. No one is certain how or why he chose the national anthem of the Russian Empire as his theme, but I’m certainly glad he did. Maybe he was a Russophile and we just don’t know that…
  • The piece premiered on November 16, 1885. Lucie Palicot, to whom it was dedicated, played it, accompanied by Gounod himself on the piano.
  • The orchestral version premiered in February 1886. The brass instruments and the piano have the theme most of the time.

Seriously, everyone, this is almost as great as Tchaikovsky’s Slavonic March.

Enjoy!

Or click here to see on YouTube.

Wednesday Music: Arensky’s ‘Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky’

You guys, it’s been ages since I put up a Wednesday Music post! I kept forgetting, even though I’ve had this piece on my mind for a little while now. It’s composer Anton Arensky’s Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, Op. 35a. Here’s a bit about it.

  • Arensky, a composer I’ve never heard of, wrote this piece to Tchaikovsky in 1894, the year after Tchaikovsky died.
  • It’s based on a theme Tchaikovsky wrote in a piece called “Legend: Christ in His Garden,” which is part of Sixteen Children’s Songs.
  • The theme from Arensky’s piece was actually the slow movement of a string quartet he wrote. When the quartet was performed, everyone loved the slow movement so much that Arensky arranged it as a separate piece for string orchestra, which is what you’ll hear if you play the video below.

Enjoy!

Or click here to see on YouTube.

Wednesday Music: Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain’

I know, it’s been a while since I posted Wednesday Music… but it is back, dear readers. Today’s piece is kind of frightening, which is appropriate for the month of October (even though the theme is technically summer-related, oddly enough). It’s scary to listen to—and to play. I played an arrangement of this back in my youth orchestra days. We played it in the summer, I think, so I guess someone was familiar with the inspiration for it. Anyway, here’s a bit about the piece.

  • Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky wrote this piece on June 23, 1867 on the theme of a Witches’ Sabbath occurring on St. John’s Eve, which (probably not coincidentally) is on June 23 in the Julian calendar. The holiday relates to the Summer Solstice.
  • However, other composers, especially Mussorgsky’s mentor Balakirev, didn’t like the piece and refused to perform it. In fact, the piece was never performed during Mussorgsky’s lifetime.
  • It’s only because of another Russian composer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, that this piece wasn’t completely consigned to oblivion. He copied some of it into his own work and eventually Mussorgsky was finally given credit and his version was performed.

Enjoy… if you dare to listen…

Or click here to see on YouTube.