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PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal

The Impact of Literature-Centric Concepts on the Development of Boris Tischenko's Symphonic Creativeness in the 1960s

Serov Yurii Eduardovich

PhD in Art History

Lecturer and master of the student symphony orchestra at St.Petersburg music school named after M.P. Mussorgsky

191028, Russia, g. Saint Petersburg, ul. Mokhovaya, 36

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Abstract: The subject of this research is the symphonic creativity of the outstanding late twentieth-century Russian composer Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko (1939–2010). The author studies his works from the 1960s, which were inspired by classical and modern Russian poetry, while focusing on issues such as the interrelation between music and poetry in Tishchenko’s orchestral compositions and the significant influence of literary concepts in the development of his symphonic style. Special attention is given to four of the composer’s outstanding works: The Twelve, a ballet based on Alexander Blok’s poem (1963), Symphony No.2 Marina to Marina Tsvetaeva’s lyrics (1964), Requiem to the poem by Anna Akhmatova, and a piece of dramatic music, The Death of Pushkin (1967). The author arrives at the conclusion that most of Tishchenko’s symphonic creativity was based on his love of literature, words, and the artistic image begotten by literature and poetry. The author’s unique contribution to the research of this topic is a detailed study of Tishchenko's significant symphonic works based on poetry in the 1960s. The scientific novelty of this research is that Tishchenko's literature-centric works are, for the first time, being considered in the context of the development of his symphonic creativity. The article uncovers a strong correlation between the author’s style, the composer’s language, and the non-music influences on his creative process.  


dramaturgy, renewal, symphony, poetry, Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tzvetaeva, Boris Tishchenko, word and music, Alexander Pushkin, vocal art

Having risen early on solid professional rails, Boris Tischenko proved himself to be a tireless innovator, a bold conductor of fresh technological techniques in musical art. He was defined as a large-scale symphonist earlier than others in his generation. Throughout his life, he was faithful to the symphony in its pure and high meaning as an expression of the deep problems and contradictions of modernity. To Tischenko, the symphony is a need; it is a way of existence, life, and music of great content, great ideas, and great significance. In such consistent service to a large orchestral form, he was not equal to other composers of the "sixties," who developed their style in various experimental instrumental compositions. What's more interesting is the close connection of the composer's symphonic creativity with modern poetry, the desire and ability to develop instrumental music based on the semantics of the literary word, poetic images, and the rhythmic expressiveness of poetic lines. Musicologist M. Nestieva, a researcher of young Tischenko's works, noted: "Tischenko's style is multi-component, multidimensional, multifaceted. The cultural tradition, most of all Russian, inspired by a deep moral and ethical meaning, fertilizes his art as a whole. The composer's closest associates are the outstanding masters of the words to whom he addresses – Blok, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva [1, p. 302].

In his notes on the composer schools of St. Petersburg, the chronicler of Leningrad's musical life, Sergei Slonimsky, noted an important trend in Tischenko's early 1960s works: "Boris's aesthetics have undergone a new round of evolution. Having mastered the skills, he returned to literary-centric concepts at a new stage. Following the powerful second symphony 'Marina' (according to Marina Tsvetaeva, 1964), he creates a requiem for Anna Akhmatova's poems" [2, p. 76]. We agree with this brilliant connoisseur of twentieth-century Russian music, but we note that Slonimsky's list lacks another significant work for Tischenko's compositional formation, the ballet Twelve (1963). The score, created based on the poem by Aleksandr Blok, without any doubt, should be attributed to the literary centrist: the music of the young Leningrad author is inspired and thoroughly imbued with Blok's verse and deep poetic meanings.

In 1959, Tischenko met and became friends with Isaak Brodsky, and from that time on, modern poetry and literature wholly and fully entered the composer's life in Tischenko's circle of communication — A. Naiman, E. Rein, Anna Akhmatova. It is not surprising that he chooses bright, bold, unusual, and piercing poetry for his global symphonic responses. Tischenko was the first Soviet composer to create a work based on the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, and the forbidden requiem by Akhmatova gave immense creative possibilities for its musical reading. Still, it did not leave the author a single chance for public performance.

Tischenko's Twelve is the first attempt at a choreographic embodiment of Blok's poem. The composer's task was to find sounds that would help translate the verbal imagery into the language of plastic and shorthand. And the composer created a lot of music, pictorial and visual, quite suitable for solving the task. But Tischenko composes, first of all, a symphonic work based on the poetic word. Rather, the composer is concerned not with the transfer of the ballet script to the musical score but with the implementation of Blok's poem into music. To a certain extent, this makes the score independent; it is suitable for its own concert life.

The speech beginning in the Twelve is palpable; the composer sometimes literally follows Blok's lines. They constantly pop up in the flow of music, controlling it not only in the figurative, semantic, and plot plans but also in the rhythmic-intonation. But this is all Tischenko's instrumental music — it is full of statements and dialogues. He does not shy away from the pictorial and visual beginning; the plasticity of gestures is widely reflected. It is ready to refract any sound manifestation of the external world, but the leading non-musical source is the intonation of human speech, both everyday and poetic. In Twelve, the composer develops these tendencies to the fullest; he constantly reminds us about the sound of the word series, adjusting his own sound series to it. Sometimes it seemed that Tischenko was composing a romance or an opera based on Blok's work, which, of course, was in contradiction with the deep ballet, drama, and choreographic principles. The composer inserts Blok's lines into the score, and they become a kind of "secret sign" in the full-fledged symphonic flow, the author's spiritual cipher. B. Katz, one of the first researchers of Tischenko's creative work, excellently spoke about such a melodic transformation in ballet music: "The intensive development of themes endowed with symbolic meaning gives the music of ballet the features of symphonicity and protects it from illustrativeness. Tischenko's first ballet is marked by an undoubted stamp of talent and the ability to enter into someone else's artistic world without dissolving his own in it" [3, p. 103].

The composer develops the word through music; he relies on it and feeds it with all the possibilities of a large symphony orchestra. However, plunging into literature, being filled with its meanings, poetics, rhythms, and energy, he goes his own way, following the laws of the development of symphonic logic. In the score of Twelve, we find many significant innovations for the composer's orchestral thinking: here, for the first time, total sonorities that later became so familiar appear, here he fearlessly expands the means of his musical language — lively intonation creates new meanings and forms. The horizontal movement of voices, based on mobile thematism, controls the harmonic vertical, leaving open the question of the tonal and atonal in his works. A rich, flexible, plastic metrorhythm (like the breathing of an organism) is the way of his music's existence. The textured appearance is extremely diverse, and the instrumental timbre is independent and turns out to be the most important element of dramatic development.

At the very beginning of the 1960s, Tischenko created his second symphony based on the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva. The very fact of turning to the poet's work, the creation of a choral symphony written in a defiantly modern way, categorically declaring itself, raises global problems is an event in the musical culture of those years. Connecting through Marina Mnishek with the bloody history of Russia, and through Marina Tsvetaeva with the great Russian literature and the tragic events of the Stalinist era, the symphony turned out to be not just surprisingly consonant with the era, but its very part.

In the "Second Symphony," as in the ballet Twelve, Tischenko solves, first of all, immense and serious orchestral tasks. Poetry gives the first important impulse, liberates creative energy, but fades into the background, as the outstanding researcher of modern Russian symphony M. Aranovsky says: "The symphonic scope of the form outgrows the scale of Tsvetaev's lyrics, albeit hyperbolized in its expression, but, in essence, remaining within the framework of an intimate theme. The creative temperament and logic of the once launched mechanism of symphonic development create forms as if independently of the verses" [4, p. 227]. Indeed, the symphony is built between two dramatic poles: the powerful orchestral inflections of the first and second parts of the work – so natural and desirable for the young Tischenko, the opportunities for which were given by the monstrous events of Marina Mnishek's short stay in the thick of Russian history, and the inescapable, all-consuming love lyrics of the finale. Tischenko's talent as a playwright was fully manifested here: a sense of the denouement, the result, a deep understanding of the logic of the form arises only at the very end of the work.

Slonimsky noted that in Tischenko's symphony, powerful alarm sounds, powerful choral arrays, and militant song melodies seem to recreate the fiery pages of Russian history, robber raids, and conflagrations of the Time of Troubles. The relief "heavy-ringing" thematism is close to the dramatic folk scenes of Sergei Prokofiev's War and Peace [5, p. 26]. Aptly defined by his senior colleague, "heavy-sounding" thematism is organically included in Tischenko's symphonism. It will soon manifest itself in "Yaroslavna," the "Sinfonia Robusta," and the "Fourth Symphony."

It is clear that the drama and powerful orchestral sound layers are primarily associated with the first parts of the work, but what about the finale? How does it develop the composer's symphonic creativity? V. Syrov gave a very accurate description of early Tischenko and his work. It helps us to explain the dominant position of the symphony's finale in the cycle: "The exceptional situations in which Tischenkovsky's 'hero' finds himself are nothing but the crucibles of love, tenderness, and beauty of concepts that acquire a new semantic content, a new sound" [6, p.7]. Tischenko gets into the crucible of true love, tenderness, and beauty only in the finale, and only after passing this most serious test can he finally put an end to the score.

In our opinion, we will highlight the main aspect of the "Second Symphony." Here the characteristic feature of Tischenko's symphonism is fully manifested – the desire and ability to reveal and expose the surrounding conflicts and contradictions. The Tischenkovsky sound process is truly non-stop. The composer masterfully recreates any emotional and psychological atmosphere he needs in the sound, hence the variety of techniques and technical solutions. A poetic word is valuable for a composer, but it is only the first impulse, a creative push. Large-scale symphonism quickly outgrows the poetic beginning, but at the same time, remains connected with it by subtle and deep emotional threads. In "Marina," Tischenko solves the most important question not only of his creativity but, perhaps, of the entire musical art of the twentieth century: the question of the degree of subordination of the author's imagination to the musical form. His imagination is unrestrained here; the language is extremely modern, the form is classically clear and deeply connected with good Russian and Soviet symphonism.

In the requiems for Anna Akhmatova's poems, completed in 1966, Tischenko also consistently builds the symphonic form to the highest degree. He thinks precisely about musical drama, boldly reshaping Akhmatova's poem. In the prologue, the main idea of the symphony is proclaimed in the most concentrated form, and its intonation grains are drawn. In the first part of the Requiem, the main images of the work are exposed. In the second part, "Stabat Mater," these images develop on a new emotional and intonational turn. The third part, "In Memoriam and Amen," an expanded epilogue, coinciding in time with Akhmatovsky, is a kind of memorial prayer. It is here that Tishenko brings out the general, catastrophic culmination of the entire composition, but here there is also pacification, calming, and, to some extent, catharsis. The image of Akhmatova herself (and Tischenko, without any doubt, composes a poem about the life of Anna Andreevna) is at the heart of the symphony. In its second part, it is here that he has a woman in the foreground – a mother and a wife.

The total number of parts in the Requiem is curious; along with the prologue and the final Amen, there are seventeen of them. This figure is not accidental; it originated from Akhmatova's lines and is from the poet's life: "I've been screaming for seventeen months, / Calling you home, / Throwing myself at the executioner's feet, / You are my son and my horror." Tischenko's compositional intelligence is characterized by secret writing. He is a big fan of mathematical and musical tasks. In the Requiem, the author gives enough reasons for thinking on this topic.

The two solo voices in the Requiem — soprano and tenor — embody the images of mother and son. Here the composer's logic contradicts the poetic. Akhmatova's narration is conducted on behalf of a woman — mother and wife. Tischenko needs diverse timbres for a brighter stage embodiment of the text, dramatic development, and vocal calls and contrasts. The development of musical and poetic material with two soloists turns out to be more intense, dynamic, and large-scale. The participation of a particular voice in the action depends on the content, on what Tischenko himself hears in the Akhmatova text. The mother's experiences are soprano, the common misfortune for mother and son becomes a duet performing area, and the words that a prisoner could pronounce are entrusted to a tenor.

The Requiem involves a huge orchestra, a triple wind ensemble, a large percussion group, two harps, a grand piano, a celesta, a cembalo, but the composer treats this instrumental mass as a large ensemble, and the composition remains chamber in its essence. Such a solution helps Tischenko work in detail with the word, and the orchestral accompaniment is in a constant, extremely flexible ensemble dialogue with the soloists. There are no general sounds, the tutti are short-lived, the amount of sound is dosed, the orchestral detail becomes an important component of the work's dramaturgy, the development of a cross-cutting plot. Any instrument is ready to become a full-fledged soloist at any time, to give a cue, take on the burden of leadership. The composer uses the orchestral palette provided to him with great ingenuity. Among all these different-timbre orchestral strokes and lines, instrumental replicas, long soft pedals, the most bizarre, sometimes even exotic techniques of playing musical instruments, the living Akhmatovskoe word is always in sight. For each number, the author finds his own unique textural solution, and the orchestral fabric is very lively, changeable, and flexibly follows the poetry. The thoroughness and detail in his work with the orchestra are not only worthy of respect but also cause admiration: the young composer clearly set serious technological tasks for himself and gushes with professional ideas and finds.

Tischenko's orchestra becomes not only an expression of emotion, semantic, or poetic subtext but also an instrument for transmitting almost visible images, describing the reality surrounding the heroes of Akhmatova's poem. We have already met such a masterful sound recording in the composer's "Second Symphony." It becomes his distinctive feature. Tischenko is devoid of pure speculative symphonism snobbery; there is nothing to think about, the author reveals his plan clearly and definitely. In the Requiem, we hear the soldiers' steps on the pavement and the rasp of keys in the keyhole, the noise of "black marus" and the unhurried swaying of the Neva waves, the weight of an experienced bandit, and the lightness of flying weeks. The screams of the soul, the visible horror of violence, the unbearable pain and rage of loss, the suffering of loneliness in a prison cell — Tischenko has an orchestral answer to all this. His Requiem becomes an interesting musical book, presenting surprises, promising discoveries, and a fascinating plot.

Tischenko also demonstrated his arsenal of modern composition techniques in the Requiem, breaking the metrorhythmic regularity, using sophisticated dimensions, polyrhythms, elements of dodecaphony, pointillism, aleatorics, sonoristics. The Requiem's compositional language declares fresh solutions and approaches, the principles of renewal, the collapse of traditional foundations.

Immediately after completing the Akhmatovsky Requiem in 1967, Tischenko worked on the music for the film The Death of Pushkin (directed by Fyodor Tyapkin), which recreates the events of the autumn of 1835. The poet's piercing letters from Mikhailovsky to his wife in St. Petersburg, the oppressive uncertainty before the future, the complex relationship of the "son of Russian poetry" with Emperor Nicholas I and the chief of gendarmes Count Berkendorf. The film is perfectly made: subtly, intelligently, poetically. Pushkin is not in the frame, but his poems sound as if his letters and poetic lines of autographs are born in front of the audience. The views of the Pushkin Mountains and Leningrad are excellent, and Oleg Basilashvili and Vladislav Strzhelchik play the roles with very strong, interesting, bright, and deep music by Tischenko. Much later, going through old manuscripts, the composer transforms the suite for the movie into the "Pushkin Symphony." And surprisingly, it turns out that the composition, applied by the nature of its appearance, was already a symphony and was in the spirit and essence of its birth. Tischenko composed a symphony for the film, and thirty years later only officially recorded this in his biography.

Tischenko calls it "Pushkin's Symphony in 3 parts and 22 poems". In the score's fabric, you can really find 22 sections clearly outlined by the composer, but they go so smoothly, naturally complementing each other, that there can be no question of any suite. It is interesting that in the film itself, The Death of Pushkin, not many of Alexander Sergeevich's poems are quoted at all – only five: "The Monument," "I Visited Again," "I Can't Sleep, There Is No Fire," "From Pindemonti," and "It's Time, My Friend, It's Time." It is quite obvious that Tischenko creates his Pushkin symphony by including what he loves from the poet and what is dear to him and does not illustrate what is happening on the screen with music in the figurative sphere of the symphony. Katz also speaks about this (in a slightly different key) in his wonderful book about the composer [3]. The author, who has studied the problems of the relationship between music and poetry in his works, deeply knows and feels literature, substitutes various poems for music episodes in The Death of Pushkin, without claiming true knowledge offering this or that reading. These are not all of the Pushkin poems that sound off-screen in the film:

"I do not presume to say at all that the above Pushkin lines sounded in the composer's mind when composing […] I can't say that they will come to the memory of the listener […] I cite Pushkin's lines that arose when listening to The Death of Pushkin in my memory, and by no means exclude other associations. But I have almost no doubt that listeners will certainly remember certain of Pushikn's lines in Tischenkov's composition. That is the power of music that it awakens the memory of Pushkin's words. At the same time, you can recall certain poems, but it is important that the lines that arise in memory fall on the music not with a rhythmic and intonation pattern, as in vocals, but with an image and meaning. This allows Tischenko's dramatic music, without quoting a single word of the poet, to create the effect of being in the world of Pushkin's poetry " [3, p. 132].

In the Pushkin symphony, Tischenko strongly creates the image of a brilliant poet, deeply, with great love, exclusively by instrumental means. But perhaps there is not too much variety in the musical material and the symphony's content. The composer divides the symphony into three parts without setting the task to revise the structure of the cycle, but, in our opinion, a three-part reprise cycle appears based on three parts (especially since all three parts continue without a break). The image of Tischenko's Pushkin is multifaceted and contradictory. There is colossal respect, even piety, but also an understanding of the deep meanings of his poetry, the tragic collisions of his life path. And in this sense, the symphony penetrates the poet's creative laboratory much deeper than the romance in his poems, confirming the huge, inexhaustible possibilities of instrumental music. It is important that the young composer takes full advantage of these orchestral advantages, drawing visible pictures, expanding the scope of emotional content, combining sound lapidarity and timbre colorfulness, detached commentary and lively involvement, thin, sometimes elegant lines of soloists and small ensembles, and rigid verticals of a huge collective.

In summarizing our small study, it is necessary to say that Tischenko's symphonic works of the 1960s are based on literary-centric concepts. Modern and classical Russian poetry became the main extra-musical component of the composer's work during this period. In the ballet Twelve, the "Second Symphony," the requiem for Anna Akhmatova's poems, and the music for the film The Death of Pushkin, Tischenko develops his symphonism fills it with fresh, modern language, and develops a unique style and handwriting. The symphonic scope of Tischenko's compositions outgrows the scale of the poetic basis — the symphonic logic of development turns out to be the most important component for the composer in creating a large, mostly traditional orchestral form.

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