Rodion Konstantinovič Ščedrin

Russian composer and pianist

Rodion Shchedrin graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1955 with a piano concert. He first gained recognition with the ballet The Little Hunchbacked Horse (premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1960; in Czechoslovakia at the Prague Spring festival in 1967). He created for his wife, the prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, the celebrated adaptation of Bizet’s opera Carmen (premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1967). In 1972 the Bolshoi Theatre presented Shcherdin’s ballet Anna Karenina (again featuring Plisetskaya), and in 1980 The Seagull, based on Chekhov’s play. A graduate of the conservatory piano class (J. Flier), Shchedrin performed his own piano compositions, with the most significant being three piano concertos. In concertante and symphonic scores, he sought new possibilities of sound and form. Whereas in Piano Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 (Naughty Limericks, 1963) the author settled for virtuoso adaptation of popular intonations, in Concerto for Orchestra No. 2 (The Chimes, composed in 1967 to mark the 125th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic and first performed under Leonard Bernstein) he inventively used both chimes and old Russian spiritual melodies. His Piano Concerto No. 3 (1974) is notable for the fact that Shchedrin innovated in it the classical variation technique; first the variations are played, while the actual theme only exposes itself at the very end of the composition, after all possible techniques have been exhausted. He also applied an unorthodox structure in his Symphony No. 2 (1966), which is made up of 25 preludes arrayed in five movements. Shchedrin’s successful operatic works include Not Only Love (1961), which falls within his folk period. In his next stylistic development, Shchedrin used aleatoric and serial techniques. In 1981 he composed his famous Frescos of Dionysius for 9 instruments, inspired by murals in the Ferapontov Monastery.
The enormous success of the ballet Carmen (to “Bizet-Shchedrin” music) inspired him to “recast” the ravishing music into a new musical form. The Orchestral Suite of Shchedrin’s Carmen has thirteen numbers. Their sequence does not slavishly copy the original dramatic story of the wild and beautiful Gipsy, yet the tale of amorous passion with its tragic denouement is no less impressive. This is down not only to the dramatically felt mosaic-like musical tectonics, but also the masterfully instrumented score, replete with well-known intonations as well as surprising reversions, a music engrossing in its rythmicality and musicianly magic. In the Suite, Bizet’s music also had to “acquiesce” to Shchedrin’s typical division of motifs, which are again and again linked together into strikingly new formations. Characteristically, the original vocal component is “replaced” by a string orchestra and, as regards the rhythmical component, the composer uses a wide array of percussion, including vibraphone, marimba, chimes and large drum. The Suite’s electrifying sound opens the gates to an extensive scale of expressive communicativeness, becoming a source of indescribable artistic experiences.