Nikolai Myakovsky: Symphony No.10
The aptly named “Father of the Soviet Symphony”, Nikolai Myakovsky, composed 27 symphonies in total. The tenth, composed between 1926-27, Myakovsky was inspired by Alexander Pushkin’s poem The Bronze Horseman. The story tells of a man whose fiancé is drowned by the 1824 River Neva flood in Saint Petersburg and the reaction of the widow, who then also perishes in the flooding. Myakovsky was also very much inspired by the illustrations of this story by Alexander Benois.
Set into one continuous movement, Symphony No.10 could be described in some ways as a symphonic poem. Pushkin’s story is represented through descriptive passages of music by Myakovsky, which takes the listener on a wild ride. Using the form of just one big movement was described as “collapsing the elements of a four-movement symphony into a densely argued single-movement for lasting little more than quarter of an hour.”
Although set into one movement and lasting between 15-20 minutes, Myakovsky calls for huge forces in the orchestra. Especially rich with brass instruments, the large-scale scoring for the Tenth was “filled with the deafening racket of four trumpets, eight horns and so on.” The symphony premiered in Moscow in April 1928 by the Orchestra Persimfans, who were actually conductor-less at the time. The complexity of Myakovsky’s music was too much for the ensemble, so the piece was left. That was until 1930, when Sergei Prokofiev persuaded Leopold Stokowski to give a US premiere in Philadelphia.
The symphony takes us through the fundamental events in Pushkin’s poem. From the opening flood scene to the two deaths and the pursuit of the statue, the music is quick to change in character to move the story along. The rumbling opening takes us into the flood scene. Marked Tumultuoso, the music grows from the bottom upwards as the exploding dissonant strings clash with the bombastic brass section.
Myakovsky heightens the tension and quickly lets it go making you feel like you’re actually present at the scene. He writes various themes using different soloists in the orchestra to represent different characters of the story. For instance, the drowned fiancé is represented by a solo violin and a soli woodwind section. Myakovsky’s use of dissonance is prevalent throughout the symphony, with his chromatic harmony constantly shifting between the different sections in the orchestra.
After the huge climax near the end of the piece, the texture begins to thin as the music begins to calm down somewhat. The last minute of the symphony is then revived by swirling winds and brass who go head to head one last time. The huge orchestral texture creates a big sound that is led by the brass and percussion. The symphony ends with a final foreboding note led by the lower brass.
Nikolai Myakovsky’s Symphony No.10 is one of his more well-known works today. Telling the tumultuous tale of two lovers, the music is dark, intense and showcases Myakovsky’s incredible orchestration skills.
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