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From Tsars to Soviets: Russian Masterpieces - click to listen 

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky
Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture

Orchestre Symphonique de Radio-Tele-Luxembourg
Pierre Cao (Conductor)

 

Tchaikovsky's overture, Romeo and Juliet isn't an overture in the sense that it was intended to preceed an opera.

 

Like many overtures of the mid-romantic period, Tchaikovsky was really writng the sort of descriptive piece that Richard Strauss was to later call a tone-poem.

 

The piece paints a musical picture of the story of Romeo and Juliet, introducing the violence of feeling between the Montagues and the Capulets, savouring the love of Romeo and Juliet, and capturing the tragedy of their premature ends.

Sergey (Sergeyevich) Prokofiev

Lieutenant Kije Suite

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Yuri Simonov (Conductor)

 

The Lieutenant Kije Suite is taken from Prokofiev's music for a 1933 satirical film of the same name.

 

Although Prokofiev was not a citizen of the USSR when he wrote this (he left Russia for the US shortly after the revolution) he was later to suffer badly at the hands of Stalin's strict cultural censorship.

 

He had orginally moved to the USSR after Shostakovich had been denounced by the party, but within 15 years Prokfiev too had been named as a cultural renegade.

 

His music was banned and although still performed in the west, Prokofiev died in 1953 not knowing if his compositions would ever be accepted in Russia again.

Dimitry Shostakovich

Symphony No. 5
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras (Conductor)

 

 
While Prokofiev was trying to cash in on his misfortune, Shostakovich went away to work on this, his fifth symphony.

 

The plan was to write a piece that Stalin couldn't hate, and so it was that in 1937, he presented the first performance of this symphony, subtitled "A Soviet Artist's Pracitcal Reply to Just Criticism."

 

It worked. Where he had previously been criticised for writing obscure and decadent western music, he became hailed as a hero of soviet music.

 

It is often said that many of the things that Stalin liked about this piece were intended ironically. Whether this is true is something only the listener can decide.

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