Dmitry BorisovichKabalevsky (1904-1987)
Cello Concerto No.1in G minor, Op. 49
Cello Concerto No.2in G major, Op. 77
Symphonic Poem:Spring, Op.65 (Vesna)
The son of amathematician, Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky was born in St Petersburg in 1904 and wasintended by his father for some similar vocation to his own. Kabalevsky,however, showed considerable artistic promise, whether as pianist, poet orpainter. After the Bolshevik Revolution he moved with his family to Moscow, where he continuedhis general education, while studying painting and, at the Scriabin MusicalInstitute, the piano. It was his interest in the latter and his obviousproficiency that led him to reject the course that his father had proposed atthe Engels Socio-Economic Science Institute in 1922, and to turn instead to thepiano, teaching, playing, like Shostakovich, in cinemas, and now beginning tocompose. In 1925 he entered the Moscow Conservatory, resolved to further hisinterest in pedagogical music. Here he studied first with the leading theorist GeorgyCatoire and then with Prokofiev's friend and mentor, the composer Myaskovsky.
At the same time he became increasingly known for his writing on musicalsubjects, notably in the Association of Contemporary Music Journal, although hewas careful not to distance himself from the much more musically conservativeand politically orientated Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians. Whilethe former espoused progressive forms of music that might, nevertheless, suitthe principles of Socialist Realism, the latter favoured a simpler and morepopular form of music that might be understood by the people.
In 1932 Kabalevskybecame involved in the Moscow organisation and activities of the nowestablished Union of Soviet Composers that replaced the earlier groupings,although, over the years, the leadership, like that of the Association ofProletarian Musicians, came to lack musical credibility, whatever its politicalcorrectness. He worked for the state music-publishing house and taught compositionat the Moscow Conservatory, while continuing to write a large quantity ofmusic. Although, like others of his generation, he supported the generalprinciples of the Revolution, it was not until 1940 that he became a CommunistParty member, continuing during the Great Patriotic War to write music likelyto instil feelings of patriotism and help the war effort.
Problems arose formany Soviet composers in 1948. Already in 1936 Shostakovich had suffered thecondemnation of his apparently socialist opera A Lady Macbeth of the MtsenskDistrict, stigmatized by Stalin as chaos instead of music. 1948 broughtofficial condemnation of formalism, a charge levelled against Shostakovich andProkofiev by name, at the head of a list of those proscribed. Kabalevskysucceeded in having his own name removed from the list and replaced by that ofanother composer, although he might have seemed to some extent implicated byhis earlier association with the organising committee of the Composers' Union, the Orgkomitet,which earned particular criticism. His future compositions, however, provedacceptable and he continued his work as an educator, composer, administratorand writer, retaining favour with the authorities, while treated with obvioussuspicion by distinguished composers now in a more precarious position. He diedin 1987, and while due respect is given to his music, there are those who have,since then, found an opportunity to speak openly of what they have regarded asa combination of insincerity and self-interest, in the very difficultcircumstances of the time.
Kabalevsky wrote his CelloConcerto in G minor, Opus 49, in the years 1948 and 1949, one of agroup of such concertos in these years that was designed for young performers.
He dedicated the work to the cellist Svyatoslav Knushevitsky. The opening Allegrostarts with a brief plucked string introduction, before the entry of thesoloist, whose theme is echoed by the clarinet. It is primarily left to thestrings, at first, to accompany the singing second subject, which opens in Cmajor. These elements provide material for further development, leading tofiercely energetic cadenza, after which the second theme returns with the fullorchestra, followed by the soloist, now with clarinet accompaniment. The movementends with a reminiscence of the first subject. The B major slow movement startswith the repeated rhythms of muted string chords, over which the soloistemerges to contradict the major mode that the orchestra has proposed. There isa cadenza, before the hushed ending of the movement. After this the clarinetprovides a link to the solo entry that follows shortly after in the lastmovement. The very Russian melodic material is introduced by the soloist andthere is a later more lyrical melody, a chance for an element of virtuosodisplay, a brief cadenza and a triumphantly optimistic conclusion.
Kabalevsky's CelloConcerto No.2 in G major, Opus 77, was completed in 1964 anddedicated to the cellist Daniil Shafran. Scored for a larger orchestra than theearlier work and now including an alto saxophone, double bassoon and harp, theconcerto is in three linked movements, with cadenzas between the first andsecond and the second and third. The first movement opens in a sombre andmysterious mood, the principal theme appearing in the plucked notes of the solocello, before the material is allowed to emerge in the sustained bowed notes ofthe instrument. This is followed by the vigorous impetus of the Allegro moltoe energico, which itself eventually relaxes into the returning Molto sostenuto,in music of heartfelt intensity, subsiding into the cadenza, with its firstplucked notes, a reflection of what has passed. There is a fiercely energeticopening to the second movement, although here there are moments when it seemsthe solo!st might briefly draw breath, as the music continues its headlongcourse. A second cadenza, preceded by strident wind chords, provides a bridgeto the last movement, with the help of the orchestra. It is the unaccompaniedinstrument, slowing now to Molto sostenuto, that leads more gently to alyrical Andante con moto, in a movement that has at its centre a sectionof excited intensity. Serenity returns, before a further outburst and a deeplyfelt conclusion that establishes the nominal mode of the concerto.
The symphonic poem Spring(Vesna) was completed in 1960, moving, as the ice melts, into a lyricalwaltz. The work is in marked contrast to the second of the cello concertos,exploring a much lighter and more purely romantic vein, although the seasonbrings moments of occasional poignancy, as nature gradually wakens.