Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky (1904 - 1987)
Suite from Colas Breugnon, Op. 24a
Suite: The Comedians, Op. 26
Suite: Romeo and Juliet
The son of amathematician, Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky was born in St Petersburgin 1904 and was intended by his father for some similar vocation to his own.
Kabalevsky, however, showed considerable artistic promise, whether as pianist,poet or painter. After the Revolution he moved with his family to Moscow, where hecontinued his general education, while studying painting and, at the ScriabinMusical Institute, the piano. It was his interest in this last and his obviousproficiency that led him to reject the course that his father had proposed atthe Engels Sodo-Economic Science Institute in 1922 and he turned instead to thepiano, teaching, playing, like Shostakovich, in cinemas and now beginning tocompose. In 1925 he entered the Moscow Conservatory, resolved to further hisincreasing interest in pedagogical music. Here he studied first with theleading theorist Georgy Catoire and then with Prokofiev's friend and mentor,the composer Myaskovsky. At the same time he became increasingly known for hiswriting on musical subjects, notably in the Association of Contemporary MusicJournal, although he was careful not to distance himself from the much moremusically conservative and politically orientated Russian Association ofProletarian Musicians. While the former espoused progressive forms of musicthat might, nevertheless, fit the principles of Sodalist Realism, the latter favoureda simpler and more popular form of music that the people might understand.
In 1932Kabalevsky became involved in the Moscow organization 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, lacked musical credibility , whatever their politicalcorrectness. He worked for the state music publishing house and taughtcomposition at the Moscow Conservatory, while continuing to write a largequantity of music. Although, like others of his generation, he supported thegeneral principles of the Revolution it was not until1940 that he became aCommunist Party member, continuing during the Great Patriotic War to writemusic likely to instil patriotism and help the war effort.
Problemsarose for many Soviet composers in 1948. Already in 1936 Shostakovich had beencondemned for his apparently socialist opera A Lady Macbeth of the MtsenskDistrict, stigmatized by Stalin as chaos instead of music. 1948 broughtofficial condemnation of formalism, involving Shostakovich and Prokofiev byname at the head of the list of those proscribed. Kabalevsky succeeded inhaving his own name removed from the list and replaced by that of anothercomposer, although he might well have been to some extent implicated by hisearlier association with the Organization Committee of the Composers' Union, the Orgkomitet,which earned particular criticism. His future compositions, however, provedacceptable and he continued as an educator, composer, administrator and writer,retaining favour with the authorities, while treated with obvious suspicion bydistinguished composers now in a more precarious position. He died in 1987, andwhile due respect is given to his music, there are those who have found anopportunity to speak openly of what they have regarded as a combination ofinsincerity and self- interest, in the very difficult circumstances of the day.
Kabalevsky'sopera Colas Breugnon had its first performance in Leningrad in 1938 andwas revised in 1953 and again in 1969. The libretto was based on RomainRolland's novel Le martre de Clamecy, a work that suited the politicalprinciples of Soviet Russia, with its general theme of the unprincipledexploitation of the people by their masters. The overture is a portrait of theprotagonist and the opening Prologue has Breugnon writing an account of hislife. The first ac t is set near Clamecy in Burgundy. Peasantgirls are working in the vineyards. Colas Breugnon, a gifted wood-carver, joinsSelina. They are in love, but Colas Breugnon will not propose. Gifliard,equerry to the Duke, enters and tells him that he will marry Selina. The two menfight, with Colas Breugnon encouraged by the girls, especially by Jacqueline,who is in love with him. A bell is heard, announcing the return of the Duke fromParis, accompaniedby soldiers and guests. An Intermezzo accompanies an exchange betweencitizens and soldiery .In the second scene, set in a meadow near Clamecy, thepeople are assembled to meet the Duke, according to custom. Musicians play,joined by Colas Breugnon. He is noticed by one of the Duke's guests, whoquestions him. He replies lightly and the Duke shows her a fountain carved byColas Breugnon, who is invited to the Duke's castle. Gifliard tells them thatColas is to go to study in Paris. He dances with Selina, who now agreesto marry him.
In the secondact Colas is in his workshop, finishing a statue of Selina, helped by anapprentice. Jacqueline comes in and then the Duke, who takes the statue to hiscastle, when Gifliard shows it to him. Brooding, Colas is joined by a drunkenpriest. There is a sound of drum and pipe outside and of children singing the Diesirae, since the soldiers have brought the plague to Clamecy. People plan toleave to escape infection, but Colas Breugnon resolves to stay. The following Intermezzois in the form of a funeral procession. In the next scene Colas has theplague and in a delirium wanders through an abandoned vineyard, seeing visionsof death. He survives, however, even after the priest and his apprentice tellhim that, on the Duke's orders, his workshop and house and all they contain hasbeen burned to the ground leaving only his flute. An Intermezzo follows,as Colas Breugnon limps away along the road.
In the nextscene Colas Breugnon meets Jacqueline, now dying, and near Clamecy meetsSelina, recalling past happiness. She reproaches him for not proposing to her.
People warn him against entering Clamecy, which is on fire. In the castle,where Colas Breugnon's carvings have been taken, the Duke asks if the artist isalive and is told by Gifliard that Colas is stirring up the people against him.
He orders all the carvings to be burnt. At this moment Colas Breugnon enters,laughing when he sees the destruction. After another Intermezzo thescene changes to a procession to celebrate the town's patron saint. The Dukeand his courtiers celebrate the Feast of St Martin and a statue by ColasBreugnon is unveiled, to reveal a representation of the Duke sitting on adonkey. To the amusement of the people, the Duke and his guests withdraw. The Suitefrom the opera is taken by the composer from the first version of the work.
TheComedians, a suite for small orchestra, was written in 1940, taken frommusic for the play The Inventor and the Comedian, by the Soviet writerM. Daniel. The Galop enjoys particular popularity in music thatdemonstrates Kabalevsky's light touch with a score that is pure entertainment.
A more sombrenote intrudes into the Suite from incidental music for Shakespeare'