Tchaikovsky's Pathétique and Russian Culture

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9781472424112: Tchaikovsky's Pathétique and Russian Culture
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Tchaikovskyʼs Sixth Symphony (1893), widely recognized as one of the worldʼs most deeply tragic compositions, is also known for the mystery surrounding its hidden programme and for Tchaikovskyʼs unexpected death nine days after its premiere. While the sensational speculations about the composerʼs possible planned suicide and the suggestion that the symphony was intended as his own requiem have long been discarded, the question of its programme remains.

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'The Russo-Israeli scholar Marina Ritzarev's new study brings a stimulating new take on Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony which the composer himself surrounded with an aura of secrecy ... With commendable intellectual honesty she presents her subject as entirely an hypothesis, and whether one agrees with it or not, the undertaking was surely worthwhile for its bold thought-provoking engagement with this well-worn symphonic warhorse'. The Musical Times 'The book offers a new, fresh angle, which, while safely grounded in factual and historical research into Russian culture, does not lose the imaginative and innovative touch that provides interest and excitement to the reading process. ... Free from the shackles of pure positivism, she asks puzzling questions, and succeeds in providing quite convincing answers. She constructs a contextualized story. Her imaginative writing is not just let loose to run wild but, like a good detective story, is based on connecting small pieces of a large puzzle, creating a picture that is both convincing and entrancing, consistently and meticulously keeping a non-judgmental, curious, open-to-new-ideas approach. The result is fascinating. ... She points at the deep admiration that Tchaikovsky felt toward the human figure of Jesus, proposing a program for the symphony: the story of the Passion of Christ. This is an extremely daring scheme of interpretation. Ritzarev lifts the gauntlet she had thrown to herself and, dedicating to it the second half of her book, engages in a meticulous and thorough description and analysis of the symphony, connecting the dots and attaching one piece to the other, forming a coherent picture of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony as a musical storytelling of the Passion.' Min-Ad: Israel Studies in Musicology Online 'Marina Ritzarev's new interpretation of the symphony is just the latest attempt at solving the riddle and in many ways, it is an auspicious project. ... Blessedly, Ritzarev dispenses with the disreputable notion that the symphony was a requiem for the composer himself, a musical suicide note written as he faced a scandal over an alleged affair with a young man with high connections. Rather, she argues that the work is an "artistic reflection of the Passion in symphonic form". ... Ritzarev's interpretation is a potentially plausible one; it is certainly welcome for the way in which it moves beyond the kinds of psychosexual readings which have bedevilled too much writing on Chaikovskii.' Slavonic and East European Review 'This monograph offers a thoughtful and complex argument, replete with numerous insights into Petr Tchaikovskii's work and the cultural environment in which he lived. ... it is a welcome contribution to Tchaikovskii studies.' Slavic Review 'What she offers is indeed a daring act of hermeneutic, a rare one in musicology, grounded on an exegesis of the text and, above all, on an analysis of the historical context ... her thorough study certainly provides a convincing set of arguments to found it. Before presenting analyses of every movement, the book offers some in-depth studies of the historical and cultural context of 19th-century Russia, a field where the author shows long lasting scholarship. An analysis of Tchaikovsky's readings and of his relationship to the figure of Christ allow a well-grounded approach to this complex issue ... it will become an indispensable piece of valuable musicology, with the stress on music - not only for all Tchaikovsky scholars and listeners, but also as a precious contribution to the field of musical signification'. Ad Parnassum 'Ritzarev presents the Sixth Symphony as ... a free interpretation of the life of Christ in an instrumental medium, breaking with official Orthodoxy like some of his contemporaries in the visual arts ... Ritzarev's reading of the symphony is not a straightforward narrative, but she does present specific episodes and argues that the combination of musical allusions results in a 'semiotic field - a wholeness of elements - working to create an imagery belonging to the Passion' (p. 52). The analysis of the first movement, which is compared to Christ's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, is the most interesting in this respect, offering comparisons with Bach's St Matthew Passion and B Minor Mass, and suggesting a use of Baroque musical imagery that is worthy of serious attention ... Ultimately, the book does make a convincing case for the relevance of religion in Tchaikovsky's life and works and shows it to be a topic worthy of more attention, if only to produce a counterweight to the other themes that have so dominated the composer's image'. Music & Letters

About the Author:

Marina Ritzarev is an Israeli musicologist of Russian background. She has contributed to research in eighteenth-century Russian music, including biographies of Dmitry Bortniansky and Maxim Berezovsky, and study of choral spiritual concerto. She is the author of Eighteenth-Century Russian Music (Ashgate 2006), a biography of Sergei Slonimsky, and articles developing the theory of vernacular in music. She is Professor of Bar-Ilan University and President of the Israeli Musicological Society.

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