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Song of Crimea

My mailbox is filled with cards and letters, all asking the same question: “Croche, is there a classical music angle to the escalating conflict in Crimea?” My answer is: “Indeed there is!”

This past week, Kristina Karamanova, daughter of the Crimean composer Alemdar Sabitovich Karamanov (1934-2007), posted online a small fragment of his seldom-heard oratorio The Heroic Legend of Adzhimushkay Quarry with the following note:

The Heroic Legend of Adzhimushkay Quarry, for soloists, chorus and orchestra, was written to words of Boris Serman in 1983. This music, which could also be choreographed, was originally written in Russian, and then translated into Ukrainian. Though I was but a little girl, I remember the premiere at the Ukrainian Theater in Simferopol. People were crying. This work is now of great relevance, it should be heard in CRIMEA! I send this to my friends, to those who remember the horrors of fascisms, for those who find it important to preserve the independent culture of Crimea… Listen, please. Those who have ears will hear it.

Karamanov was born in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. In the fateful year of Stalin’s death, 1953, Karamanov enrolled in the Moscow Conservatory, where he was a composition student of Semyon Semyonovich Bogatyrev, Dmitri Kabalevsky and Tikhon Khrennikov. The Khrushchev years were ones of new openness in Soviet musical life, and Karamanov was eager to explore them. By the early 60s, the young Crimean considered a member of the new avant-garde, along with such composers as Andrei Volkonsky, Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina. Karamanov was tireless in his labors during this period, composing 10 symphonies, concertos, a ballet, an oratorio, and many works for chamber ensembles and for piano.

Despite the encouragement of Shostakovich and Khrennikov, Karamanov decided—as did so many in the 1960s and 70s—to “drop out” of the system. The composer returned to his native Simferopol, something of a backwater in the larger scheme of Soviet musical life. For the next fifteen years he devoted himself to the composition of massive “symphonic liturgies”, as well as more conventional large-scale religious works (“Stabat Mater”, “Requiem” and “Mass”).

This period of Karamanov’s work begins with the two-hour symphonic cycle “It Has Been Accomplished (Sovershishasya)” (about which more below), written from 1965-67, is made up of four independent symphonies (numbers 11-14), totaling ten movements. The composer’s “First Simferopol period” closes in the year 1980, with the six-symphony cycle “Was Made (Byst’)” (as in “the word was made flesh”). This cycle presented themes from the Apocalypse, with individual symphonies bearing such titles as “Blessed Are The Dead”, “Let It Be”, and “I Am Jesus”. (Only half have been recorded – in face, most of Karamanov’s works remain unpublished and unrecorded.)

Not only did Karamanov turn his back on Moscow’s musical life during the years 1965-80, he also turned his back on the “avant-garde”, as it was then usually defined. Drawing inspiration from his early love of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, Karamanov cultivated a style we might term “Post-Romantic”, a style which careens unexpectedly between the heart-on-sleeve lyricism of pre-Revolutionary music and the structured cacophony which came to symbolize the post-war modernism.

While no single musical idea sounds unmistakably like “Karamanov”, the progression of musical styles within each of his massive works bears the unmistakable echo of his personal voice. In this, Karamanov’s musical thought somewhat resembles the polystilism of Alfred Schnittke. But where Schnittke’s music often reflects a tragic vision of existence, Karamanov’s manages to find reasons for comfort and optimism.

In the early 1980s, Karamanov managed (with the help of conductor Vladimir Fedoseev and his former mentor Tikhon Khrennikov), to have his six-symphony Apocalyptic cycle performed. As one condition for these performances, he had to retitle the work along standard Soviet lines—“Was Made” became “Poem of Victory”, “Blessed are the Dead” became “The Great Sacrifice”, and so on. Perhaps inspired by these officially-sanctioned performance, Karamanov began work on his secular oratorio “The Heroic Legend of Adzhimushkay Quarry”.

The subject for this oratorio was one congenial to the musical authorities: a terrifying episode from the Great Patriotic War in which anti-Nazi guerrillas take refuge in the catacombs of the Adzhimushkay quarry, where they are trapped and starved. (One might detect some religious symbolism in the catacombs, but that was the type of double-entendre that Soviet officials indulged.) Visitors to Simferopol can take in the city’s gigantic Monument to the Defenders of the Adzhimushkay Quarry.

The Heroic Legend of Adzhimushkay is, so far as I can tell, seldom performed. Karamanov barely mentions the work in interviews from the nineties and aughts. But Kristina Karamanova’s online post serves a reminder that the past doesn’t often stay there quietly. It is not entirely unambiguous whether she regards the Ukrainians or the Russians as the forces of resurgent fascism (though I would bet that she is pro-Russian).

What does seem clear is that a work which appeared to be marginal to a composer’s oeuvre can suddenly acquire contemporary urgency. Crimeans, no matter their political sympathies, will feel besieged. It is a great irony that a composer who emphatically withdrew from society, who worked in relative poverty and anonymity on the fringes of an empire, should suddenly appear to be so close to the center of momentous events.

Postscript: Since Karamanova seems only to have posted a small portion of The Heroic Legend of Adzhimushkay online, I thought I’d supplement this consideration of the Crimean composer with a complete recording of his symphonic cycle “It Is Achieved”, based on the Gospels. The massive first movement, 36 minutes in length, simultaneously serves as the composer’s Eleventh Symphony, as a sonata-form first movement to the whole cycle, and a foreshadowing of the musical drama of the ensuing nine movements.

The second movement, “Such is the Kingdom of Heaven”, is a luscious cello concerto and is also known as the composer’s Twelfth Symphony. The solo instrument represents Jesus, in conversation with Nicodemus. The third through sixth movements constitute Karamanov’s Thirtheenth Symphony. They depict Christ’s crucifixion, with the typical four movements of a symphony receiving the titles “In Hebrew, Greek , and Latin”, “It Has Been Achieved”, “He Whom They Have Pierced”, and “He Beat His Breast”.

The final four movements portray Christ’s resurrection. The seventh movement, “His Clothes Are Anointed With Fragrances”, has a violin solo representing Mary Magdalene. The eighth movement is an adagio on the theme “He Is Not Here. He Is Risen”. The ninth movement, “And They Were In The Temple”, features a chorus singing “Alleluiya” to the very same music which opened the whole program. A tenor then leads the chorus in an imposing rendition of the 117th Psalm “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.” Though this massive chorus might sound like the end of the cycle (a la Beethoven’s Ninth or Scriabin’s First), Karamanov tops it with a short but sublimely terrifying orchestral postlude which is titled “In The Glory of His Father.”

Think of it as a little warm-up for Easter.

27 comments

  • bobsnsane says:

    Crimea river…

  • m. croche says:

    Forgot to mention this pertinent factoid:

    Alemdar Karamanov also happens to be the composer of the official Hymn of the Autonomous Crimean Republic. Indeed, it is as composer of the Republican Hymn that he is best known to a majority of Crimeans.

  • Krunoslav says:

    One of my candidates for 25 GREATEST OPERAS EVER WRITTEN takes place on Crimea, a/k/a Tavrida:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQHTblcylF0

    • Krunoslav says:

      • m. croche says:

        And as Stravinsky reminded us, GREAT composers steal…

      • Camille says:

        Is this accord truly accurate for what the pitch would have REALLY been at the time, about an entire step down? Or is it exaggerated by Minkowski for his own reasons and for the whole H.I.P. thing? I just wonder.

        It sounds rather off to me but then I cannot help it as I’ve heard it an entire lifetime in another key. And I agree with Berlioz that the juncture at which the maidens of the temple join in at “Mêlez vos cris plaintifs!” has got to be one of the most sublime things ever written.

        • m. croche says:

          Minkowski is innocent. Gluck transposed Bach’s B-flat music down to A major.

          • Camille says:

            Sorry, this came up in the wrong placement here, for I was referring to the “O malheureuse Iphigénie”, which I don’t believe Herr Bach had anything to do with at all, did he? Not the subsequent aria with Susie Graham, which was, admittedly, a shocker. In fact, whenever I heard this aria it always tickled my ear somewhat as it sounded like something else and I knew not.

            okay, sorry now I am really confusing.

            Addio.

            • m. croche says:

              Oh -- I botched my own response as well, Camille. Yes, Minkowski does lower everything one tone on the CD. It’s inconvenient for those with perfect pitch, but as the chorus-masters always say, “Those with perfect pitch have an obligation to be good at transposing.”

            • oedipe says:

              Camille,

              Minkowski and his Musiciens du Louvre do use the 430 diapason, so you are probably right.

            • Camille says:

              I see. Thank you both.

              But 430 is not a whole tone, either?
              Um, I better just stop right here and go out and buy that new Chanel eyelid glitter named “DIAPASON”, instead, in the “Notes de Printemps” collection they have out for Printemps 2014. Already bought “Mélodieuse”, the Rouge Allure! Beautiful coral for spring!

              Here it is: http://www.chanel.com/makeup

  • m. croche says:

    I’m sure many of you who have listened to the complete “It Has Been Accomplished” noticed that the good musicians of Kiev seemed to have a little difficulty executing the 3+3+3+2+2+2 rhythm which comes to dominate the fifth movement of the piece (Third Symphony, Third Movement, “He Who Has Been Pierced”, which begins at 1:02:19. The complex rhythm first appears around 1:06:20).

    I’d like to think that this asymmetrical, compound rhythm was Karamanov’s tribute to the Tatar element of Crimean culture. (Karamanov’s father was himself of Turkish descent). Such types of “limping” (“aksak”) rhythms are common in Turkic and Balkan musical cultures. The very same 3+3+3+2+2+2 rhythm, accelerated from 15/8 to 15/16, can be heard in the particularly frenetic stretches of the “Turceasca”, performed by the Romanian Romani band, Taraf de Haidouks:

    • Guestoria Unpopularenka says:

      Turkic and Turkish are not synonyms.

      • Batty Masetto says:

        Croche undoubtedly chose both terms in precisely that awareness, Guestoria.

      • m. croche says:

        The “aksak” rhythms can be found among the Crimean Tatars, which is why I used the more general term “Turkic”.

        In this connection, it is perhaps worth recalling the finale of Prokofiev’s First Violin Sonata. Prokofiev, himself born in the Eastern Ukraine oblast of Donetsk, was evacuated to Kazakh Alamaty during WWII. The finale of that sonata has a complex meter of some 27 beats stitched together from irregular groupings of 2 and 3. The (plausible) story goes that he was inspired by the rhythms of the local Kazakh musicians. Kazakhs, though not Turkish, are considered a Turkic people.

  • Camille says:

    “Turkic Delight” just doesn’t sound quite the same, somehow…….

  • Agnese di Cervia says:

    Sorry, there is no classical music associated to the escalating conflict in Venezuela one of the major oil providers to the USA (Citgo anyone?)

  • m. croche says:

    And now for a Tatar perspective.

    WHITE WOLF (Ak Bure)

    Zulfiya Raupova

    The epic tale opera in 4 acts in the Tatar language.

    Premiere

    Concert performance

    Libretto based on Tatar folk tale «The White Wolf» -- Ruzal Mukhametshin (the winner of the M.Jalil State Prize of the Republic of Tatarstan)

    Artistic director and conductor -- Honoured Artist of Russia Alexander SLADKOVSKY

    Soloists: Albina Latipova, Elmira Kalimullina, Denis Hanbaba, Arthur Islamov, Ayrat Imashev, Ruslan Abdrafikov, Rustam Asaev, Dinar Dzhusoev.

    Summary

    The gold city is at dawn. The stone figure of the White wolf comes to life. The White wolf tells about the origin of the world. Then the Most high created a new clan and entrusted to defend and take care about it to the White wolf. There was a leader of the clan – Khan. He had three three growing up sons and a beautiful wife Khanbike.

    Once misfortune happened: the ugly, three-headed monster Div abducted Khanbike. The elder sons set out in search of non prescription nexium the mother and disappeared. Years passed. The youngest son – Tegil grew up. Once he asked his father where his mother and elder brothers were. Khan told him about the tragedy that had happened many years ago. The young batyr decides to set out in search of the mother and elder brothers. At first the father tries to talk him out of it but finally agrees and gives his blessing to the son.

    Tegin meets the White wolf in the forest. The keeper of the clan is angry: the batyr has disturbed the peace of the forest. Tegin begs his pardon and asks the White wolf about the fate of his relatives. The White wolf tells him that the brothers have been turned to stone because of impudence and the mother has been in captivity of the ugly monster Div. Tegin begs the White wolf to help him. The White wolf returns to life elder sons of Khan who come back home to the father and utter an incantation which transfers the batyr in Div’s kingdom. Kam Ana helps to accomplish the incantation.

    In Div’s kingdom the snake Jukha – Div’s own sister bewitches Tegin. He must forget his clan and his faith. Kam Ana sounds the alarm. She and the White wolf hasten to help the batyr. They read spells. Tegin remembers the mother and family. He kills Jukha and meets Div. In a heavy battle the dzhigit defeats his opponent. Tegin meets his mother.

    Again the gold city is at dawn. The White wolf utters concluding words about the triumph of good over evil. Kam Ana, Khan, Khanbike, elder sons and Tegin join to the White wolf. Kam Ana announces solemnly about the coming of a new day.

    • aronocity says:

      How in the world do you find all of these fascinating obscure operas?

      • m. croche says:

        Believe it or not, this is not the first time that Tatar opera has been the subject of discussion on Parterre. A couple of years ago there was a mini-thread centered on the mid-20th-century Tatar composer, Nazib Zhiganov. Somewhere in there, I believe, is a clip of the same conductor and orchestra (Alexander Sladovsky/Tatarstan Phil.) performing Zhiganov’s ALTINCHECH (as well as a few other clips from the same opera). Bianca Castafiore also contributed a lovely Tatar song to a later discussion.

  • oedipe says:

    And since we are talking about Tatar talent, here is diva-in-the-making, Kazan-born Venera Gimadieva, who will be singing Violetta in Glyndebourne this summer alongside Fabiano, and will debut at the Paris Opera next season in the same role:

  • m. croche says:

    Russian troops and Serb paramilitaries have overrun the Ukrainian military base at Bakhchisirai. One Ukrainian soldier has been killed. The name of “Bakhchisirai”, of course, is familiar to Pushkin-lovers and balletomanes.

    • oedipe says:

      Indeed. The name “Bakhchisarai” is forever associated in my mind with “Fountain”. Though it looks like that could change these days…
      (BTW, Ulanova dancing with Plisetskaya is not exactly chopped liver.)