Russian music

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Russian music

Russian music, when the Romanovs were tottering to a fall, was described as an art bearing the burdens and sorrows of Satan. The Russian composer of today, like a child, seems to be shrieking with laughter, perhaps with a subconscious desire to impress the world that he is so very full of joy: he is so happy that he could burst that drum! Let us hope that the present great exhilaration will not give way under the strain. Three unfamiliar Russian works were recently broadcast by the BBC Orchestra: a suite of five portraits drawn from Prokofiev’s opera, The Gambler, Myaskovsky’s Symphony No 7, and a suite of four pieces from Shostakovich’s opera, The Nose1. The first and third of these works are obviously of the pictorial and descriptive type; but Prokofiev’s portraits, though cleverly drawn in romantic setting and with brilliant orchestration, excite no wonder.

It is quits another matter with Shostakovich’s suite, The Nose. The Colonel wakes up to find his nose missing, and his anger while seeking it is most cleverly drawn. It is orchestral diablerie of the highest order and suggested with a light hand. Parry Jones helped to complete the picture by his clever singing as the valet: he is lying in bed, drunk, warbling a parody of love, whilst his master is searching vainly for the missing nose. While Myaskovsky is an older man and holds an appointment at the Moscow conservatoire, his Symphony No.7 also strikes a new note. The marked success of these works owed much to the brilliant conducting of Nicolai Malko.

Bruno Walter, on January 31st, conducted the first performance in England of Prokofiev’s Piano concerto No 5, in four movements, at the BBC Symphony Concert at Queen s Hall. The composer was the soloist. Prokofiev never lacks brilliance: his stimulating and obviously boyish enjoyment in every job he undertakes makes his music highly individual, and there is something impish in his refusal to end movements in an obvious way.

  1. All probably UK premieres. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, March 1934, p. 494