These short works are part of a musical legacy that spans nearly a century. Extracted from the lesser-known works by some of Russia's most influential composers, these were arranged by Simeon Bellison (1881-1953), a virtuoso clarinetist who studied at the Moscow Conservatory and served as Principal Clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic from 1920 to 1946 and was the teacher of Kalman Bloch, longtime Principal Clarinetist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Bloch, in turn, taught his daughter - and the Philharmonic's current Principal Clarinetist - Michele Zukovsky. These works offer a snapshot of Russian music in the 19th century.
"The Seasons" was commissioned by Nicolai Bernard, editor of the monthly Novelliste. Each issue of the magazine was to contain a new piece by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). The result, written in 1875 and 1876, is a collection of twelve short piano works, the sum following an idyllic course through the year's cycle: the winter hearth, April's spring thaw, harvest, hunt, and winter holidays. Two of these, March and June, were arranged for clarinet and piano by Simeon Bellison. These two movements share the same melancholy, folk-like tune; March's "Song of the Lark' sets the tune simply, favoring thematic embellishment and imitation over extensive development. June's "Barcarole" takes the theme through a more impassioned development and, fittingly, is more vigorous and warm than "March."
Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) helped set the bedrock of the Russian classics with his operas A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Ludmilla. His work celebrated the Tsarist nationalism he learned during his privileged upbringing in a military family. A Life for the Tsar is concerned with the Russian "Time of Troubles," that 30-year period from the death of Ivan the Terrible to the election of the first Romanov in 1613. (The opera's earlier title, Ivan Susanin, after the peasant who was prepared to die for the young Tsar Michael Romanov, was replaced at the request of Tsar Nicholas, although the Susanin title was revived by the Soviets in 1939.)
Like Glinka, the Italian composer Cesare Pugni (1802-1870) was pleased to serve the court at St. Petersburg. An accomplished ballet composer, Pugni had served as music director at La Scala, then went to Paris, where he collaborated with choreographer Jules Perrot in more than 30 ballets, including Esmeralda and Le jugement de Paris. In 1851 he took a position in St. Petersburg, where the composer wrote exclusively for His Imperial Majesty's Theater until his death.
Unfortunately, little remains of his prolific output (he is reported to have written more than 300 ballets), and that which does exist appears as piano reductions. One of these is The Little Humpbacked Horse, also known as The Tsar's Daughter. Its lighthearted charm is characteristic of what is known of his work.
The waltz from A Life for the Tsar and the entr'acte of The Little Humpbacked Horse were arranged for clarinet and piano by Bellison.
-- Meg Ryan is the Philharmonic's Publications Assistant. She has also written for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Electronic Musician, among other publications.