Pianist Serhiy Salov made his solo debut at the age of eleven, performing the Grieg Concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. He has won several first prizes, including at the [...]
They spoke about it
The Sacred Spring of Slavs is a musical depiction of proto-Slavic pagan rites created through the juxtaposition of Igor Stravinsky’s mythical The Rite of Spring and Ukrainian composer Ihor Shamo’s Hutsulian Watercolours. Serhiy Salov’s goal with this project was to highlight the parallels between the two works, both of which have a coarse side, favour irregular rhythms and feature the most bizarre dissonances.
Shamo: Hutsulian Watercolours
The creative life of Ihor Shamo (1925–1982) is intimately linked with his natal Kiev. He studied piano from a young age and held a special admiration for Bach, along with Schumann, Mussorgsky, and Rachmaninov. After serving as an officer in the Soviet army, he completed his studies in composition and began a relatively thriving career. His oeuvre includes numerous works for his favourite instrument, among them a series of Preludes, Tara’s Thoughts, Pictures of Russian Painters and Hutsulian Watercolours (premiered in 1972), suites inspired by his love of painting. Indeed, Ihor Shamo uses the sustain pedal in much the same way the artist uses water. “I found a remarkable, refreshing and deliciously exotic colour in this work,” explains Salov. “I was struck by the composition’s lack of formal rigidity, the originality of the composer’s musical ideas, and the way in which he stylized the folklore rather than simply incorporating it into the material.”
The Hutsulian Watercolours evoke the daily lives of the Hutsuls, highlanders of the Carpathian mountains whom Ukrainians find highly exotic, having trouble even understanding the local dialect, a mixture of Romanian, Hungarian and Ukrainian.
Ihor Shamo shrewdly conceived the suite to alternate between scenes of nature and of daily life, in much the same way Igor Stravinsky introduced the two large sections of his ballet to highlight the brutality of the pagan rites. “Sunrise in the Mountains” has a remarkable onomatopoeic quality, evoking both thunder and raindrops as well as birdsong. Ihor Shamo would also create a Doppler-like effect as a way of imitating the way sound travels in the mountains. “Little Shepherd Boy” brings to mind “Child Falling Asleep” from Robert Schumann’s Scenes From Childhood, with its sumptuously harmonized middle section framed by more monochrome outer sections. And while “Shepherds’ Dance” seems to share kinship with Bartók’s Allegro barbaro, “A Ritual Song for Spring” is an allusion—whether conscious or not—to the first phrase of The Rite of Spring, the melodic contour of both statements seeming to intertwine around their age-old common root.
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Even nearly a century after the premiere of The Rite of Spring (the Russian title literally means “Sacred Spring”), its pagan subject matter, its strong tribal imagery, and its marked rhythms and dissonances still manage to take one by surprise. And Igor Stravinsky’s then new conception of musical time—a multi-faceted mosaic rather than a series of monolithic blocks—remains just as striking, much akin to the cubist works of Picasso, seeming to divide time into bits, with small fragments contrasting with and running into one another.
As Igor Stravinsky explained in his autobiography, Chronicle of My Life, the ballet has no real plotline: “The Rite of Spring is a musical-choreographic work. It represents pagan Russia and is unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring.” The work is divided into two large sections. In “The Adoration of the Earth” (Igor Stravinski preferred the more literal translation, “The Kiss of the Earth”), sacred dances gradually transform into wild trances, ending in a battle between two rival tribes who abduct the young girls. In “The Sacrifice” one of the captives must be offered to the Earth and dies after a frenzied dance.
In transcribing The Rite of Spring for solo piano, Serhiy Salov’s purpose was to find a new way to convey Stravinsky’s wild imagination. To achieve this, he immersed himself in the work, exploring its most minute inner workings and deconstructing it to better rebuild it afterward. “I did this above all out of love for the Rite, since the piano offers a greater freedom,” he stresses. “And it seems to me that a single player can bring a more focused energy to the work, which seems somewhat diffuse with an entire orchestra. Of course, one cannot reproduce everything one hears in the orchestra, with its huge range; but on the piano, one can dive into the very heart of the piece.”
In reworking the The Rite of Spring, Serhiy Salov paid particular attention to the various strata of sounds that needed to be reproduced: “Because there is a limit to what ten fingers can accomplish, I chose to use the sostenuto pedal (the middle pedal on the piano), for example, to help clarify the textures.
Stravinsky also plays around with the traditional roles of orchestral instruments, such as using horns and strings as percussion instruments, or by treating multiple strata of strings as broad aggregates of harmonics. My aim here was to convey the colour and mood of the work, for example by playing around with the range of perceived frequencies, letting low notes convey something mysterious and almost indeterminate, such as the timpani might do.”
Seeking to interpret The Rite of Spring as faithfully as possible, Salov did not hesitate to weave two voices together if he could not play them at the same time, thus creating a curious “trompe l’oreille,” or aural illusion, in which the individual voices are no longer strictly linear, but are sufficiently distinct that the listener continues to perceive them. Salov is convinced that his version is more detailed than the four-hand version arranged by Igor Stravinsky himself (which was perhaps more a simple preparatory tool for the dancers). Extracting the essence of each page of the score may even prove beneficial in how listeners perceive the work: “The orchestral version pushes the boundaries of auditory perception, especially with all its doubled lines.” Salov’s arrangement, however, magnifies the irregular metres and dissonances in the Rite of Spring, so that the resulting musical landscape, while perhaps less poetic, is undeniably more gripping.
© Lucie Renaud
Translation: Peter Christensen