Our season ends as it started: in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s magical world of sound.
In Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture, the incense lies thickly over orthodox melodies while his brilliant Capriccio Espagnol basks in glittering colours and revels in fiery Spanish dances. In addition to this, you are invited to experience both ancient and modern Rome in Respighi’s spectacular Feste Romane. Shéhérazade herself is still very present − but this time Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian colours are replaced by Ravel’s French brushstrokes, with star soprano Véronique Gens as narrator.
Some might claim that Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844−1908) had a sole outstanding ability as a composer − he was able to put orchestral sound to use in very varied, elegant and inventive ways. In addition to his famed suite on the subject of Sheherazade, he is particularly known for his Russian Easter Festival Overture, and his Capriccio Espagnol. Both are brilliant, if very different, orchestral compositions, and both received their world premieres in St. Petersburg in 1887 and 1888 respectively.
In the first piece, Rimsky-Korsakov uses melodies from Obikhod, a collection of hymns from Russian orthodox liturgical practice. For the world premiere, the composer supplied the music with biblical verses from Psalm 68 and the Gospel of Mark, as well as his own description of the Easter holiday. The work has an indisputably solemn aura about it, but is at the same time replete with light, joy and a multitude of colours.
This is most certainly the case also in Capriccio Espagnol, where the composer uses the dances alborada and fandango asturiano from the Asturias region in Spain as a framework. The orchestration is, if possible, even more colourful and spectacular in this work than in the Easter Overture, especially thanks to the huge percussion section and the many imaginative harmonies and playing techniques. In the fourth movement the strings are even intended to imitate guitars!
While Rimsky-Korsakov drew inspiration from Russian orthodox culture, Ottorino Respighi (1879−1936) cast his gaze back in time to Italian music- and cultural history. He often used stylistic elements from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in his unique form of modernism, which was full of fantasy, but he was also fascinated by even older tales from ancient Rome. He is best known for his three orchestral works Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome and Feste Romane.
With the overwhelming brass fanfare in the first movement Circences, Respighi throws us straight into a bloodbath in the Colosseum where gladiators fight for their lives. In Giubilo, medieval pilgrims wander slowly and solemnly until they catch sight of Rome in the distance, when they break out in praise. L’ottobrata depicts an old-fashioned thanksgiving where both hunting and dance are guaranteed ingredients. In the last movement, La Befana, people are gathered on the Piazza Navona, ready for song, dance and celebration, joined even by a drunk tenor trombone. Feste Romane was performed for the first time by Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic in 1929.
Maurice Ravel’s (1875−1937) interest in Orientalism was equal to that of Rimsky-Korsakov, and he also shared the Russian composer’s interest in orchestration and orchestral colours. In his song cycle Shéhérazade (1904), Ravel has written music to three poems by Tristan Klingsor, who was inspired by namely Rimsky-Korsakov’s suite. In Asie, the protagonist loses himself in a fantasy about “The East”. La flûte enchantée is about a slave girl who overhears her beloved play the flute outside her window, while the protagonist fails to seduce his object of desire in L’indifférent. All this is wrapped in Ravel’s spellbinding sound.
(In photo: Véronique Gens, Photo: Franck Juery; Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)
- Adult: 100 - 470 NOK
- Senior: 100 - 375 NOK
- Student: 100 - 235 NOK
- Child: 100 NOK