notesontheprogram - New York Philharmonic

01-23 Capucon_Layout 1 1/14/14 3:43 PM Page 29
The Leni and Peter May Chair
The Enchanted Kingdom, Op. 39
Nicolai Tcherepnin
icolai Tcherepnin graduated from the
University of Saint Petersburg and, in
1898, from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory,
where he was influenced by his composition
professor, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Following
a few years of directing music at the Tsar’s Imperial Chapel, he joined the Conservatory’s faculty and became the first teacher of conducting
in Russia. He himself was an important figure
on the podium, overseeing the notable Russian
Symphonic Concerts series and appearing often
as guest conductor with the Russian Musical
Society and the Moscow Philharmonic, as well
as at the Mariinsky Theatre. This brought him
into contact with the impresario Serge Diaghilev, who invited Tcherepnin to conduct the
groundbreaking 1909 Saison Russe in Paris as
well as many later appearances of his company,
Les Ballets Russes. Two of Tcherepnin’s scores
were presented as ballets by that troupe: Le Pavillon d’Armide (1907) and Narcisse et Echo (1911).
When the trauma of the Russian Revolution broke out, Tcherepnin fled with his family to Tbilisi, Georgia, and then settled in the
suburbs of Paris in 1921. There he became involved with the ballet troupe headed by Anna
Pavlova; founded and directed the Russian
Conservatory in Paris; and began disseminating the music of forward-thinking young
composers through the publishing house
founded some years earlier by Mitrofan Belaiev. Tcherepnin was a popular figure among
musicians both in his native Russia and
in Paris, which did not lack for expatriate
Russians, and his social circle included such
notables as Lyadov, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov,
Stravinsky, and Prokofiev.
His symphonic sketch The Enchanted Kingdom dates from 1909–10 and could be considered a proto-Firebird. Diaghilev eventually
found his man for The Firebird in Stravinsky, but
not before he had approached three (possibly
four) other composers, of which Tcherepnin
was the first. The Enchanted Kingdom, writes
Richard Taruskin in his book Stravinsky and
the Russian Traditions,
contains the music [Tcherepnin] had composed on commission for the first original
ballet to be presented in Paris under the aegis
Born: May 15, 1873, in Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: June 26, 1945, in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a
suburb of Paris, France
Work composed: 1909–10; published in 1912
under the French title Le Royaume enchant
World premiere: March 13, 1910, at a concert
of the Russian Symphonic Society sponsored
by the publisher Mitrofan Belaiev in Saint
New York Philharmonic premiere: these
Estimated duration: ca. 14 minutes
JANUARY 2014 | 29
01-23 Capucon_Layout 1 1/14/14 3:43 PM Page 30
of the Diaghilev enterprise — none other,
of course, than The Firebird.
The enchanted kingdom of Tcherepnin’s
title is that of the sorcerer Kashchei, whose
evil spells Prince Ivan shatters with the help
of the magical Firebird. With her song, the
Firebird lulls Kashchei and his cohorts to
sleep while she reveals the secret of his vulnerability to the young Prince. The score
bears this epigraph (here presented in David
Brown’s translation):
A spellbound calm binds the kingdom of
Kashchei — a calm veiled in gentle tinklings, in fresh dawn breezes. Neither the
laments of enchanted strings nor magic
riddles can break this slumber, this spell of
sleep. Drowsy and sweet are the strains of
the Firebird. Night descends. A black
horseman enters the sleeping kingdom of
Kashchei. Barely heard in the silent kingdom’s enchanted quiet are the tiny bells —
the gentle breezes scarcely stir.
The Enchanted Kingdom paints an evocative
and magical landscape. Tcherepnin was fond
of spotlighting individual instruments
through momentary solos, always demonstrating an exquisite sense of orchestral balance. The work proceeds episodically; like
many of his modernist contemporaries,
Tcherepnin was more interested in the effect
achieved by the gradual unrolling of material
than in the tightly argued musical logic of
classical tradition. The harmonic rhythm of
The Enchanted Kingdom is often exceedingly
slow, with bass notes sometimes being held
unchanged through several pages of the score;
the effect is curious and unsettling, a contra-
A Composing Dynasty
The name Tcherepnin has been threading through concert music for four generations. Nicolai
Tcherepnin, the composer of The Enchanted Kingdom, stands at the head of this musical dynasty, but his son Alexander Nicolaievich Tcherepnin (1899–1977) was already a highly esteemed
composer during his father’s lifetime; his path led from France, where his family had settled in
1921, to China and Japan, then back to Paris for the years of World War II, and finally to the United
States, where he lived first in Chicago, then in New York. Alexander had two musical sons with
his wife, the pianist Ming Tcherepnin. The elder,
Serge (born in 1941), taught in the early 1970s at
the California Institute of the Arts, invented an electronic synthesizer (called the Serge Modular), and
continues to develop technologically advanced
sound-generated equipment. The other son, Ivan
(1943–98), taught at the San Francisco Conservatory, Stanford University, and eventually Harvard,
where he directed that university’s electronic
music studio. Ivan’s sons, Stefan and Sergei
Tcherepnin, continue the family tradition. Both are
active in the New York arts scene: Stefan as a composer and performer of acoustic and electronic
music (often creating works that relate to specific
visual or spatial artworks), and Sergei in exploThe dynasty continues: Sergei Tcherepnin creating a
site-specific composition at the Portland Institute for rations of the intersection of sound with physical
materials, as in sound-installation pieces.
Contemporary Art, in 2013
01-23 Capucon_Layout 1 1/14/14 3:43 PM Page 31
dictory sensation of busy activity on the surface but profound stasis overall.
The opening tempo of Moderato tranquillo,
quasi andantino is maintained through more
than half the piece, but after a pause the flavor
changes to a still broader Sostenuto maestoso for
a contrasting second section, almost pointillistic in the raindrop staccatos that range through
the orchestra. This episode soon cedes to the
return of a melody intoned earlier by various
soloists. Themes from the beginning are
recalled at the very end — murmuring violins, questioning melodic gestures — before
the haunting vision of the enchanted kingdom
fades away to the land of memory.
Instrumentation: four flutes (one doubling
piccolo), two oboes and English horn, three
clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three
trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani,
cymbals, bass drum, orchestra bells, xylophone,
celesta, two harps, piano, and strings.
Sources and Inspirations
The Firebird, which figures prominently in
Tcherepnin’sThe Enchanted Kingdom as well
as in the eponymous Stravinsky ballet, is a
common element in folk tales of many countries. In the Russian and Slavic versions that
Tcherepnin would have known, the Firebird
tends to be a magical bird that brings blessings, but may also act as a harbinger of doom.
Its vibrant red, orange, and yellow plumage
glows with a fiery intensity that does not diminish, even if plucked from the bird. Tales of
the Firebird typically involve a hero who finds
a lost tail feather, or hears the bird’s seductive song, a discovery that sets him off on a
quest to find and capture the elusive, enchanting creature. Across folk tales from different countries, the quest is inevitably a
difficult journey, with travels to faraway lands
and encounters with magical helpers, in
search of a great treasure that does not always result in the expected happiness.
The Firebird, as illustrated by Ivan Bilibin for a Russian fairy
— The Editors tale, in 1901
JANUARY 2014 | 31