Lushly Romantic music by two great Russian masters, inspired by Italy: Igor Stravinsky and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Lynn Harrell performs Stravinsky’s classic Suite Italienne, in an excerpt from his April 2008 concert appearance in the Coolidge.
You can also view Harrell on the Library’s Performing Arts Encyclopedia, in a gathering of famous musicians we filmed here: “Great Conversations in Music.” With host Eugene Istomin, the group takes a look at some of the treasures in our music archives, a few of the more than 22 million individual items held here. Program 3, Chamber Music, features Lynn Harrell, Yo-Yo Ma, Jaime Laredo and others.
Paired with the Stravinsky we’re offering a vibrant performance of Tchaikovsky’s string sextet Souvenir of Florence. The artists are the members of the Borromeo String Quartet appearing with Jessica Bodner, viola, and Kee-Hyun Kim, cello, from the Parker Quartet. When this performance was recorded, in 2008, the Parker players were former students of the Borromeo Quartet at the New England Conservatory, fast gaining recognition. A year later, they are commanding attention on the international music scene, and hold the first-ever residency at Minnesota Public Radio, among others.
Borromeo Quartet founder Nicholas Kitchen also appears on our Performing Arts Encyclopedia in a fascinating tour-de-force video presentation, performing the Bach Chaconne on five instruments from the Library’s Musical Instruments Collection.
- "Betts" violin
- "Brookings" violin
- "Castelbarco" violin
- "Goldberg-Baron Vitta" violin
- "Kreisler" violin
- Comparison of performances of Bach's Chaconne on five violins
Lynn Harrell: Soloist, chamber musician, recitalist, conductor, and teacher, Lynn Harrell is a well-loved figure with audiences worldwide, and especially with the brotherhood of cellists. He is a frequent guest of many leading orchestras around the globe, and collaborates regularly with such noted conductors as James Levine, Sir Neville Marriner, Kurt Masur, and others. His instrument is a 1720 Montagnana.
Victor Santiago-Asuncion: Pianist Victor Santiago-Asuncion has performed in solo recital and chamber music in the U.S., Canada, Japan, and the Philippines, where he was born. Artist in residence at the Garth Newel Music Center in Virginia, he is professor piano at the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, University of Memphis.
Borromeo String Quartet: Formed in 1989 by four young musicians from the Curtis Institute of Music, the Borromeo String Quartet has performed in the world’s illustrious concerto halls, including the Berlin Philharmonie and Tokyo’s Casals Hall. This creative group has partnered with many of the most influential forces in the music world, including composers John Cage, György Ligeti, and Gunther Schuller.
Parker Quartet: The Parker Quartet has rapidly distinguished itself as one of the preeminent ensembles of its generation. Named the winner for the 2009-2011 Cleveland Quartet Award, the group has already won the Concert Artists Guild Competition and the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition.
Igor Stravinsky: Suite Italienne, from the ballet Pulcinella
Lynn Harrell, cello; Victor Santiago-Asuncion, piano
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence
Borromeo String Quartet and members of the Parker String Quartet
View the score
The movements that comprise Igor Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne originated as orchestral numbers from his ballet, Pulcinella, composed in 1919-1920, which was itself an arrangement of music by Pergolesi and other Italian composers.
In 1925 Stravinsky wrote Suite d’après thèmes, fragments et pièces de Giambattista Pergolesi, an arrangement for violin and piano. This was reworked in collaboration with the legendary cellist Gregor Piatigorsky into the Suite Italienne in 1932. Stravinsky and violinist Samuel Dushkin later made an arrangement of the cello and piano version for violin and piano. Like Beethoven’s cello variations, both versions of Suite Italienne have become popular works with performers and audiences alike.
Souvenir de Florence
While writing The Queen of Spades in Florence during the winter of 1890, Tchaikovsky wrote what became the main theme of the slow movement of Souvenir de Florence, hence the title [ “Memory [or Recollection] of Florence.”] But what is recollected is not the Florence of 1890 that, as several letters and diary entries indicate, was not a particularly joyous period [for the composer.]
From Berlin enroute to Italy, Tchaikovsky wrote to Modest on January 28, 1890:
“All the way here I couldn’t decide where to go, because in truth I didn’t want to go anywhere. But eventually I did settle on Florence. Oh, I am so fed up and out of sorts and I don’t even know why. Work will probably rescue me from this insufferable condition.” Having arrived in Florence, he confessed to Modest on the 25th : “Things have changed completely and though I am experiencing no pleasure from being in Florence, my former morbid gloom has vanished. My work has got underway…and this has completely transformed my morale.” On February 19 he wrote in his diaries: “My work has made me very nervous. It’s funny, but even my inspiration drives me crazy and creates difficulties.” This pattern of manic depression was nothing new; it was a condition he experienced throughout his musical career, exacerbated by the constant fear of being arrested as a homosexual.
Tired of Florence, he moved to Rome for three weeks. He wrote Modest: “I had done the most stupid thing in not settling in Rome from the start. However, I must not abuse poor Florence, which has done me no harm but which, for no good reasons, I have taken a dislike to; yet I ought to be grateful to Florence for letting me write The Queen of Spades without interruption.”
By mid-March The Queen of Spades was completed, but the sextet was not actually begun until June. It was not an easy task; he confessed to his brother Anatoly: “I have started writing the sextet and the composing is not going at all well so far; this new form for expressing myself is causing dreadful difficulties; I constantly feel as though I have not got six real parts but that I am in fact writing for the orchestra and just rearranging it for six string instruments.” By the beginning of August the sextet was completed and was previewed privately on December 7. Despite Tchaikovsky’s dissatisfaction with the last two movements, the sextet was premiered three days later in an all-Tchaikovsky concert of the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society. He did not begin revising the work until December 1891, finishing it on January 3 [?],1892. The revised version was first performed on December 6, 1892, in St. Petersburg.
Indeed, the obviously negative feelings the composer experienced during this sojourn in Florence could not have inspired the work intended as a tribute to the city. Rather, the Florence that is remembered in Souvenir de Florence is the city the composer visited twice in 1878. [...] On February 21, the day of their arrival, Tchaikovsky wrote his benefactor Nadezhda von Meck, “How strong I feel…what a good time I’m having, being able to enjoy life again, life so luxuriantly and powerfully manifested in Italy…Life here is abundant, free, and untrammeled, always in full swing!” Subsequent letters describe the virtues of the city—its art, its history—and with the arrival of spring—flowers everywhere, including his favorite lily of the valley. On March 7, his last day in the city, he wrote her, “What a dear town Florence is. The longer you spend here the fonder you grow of it…So far as the fortnight in Florence is concerned, it will stay in my memory as a marvelous, sweet dream.”
In early December 1878 Tchaikovsky arrived in Florence, finding the weather to be “just like summer, everywhere was brightened up by the sun, and the air was so translucently clean and mild,” he wrote to von Meck who had arranged for him to stay at her Villa Bonciani. That very day he was inspired to write a new opera based on Schiller’s Maid of Orleans. On December 9 he wrote Modest : “I have become so accustomed to the Villa Bonciani, to my solitude, and to the lovely peace and quiet of my apartment that I am never bored or lonely.” On December 22nd, he tells Modest, “The last days were full of inspirational fever! I have started The Maid of Orleans and you cannot imagine how difficult it is. Difficult not because of lack of inspiration but, on the contrary, because the pressure was too great. . . . I wanted to accomplish all in one short hour as it happens in a dream.”
On Christmas Eve, he wrote to von Meck, “I’ve been at the Villa Bonciani for exactly three weeks. The time has flown by. I’ll always think with affection of the days I’ve spent here. I’ve been happy, contented, and buoyant.” Arriving in Paris on the 30th, he confided to von Meck, “Leaving a place that you have enjoyed is always sad and I felt awful when I was leaving. But since one has to move some distance away from it in order to fully appreciate a happy period in one’s life, I am only now beginning fully to understand just how permanently the pleasant memories of this marvelous month have fixed themselves in my mind…” A few days later, he tells her: “Life passes alternately in successions of good and bad days. Life was good for me in Florence. ”
– Tomás C. Hernández, Music Division, Library of Congress
Last Updated: 03/01/2010