Revisit: Myaskovsky Symphony no. 2 in C#m, op. 11

performed by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under Evgeny Svetlanov

Second and third movement in three parts below:

Second movement

Third movement pt. 1 and the last part

So this symphony, first of all, appears variously as a two- or -three movement work, depending on the recording; in mine, it’s listed as two movements, with the second being over half an hour long, while listening to it, it is clearly in two sections; as difficult as this piece is to appreciate, for me, even that I could notice.

Where to start? This article is a revisit from once when I listened to this piece, actually… now that I realize it, the very first piece for this blog that I ever wrote about, back when I was still on Tumblr and thought I could post daily. Needless to say, this piece could use another go-round. Let’s briefly discuss Myaskovsky himself.

He’s referred to as the ‘Father of the Soviet symphony,’ but then isn’t mentioned a single time in the article on Russian or Soviet classical music. He was awarded the Stalin prize a whopping five times, more than any other composer, and while that may not sound as important as a Grammy or Echo prize (or whatever) does, it was still something.

Things we’ve heard before: his family had originally decided he should be in the military, but he heard some amazing music and decided to become a composer. His family moved to St. Petersburg in his teens, and the music he heard was Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, but still became an engineer, and took private lessons with Reinhold Gliere before finally enrolling in the St. Petersburg conservatory in 1906, studying under Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov (shocker!). He was the oldest student in the class, and Sergei Prokofiev was the youngest; they became quick friends, bonding over their distaste for Lyadov.

You’ll notice we’ve taken a step back in time, after Lyapunov’s work of 1917, but the actual work we will focus on this week fits our timeline. Some of Myaskovsky’s earliest works show influence from Scriabin and Tchaikovsky, ostensibly most apparent in his first surviving work, the first symphony in Cm, which we have not yet gotten and currently will not yet get to. That one aside, the second symphony is likely overshadowed by the third through the sixth symphonies (or just three and six alone, the other two works we will discuss tomorrow and the day after).

The greatest resource on Myaskovsky’s music that I could find online is here, by Eric Schissel, and even it is somewhat sparse with these earliest of symphonies. I read somewhere, now i cannot find where, that the second is one of the most neglected of the symphonies, which is saying something for an body 0f 27 generally neglected symphonies.

As mentioned above, it is scaled (at least in my recording) into two large movements. The first at 13-15 minutes, is a pretty average size, but the second is enormous. It comes in at over half an hour. A quick look at IMSLP shows that the score for the work is listed in three movements, and perhaps they’re played attacca. Dunno.

The first movement is a persistent, almost languid thing, a sonata-form-ish movement with a few themes that won’t go away. They’re almost lively at times, and there are moments (like the end) of crunchy, almost violent climaxes. After the first movement, the work might seem pretty approachable or at least comprehensible aside from an overwhelming, grey pall of depression.

The second movement (or first half of the enormous second; however you decide to look at it) is truly beautiful. An Amazon reviewer here for this recording gives one of the most detailed reviews of the work I’ve found on the interwebs. He describes the slow movement here as one of the most beautiful and effective perhaps of Myaskovsky’s entire symphonic output, which, again, is saying something.

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about this piece than I did in the original post more than two years ago. It is not necessarily a symphony that moves me. Schissel, linked above, says of the symphonies as a whole, (capitalization errors included):

To the inevitable question, Is his music Any Good?, one is forced to give a short answer and a long answer.

Short Answer: the best of his works are of lasting quality and emotional force.

Overall, my thoughts on the piece mimic what was said by Calum McDonald about Lyapunov’s second symphony last week, that it “compels respect rather than enthusiasm.” I will admit I get wrapped up in at least the first two movements, but there’s also quite a lot of tension in the third, with some unsettlingly quiet passages and those of greater liveliness and struggle, but in a unique way.

Perhaps after working through more of his symphonies I’ll be able to put my finger (or my tongue…?) exactly on what it is that makes these unique. There’s something about Myaskovsky. See you tomorrow.

 

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