May 18, 2007
A symphonic poem which takes its ideas from “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, Silence was written in 1909-1910 when Nikolai was still a student at St. Petersburg Conservatory and as he put it going through a pessimestic tendency in his composing. Life was not good for Miaskovsky and it was transferred to his compositions. Like the poem, the music is quite dark and brooding in nature not unlike Rachmaninov’s Isle Of The Dead , which was composed around a bleak atmospheric Arnold Bocklin painting. Both were written during the same year although Rachmanivov was 8 years older and had already written 28 works as opposed to 8 for Nikolai. Both works are also approximately 20+ minute pieces and deal with death. Both composers as well as Poe were dealing with severe depression issues. The Isle of the Dead is by far the more popular of the two pieces with numerous recordings from all the major orchestras of the world. Silence, to my knowledge, has only two recordings: this Marco Polo release and one on Olympia as part of a complete works of Miaskovsky compositions.
For this reviewer the interesting exercise was to read the poem while the music was playing and try to hear how Nikolai adapted it to his tone poem. The very first observation was the lack of any sort of tapping rhythm (“As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”) at the very beginning of the piece. Somehow it only seemed natural that there be some sort of percussion rhythm but alas there was nothing. Instead it begins very softly with low dark strings setting the mood of the midnight dreary. Horns and bassoons follow with the alto flute fluttering, depicting the rustling of the curtains. The oboe gives us the first theme, that of the longing for Leonore. As it builds to a crescendo and then dies down the yearning, longing, and loving, is depicted (“And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me-filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;”). The strains continue depicting the long lost Lenore ending in near total silence and then the bird enters (“Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, in there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;”). As the strings swirl in a whirlpool like sound he discovers that the Raven is a thing of evil and terror. And then all is quiet as he accepts (“And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted-nevermore!”) his fate. It ends as it began in silence.
If your tastes are drawn to the dark moody melancholy style of work this is quite a good one and even more remarkable considering this was a very early work. Miaskovsky’s structure, orchestration, and story telling is advanced. This is one that will require 100% of your attention and several listens for you to fully appreciate what he accomplished. This is an excellent obscure tone poem that needs to be explored fully. The reviewer wishes to thank the Library of America for providing the works of Poe so that this work could be fully explored in all areas. Being able to read the poem while the music was played was a tremendous help, allowing me to somewhat understand what Miaskovsky was trying to accomplish.
Golden Score Rating is (****)
Produced by Martin Sauer
Marco Polo # 8.223302