Edison Denisov: Sun of the Incas
Leoš Janáček: Capriccio for Piano Left-Hand, Flute (piccolo), Two Trumpets, Three Trombones and Tenor Tuba, JW VII/12
Igor Stravinsky: Concerto for Piano and Brass Instruments
Sergei Slonimsky: Concerto Buffo
Sun of the Incas, a work for soprano and chamber orchestra based on the poem Tropical Sun by Gabriela Mistral (1964), is a six-part cantata that marks the beginning of the highly successful international career of the Soviet composer Edison Vasilievich Denisov (1929-1996). A year after its 1964 premiere in Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg, under the baton of Gennady Rozhdestvensky, it was performed in Darmstadt, at Warsaw Autumn and in Paris. Denisov composed in predefined series which he didn´t follow strictly, so within this work the world of strict rationality meets a contentually and emotionally tense humanistic message expressing the need for humanity to return to nature and its myths, which the author felt could protect the world from impending doom during the escalating Cold War and the beginnings of the war in Vietnam at the time of composition. It is not a coincidence that Denisov chose the poem Tropical Sun from the poetry collection Tala from 1938, thanks to which its author Gabriela Mistral became the first Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.
At the beginning of the composition Capriccio for Left-Hand Piano, Flute (piccolo), Two Trumpets, Three Trombones and Tenor Tuba was the request of a pianist and war invalid named Otakar Hollman for a piano composition. At first, Leoš Janáček responded sharply and indiscriminately, in typical Janáček style, to the challenge of composing a piece for a one-handed player: Childish – what do you want to play with one hand? It is hard to dance for one with only one leg. However, when he heard the pianist play, he said that he would think about it again. Although Hollmann did not hold out much hope for a result, in actual fact a really brilliant composition was taking shape within Janáček’s mind. In the autumn of 1926 he completed his Capriccio for Left-Hand Piano and Wind Instruments and told Hollmann in a letter from 11. 11. 1926: I wrote Capriccio. You know, it was like out of spite, childish, to write for one hand. Other reasons and causes, both material and internal, were needed. When all of them arrived and met – then a work was created. And so one of the most remarkable chamber works of the 20th century was created. Hollmann performed the premiere of Capriccio on 2. 3. 1928 in the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House in Prague.
The Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) is one of the fundamental piano compositions of the 20th century. In 1920, Stravinsky moved from Switzerland to Paris, which was filled with the ideas of the neoclassical movement, which was fighting against the emotional disjointedness and systematic nature of Romanticism. In Paris, far from the Russian folk songs which initiated his first creative period, Stravinsky thought about a new conception for his work. In the Octet for Wind Instruments from 1921, and most notably in the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments that was completed in 1924, he returned to classical music from the times of Händel and Bach. However, he transformed it into a proper and original language built on an architecturally masterful, clean-sounding structure, as if carved from a single piece of material without unnecessary embellishment and gloss. The composition had its premiere in Paris in 1924, with the author at the piano. In 1950 Stravinsky partially revised the instrumentation of the work.
Concerto buffo for chamber orchestra (1964) by Sergei Slonimsky (1932–2020), as the very name of the work suggests, is not lacking in wit and often ironic detachment. Slonimsky is full of musical ideas, though they are formally and precisely arranged into two gradually developing parts. The first of these, the Canonical Fugue, is constructed strictly rationally, while the second part, with the subtitle Improvisation, places significant emphasis on aleatoric elements that urge performers to develop thematic models through variations. In this way, the author infuses the sound of the ensemble with distinctive colour, spicing up the strictly defined melodic form. As a result, every performance offers new surprises. The composition had its premiere in Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg, in 1966.
Viktor Pantůček, Jiří Zahrádka