Musical Musings

Winter Dreams

Even though the first Star Wars movie had its premiere nearly 40 years ago, it seems everyone - no matter how young or old - can immediately identify the movie's opening theme. (I bet you just started humming it!)

That's because music and imagery go hand-in-hand - and, the works on this Masterworks' all-Russian program show off the different possibilities inherent in this relationship.

If you saw the movie "Shine," about pianist David Helfgott, you know Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 - or as it's now better known, "Rach 3." In the movie, the work becomes a metaphor for Helfgott's own struggle with mental illness, and as he overcomes his inner demons, he conquers this seemingly impenetrable concerto as well.

Despite the incredibly simple melody with which it opens, Rach 3 quickly reveals itself to be wildly virtuosic - and the movie casts the work as the most difficult concerto in the repertoire.

While Rach 3 became famous because of a movie - Isaak Dunayevsky became famous because of movies. His career was based mostly on compositions for operettas and films - and one of his most popular works today, The Children of Captain Grant, comes from his soundtrack to a 1936 Soviet adventure movie based on a book by Jules Verne.

Tchaikovsky's Winter Dreams symphony is associated with pictures, too, but not quite as literally as the Rachmaninoff and the Dunayevsky. From the opening movement, Tchaikovsky uses associations with extra-musical material - elements outside the score - to make his music incredibly rich. 

From the very beginning, the melancholy melody for flute and bassoon, the stormy central section, a wholly surprising pause for the whole orchestra - Tchaikovsky uses pictures to liberate harmony, instrumental color, and form. 

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