Sergey Vasilenko (1872 ? 1956)
Sergey Nikiforovich Vasilenko was born in Moscow in 1872 and studied law at Moscow University I while taking private lessons in music from Richard Nokh, followed by study of theory with Grechaninov, harmony with Protopopov and composition with Konyus. He graduated from the university in 1896 and was able from 1895 to study at the Conservatory I where he was a pupil of Sergey Taneyev I Ippolitov-Ivanov and Safonov. He won a gold medal for his opera Legend of the Great City of Kitezh and the Quiet Lake Svetoyar. He subsequently conducted at the Mamontov Opera and from 1907 until1917 was artistic director and conductor of the Historic Concerts in Moscow. He taught orchestration and composition at Moscow Conservatory from 1906 until his death, with a short gap during the worst of the war years. As a conductor and artistic director he spent time in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Ukraine, so that an exotic element enters his music, from the Soviet East, added to a style that had previously derived much from traditional church music, Russian folk-music and the example of his predecessors, notably Tchaikovsky.
Vasilenko"s two Chinese Suites were written in 1928 and 1931 respectively. The first of these, scored for an orchestra that inevitably includes a tam-tam in a percussion section of piano, celesta, bells, tambourine, snare-drum, wood blocks, cymbals, bass drum, ratchet and glockenspiel, claims to use original Chinese melodies, but with modern European harmonies. The pentatonic nature of the thematic material is maintained, giving the composer the possibility of various forms of counterpoint, such as imitation and canon. The first movement, Procession to the Temple of the Ancestors, uses the ancient traditional melody Hymn to the Ancestors. Later a folk-melody is heard and the sound of bells from the pagoda. The second movement, A Spring Evening is described by the composer as a nocturne and a folk-dance. After the open fifths of the horns, an oboe is heard, followed by clarinet and then piccolo, as the woodwind instruments take it in turns to suggest a spring evening. Strings, playing with the back of the bow, with tambourine and wood blocks provide a rhythmic accompaniment to the clarinet. A funeral procession is depicted in the third movement, with the cries of mourning of those accompanying the procession and characteristic calls from the trombones. The composer adds the suggestion that in China the larger brass instruments are used at funerals. The fourth movement is in lively triple rhythm, which, the composer points out, is seldom found in Chinese music. The dance is energetic and does for a time settle into a more characteristic duple rhythm, before the original rhythm returns. The Lament of the Princess is allegedly based on a fourteenth century Chinese melody. The melody appears first with clarinet and bassoon supported by glockenspiel, celesta and piano. A plaintive central section gives the oboe prominence, accompanied by strings and harp and later to be joined in the melody by a solo viola. The suite ends with Echo over the Golden Lake, where the sound of little bells is heard. These gentle echoes over the water are followed by a Chinese Market in which merchants cry their wares amidst the noise of the street.
The Prelude of the Indian Suite, drawn from the ballet Noyya, opens with the woodwind in a chromatic and sinuous melodic line, the cor anglais heralding the entry of the strings. After an emphatic dynamic climax there is are turn to the material of the opening section, leading to a hushed conclusion. The Dithyrhamb, a Bacchic dance, with its cross-rhythms, brings an immediate contrast, to be followed by the Dance of the Maidens, introduced by a figure on the celesta, doubled by the flute and leading into a lyrical waltz. The opening figure returns and it is this again that finally brings the movement to an end. The Popular Celebration is as lively and energetic as might be expected, its conclusion announced by three trumpets on stage. The Wedding Procession allows the on-stage trumpets a fanfare, echoed in the orchestra, before the stately march begins. Wedding bells are heard, as the movement rises to a great climax. The following Indian Dance allows the oboe to introduce the principal theme, leading to more characteristic material. The music dies away, to the accompaniment of string harmonics. Noyya"s Dance announces itself as based on a Japanese theme, the characteristic intervals of which are heard at the outset from the oboe. The Dance of the Young Men is vigorous, suitably orchestrated. The Duet on the Theme Ghusal proclaims an Indian origin, with a theme first heard from the cellos, before a passage for solo violin. The suite continues with a Gavotte on a Chinese Theme, with appropriate instrumentation and use of the pentatonic scale. The Whirling Dance is redolent of Turkic territory, until a more Russian element intrudes. The sustained notes of the organ, with muted tremolo strings provide a background for fragments of melody that emerge from the wind instruments, eventually celebrating the rising of the sun. Oboe and clarinet recount the opening of Legend, a gentle tale. The Finale calls for a wordless chorus, in addition to the organ and the full orchestra, in a great romantic conclusion.