Ah, the things that spark musical inspiration …
For Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky it was his friend’s artworks. For Red Deer Symphony Orchestra conductor Claude Lapalme, it was the historic music that had been performed under the dome of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
Both Lapalme’s just finished new composition, Under the Dome of San Marco, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition will be performed at the season-closing Red Deer Symphony Orchestra concert on May 20 at the Red Deer College Art Centre.
The Mussorgsky work, made up of multi-tonal musical passages; was originally a piano piece describing the watercolour works of Russian architect and painter Viktor Hartmann.
Performing Maurice Ravel’s 1922 orchestral arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition will be musicians from the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the RDSO. Lapalme will conduct a total of about 80 musicians.
Smaller groupings will tackle the two shorter pieces on the program — Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Suite of Dances from Pygmalion, and the world premiere of Lapalme’s new composition.
Under the Dome of San Marco is based on musical “quotes” from the works of six early composers who presented concerts at St. Mark’s Basilica in the 1500 to 1700s. These are: Claudio Monteverdi, composers Andrea Gabrieli and his nephew Giovanni Gabrieli, Dario Castello, Antonio Lotti and Adrian Willaert — a Flemish composer who was choir director at St. Mark’s.
Most of the excerpts will be unfamiliar to all but devotees of Italian Renaissance and Baroque music, said Lapalme.
The exception is the five notes Lapalme borrowed from Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Holy Virgin and early opera, L’Orfeo.
Lapalme visited St. Mark’s in Venice and describes it as “one of our most splendid sites.” His fantasie based on six musical fragments is also reminiscent of a “dreamscape,” and he hopes the RDSO audience enjoys “going back into the fog of time.”
Rameau’s dances are mostly upbeat, encompassing the minuet, gavotte, tambourin, sarabande and others.
“They are very rhythmical,” he added, originating in the Pygmalion opera-ballet from the French Baroque.
Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition is made of tone poems paying tribute to images painted by his friend Hartmann, who died unexpectedly of an aneurysm at the age of 39.
The music goes from sounding grand (for Hartmann’s painted proposal for a city gate in Kiev), to “cute” (for his costume designs for a ballet of unhatched chicks) to grotesque (Hartmann’s rather sinister gnomes).
In several cases, Mussorgsky’s musical description are all that’s left, since Hartmann’s images went missing.
Lapalme believes the audience will find Mussorgsky’s Pictures a fascinating soundtrack.
The Russian composer and army officer was part sophisticated and part boorish; “He was a bit uncultured and a bit arrogant … but he was a genius,” said Lapalme, who noted even the harshest critics concede Mussorgsky showed frequent flashes of brilliance.
The composer, who was as highly regarded as his contemporaries, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin, also died relatively young at the age of 42 — from liver failure due to alcoholism.
Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $67.35 ($57.35 seniors/$47.35 students, first three rows) from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.