Overture to “Colas Breugnon“
Born: December 30, 1904, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: February 18, 1987, Moscow, Russia
Instrumentation: Wind Ensemble
Duration: 5 minutes
Arranged: 1961, Donald Hunsberger
Dmitry Kabalevsky, Overture to "Colas Breugnon," arr. Donald Hunsberger
United States Navy Band, Captain George N. Thompson, conductor
Russian composer Dmitri Kabalevsky based his 1938 opera Colas Breugnon: The Master of Clemency on French author Romain Rolland’s novel of the same name. Rolland, despite granting Kabalevsky free interpretive reign regarding the story, expressed disappointment at the libretto. This is perhaps due to the fact that Colas is set in Burgundy, France, and some of the ideals set forth in the novel would not have been accepted by the Soviet Communist Party. In stark contrast to the contrived political ambiguity of Dmitri Shostakovich, Kabalevsky was a member of the Communist Party beginning in 1940 and remained a loyal member throughout his career. With that, his music conformed to the standards set by the party and was aimed at the broad appeal to the masses through use of folk (or folk-like) tunes, major keys, etc. Some of the folk aspects are French influenced as opposed to being Russian and simply superimposed on a different location.
The opera is comic but is not without its dark moments of drama. 16th century carpenter Colas Breugnon’s past and present loves serve as episodes throughout the show. The primary action centers around a villainous Duke as antagonist to Colas (used in the opera as representative of the working class Soviets). The overture prepares both the comic and dramatic aspects of the opera through two main sections. The first is a highly energetic splash of sound followed by a quirky, slightly off-kilter melody. The music eventually winds itself down into a darker sustained melodic section that serves as the second, contrasting part The recapitulation revisits many of the themes presented earlier, and the ensemble revs up into an ending that benefits from the element of surprise.
- Program note by Jeffrey Spenner
Dmitry Kabalevsky, Overture to "Colas Breugnon"
New England Conservatory Philharmonia, Andrew Litton, conductor