Leonard Bernstein, "Slava!"
Slava! (A Political Overture)
Born: August 25, 1918, Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died: October 14, 1990, New York, New York
Duration: 4 minutes
Transcribed: 1978, Clare Grundman
For the second week of his first season as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, in October 1977, Mstislav Rostropovich invited Leonard Bernstein for a program of his own works, in which the two musicians shared the podium and Mr. Rostropovich performed also as soloist in a work composed for him. The program opener, the “political overture” Slava!, was one of three new Bernstein works premiered at that concert, and the only one composed especially for that occasion.
That title, as listeners familiar with Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov know, is the Russian word for "glory"; for that opera's coronation scene, Mussorgsky set that word to the old traditional tune known as "the Slava," a tune quoted earlier by Beethoven in the scherzo of his String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (the second of his three "Razumovsky" Quartets), and subsequently by Rimsky-Korsakov and other Russian composers. "Slava" is also a nickname given to men with such names as Miroslav, Vladyslav and Vyacheslav, and by far the best-known bearer of that sobriquet is Mr. Rostropovich himself, who is "Slava" to friends, family, colleagues--and indeed everyone who knows him or speaks of him. That is the context in which Bernstein's overture is titled, but there is a reference to the traditional musical "Slava" as well, very brief and in an altered rhythm, at the end of the piece.
When Bernstein received our Slava's request for a "rousing new overture," he took his basic materials from his musical play 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which had been introduced in Philadelphia the previous year; although that show was unsuccessful, its setting seemed to point to it as an apt source for welcoming Slava to Washington, and the exuberance of the themes definitely met his expressed specification. The score is marked "Fast and flamboyant."
Jack Gottlieb, in his notes for the premiere, wrote that the first theme is "a vaudevillian razz-ma-tazz tune filled with side-slipping modulations and sliding trombones. Theme II comes from the opening of the show, a canonic tune in 7/8 time. Instead of a conventional development section, there follows another kind of development, which will literally speak for itself [a parody of political oratory]. The two themes reoccur in reverse order.
Near the end of the piece the two themes are presented together with the fleeting citation of the Russian Slava theme as noted above. The other "new material" at the end is the chanting of the name "Slava" itself by members of the orchestra. (In the original version, it was the name of Slava's dog Pooks, since departed, that was chanted.)
- Program note by Richard Freed
Slava! is being presented in celebration of Bernstein’s one-hundredth birthday in 2018.
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