Yes, it’s a very interesting question. Actually, I really like the passacaglia form, you know why? Sometimes we think about something and the same main idea doesn’t give up. And all the other content accumulates around… I will say another way… Subject, contents – it is an idea, the theme. First chorale, which appears in the first movement – this is the main thing of whole sonata, this is it. And then, like in life, more different events start to happen – sometimes greater, sometimes minor, sometimes subjective, sometimes objective, sometimes irreversible.
The special part of the sonata is second movement. A lot of people told me that the second movements of my compositions are very special, that they love them all. It’s nice to hear. I also love them. So here the second movement is also not straightforward. These are some, I do not know, the subtle matter of my soul. Concerning the musical form, it has no form at all. I did not want it. There’s a summary of some thoughts, feelings, something very personal, which is not for others. It’s like a meditation. I already composed two meditations and “In the land of dreams”. The 2 movement of sonata let say is the next meditation with the same images. It has two main themes. First one is the pursuit of happiness; it is only sunny theme in all sonata. And the second theme… this is sort of sadness that has no end, just a bottomless. And if the performer will not feel it is better not to play this sonata. These intonations appear several times. In the first movement you can also hear them. It’s not for nothing “reminiscence of the future”.
Third movement is full of different images and thoughts. The theme of the values of love, based on a quote by Heinrich Heine – is a result of the foregoing. Do you agree?
Yes, there are so many things inside. If you do the analysis in terms of the form it will be one story; in terms of images – a little different. I think it is godsend that in the Final of sonata I could continue the idea that I started in the Caprice “S.O.S.”. There are only three letters in Caprice, but they mean a lot. And here is this quote. By the way, when sonata was premiered, remember, we did not declare the encrypted words but audience have understood this aspiration to infinity. So this quote works even when it is not announced. But in edition I put all letters in score with a view to performers do not just play the rhythm but give to audience the meaning of this rhythm. And it helps a lot. I was wondering – in fact just the formal rhythm, one or the other, it quickly becomes boring. But when the rhythm is meaningful, even if it is Morse code, which not many few people know, but you listen to it quite differently, you feel more freshness and depth.
Well, after this quote which combined with first movement chorale theme (generally everything in the sonata’s based on the first chorale theme), there is a kaleidoscope of images. Variations begin. There you can hear echoes of the theme of the second movement with aspiration upward, because the man is always striving for the light, to joy. But it does not work for a long time and in this piece either. After a couple of pages appear other images, and it will put all things in their rightful place, unfortunately.
Of course in order to philosophize, it is necessary to touch upon some matters, something we must deal with. For example episode appears in the middle of movement – a kind of sarcastic dance with Jewish music intonations. It is not folklore, this is my own theme. But, sorry, I think Jews made a lot in history both positive and negative, and they occupy, of course, a significant step in the hierarchy of human achievement.
Then, for example, the idea of war – it has exists since the origins of humanity. As long as people live on Earth, they fight – for women, for the best place for living. I guess it’s the survival of the fittest. Therefore idea of militarism appears. Militarism but to what extent? Militarism, for example, in Middle Ages or earlier or even in prehistoric times when people just started to explore the lands it is different things. At various times this matter is differently illuminated and differently estimated even exactly the same events.
There is Rakoczi March in this episode. In your compositions, you rarely quote non-folkloric material. The exceptions are, perhaps, the only Brahms theme in second movement of “Bramsiana” and “Kalina krasnaya” by Frenkel. If you will listen to this sonata carefully you will easily find transformed quotations from “Prelude in C Minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Volume I”, by J.S. Bach and Rákóczi march. Why did you feel the need to use quotes?
You’re absolutely right. These allusions show connection of times. There should be more, but the history of music is incomparably shorter even our civilization…
And why did you choose exactly these quotes?
Bach is a symbol of wisdom, incomprehensibility. This material in the right hand is easily recognizable and associated with Bach. Of course, it is not real theme, it is just an allusion. Baroque for me is a symbol of the beginning of flourishing musical art. Well, Rákóczi march appears as a symbol of endless wars.
Mankind never had easy life, and apparently never will. There will always be some problems, because it is connected with the clash of interests of people, individuals and groups of people. I’ve talked about these tectonic shifts. So variety of images also encounter in this sonata.
There is one more episode, my favorite, between two parts of the Final. It’s like a moan of soul, I do not know how better to name it. You know, it is like echoes of the past, when something happened and the pain remains. When the melody is interrupted, disappears in the left hand music still sounds. That is, on the one hand, this is dialectic of fragments and at the same time a continuous deep state of soul, if you want. I specifically did not come up, so it has happened.
And after all everything goes to infinity. It’s like a message to Eternity, to other worlds. Even when we are not here anymore, we’ll be somewhere on, or our ideas will, or our descendants, or our thoughts. Nobody knows, but something will. Because it cannot be, that was nothing. It is impossible that anything appears from nothing and goes away into nowhere.
In general the problem of finishing is very crucial for every composer. There are interesting works by contemporary composers (I will not tell their names), but these works will not live long just because they have failed endings. They are formal. But in the end should be a synthesis of all the above. And audience shouldn’t get off the shelf all conclusions, but should make them by itself, using what was heard. I have had here this important challenge. I remember, I was success with the Final in my Concert when three notes could show the ascent of the soul. Here is the same idea. And the same rhythm of encrypted quote at the beginning and in the final section – it perceived quite differently after all. Probably that’s it. It’s difficult to say something more…
Please tell us a few words about the form of the composition and its individual parts.
First of all, there is, like in the opera, in any more or less significant symphony, something related to the main theme. So we can say there is monothematic moment in this sonata. Throughout the first movement, from the first to the last note, the theme of the first chorale constantly presents. It could be in bass part or not, it could be inversion or something else but it always exists. And I’m sure that not every theorist will find in each episode. But it is everywhere. At the same time there are a lot of other things sometimes contrasty and it seems there are completely separate episodes, which are not related to the previous material. I would say 1 movement is not Passacaglia but Chorale and Variations. Passacaglia was in the Concert. There was the theme constantly in bass. Here it is a little bit differently.
For example, the fast part begins after the chorale. And then suddenly slow episode. But there is the same chorale theme in the bass! It just does not come out at first and even second place. But it combines everything. Therefore you feel the Sonata, despite its huge size (I never thought that it would be a 25-minute duration), like one unified complex. And more than that, in the Final, where Heine quote appears it sounds again using the chorale theme! It has different harmony, different rhythm but the theme is the same. And the result is a giant arch from the first to the third movement.
By the way I have double movements I my Concert. Here is the same. It was not special idea. Maybe these are the givens of me. The second movement is double. And the Finale is double too. Generally it is triform sonata, but actually it has five. There is the same in the Concert. There are double first movement (laughs) and double Final – Hell and Ascension.
I sometimes joke with my students that there are not too many subjects in the world. It’s not even my idea; I do not remember where I read it. But, if you will take some of the best compositions, you will not so many subjects in them: love, jealousy, some conflicts. Maybe you can find ten or fifteen images, but in general we all – composers, performers – talk about the same things in different ways. Thereby, what’s the difference, if I speak about love in Chinese, or I speak in Russian or in English? Love is love. So why should I follow the mode? Is it necessary to compose only dissonances, for example dodekafonia? For me dodekafonia is outmoded style. The Germans started to use it because it was attempt to refresh the tonal language and also rhythm. Nevertheless, the most popular work by Schoenberg is not Dodekafonia but Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night). So it means something.
So I use variety facilities, including the modern ones. I do not speak, of course, about things like throwing a bottle into the soul of the piano and the like. I believe that we should not do the vulgar things.
In my concert Frescos I need to express Hell. There all modern composer trends were very pertinent– a complicated musical language, and the like. Although I wouldn’t say that there is a very difficult language in Concert. Rather more complex intervals and chords. There are not only the clusters, but the series and not necessarily of 12 sounds. But there I really used all these composer methods. At the same time, if you need to show clear pure character, I think the music should be the same. I don’t want to present a beautiful theme using seventh or ninth. When I need modern language I use modern methods. When I need pure beauty, of course, I use absolutely different – and harmony, and everything else. I love beautiful harmony.
By the way, let’s take a look at any classical music. Everything they composed it was some variations for a certain harmonic plan. It generally dictates the entire musical form even content. Those or other harmony – consonance or dissonance, light or replete. I guess I have this idea too.
If we will talk about tonality, I can say my music in sonata is often tonal. I mean some episodes sound quite tonal during long period. But I cannot say that sonata has exactly tonality. I didn’t need it. In general I believe that the musical language of the sonata is quite modern, sophisticated and I used different methods of compositions depending on images and characters. Those methods I learned from the great composers and passed through myself.
Sonata Reminiscence of the Future became third in your oeuvre. Is it possible to make any parallels with previous sonatas according to the idea, images, the creative process?
It is possible to compare this composition with First sonata I think. It is known that I composed First Sonata in 1984 when I became older not only in terms of age, but the perception of life, intelligence. Man and society – these were the questions I illuminated in First sonata, which are still in repertoire. I don’t want to say that I always opposed myself to everybody, although I often did. Therefore First sonata tells about me and other – the conflict, my inner protest. When you are alone against the wind all the time, you know? Whatever you may be strong, it is difficult and sometimes it is tiring.
So First Sonata is a kind of confession of a man who reached 37-38 years. This is such an age when a lot of people begin to realize and understand something in life. You can just remember our great poets and actors. This age is a sign for men. Well, I decided to express myself serious way.
By the way, during my concert tours I noticed that if you play it with all your passion, from all heart, it takes away all your power and energy so it is very difficult to perform something else after it. Physically, it is also quite difficult, but this is not so important.
May be this is a reason why you didn’t play it often.
Of course! I just tried to spare myself, I could not play often. The tour schedule was very busy then, and every time you need to play with all your energy, as people who listen to you for the first time could understand, could feel what you want to say them. After one of the concerts some man from public said: “It’s like I lived my life”. And I understand that. I also lived my life at that moment
In this sense, I think you really can find parallel moments with Third Sonata. Second Sonata is little bit different. It is a return to the folklore style.
Yes, Second sonata in my oeuvre it’s like P. Tchaikovsky, who applies to folk in his Fourth symphony. And I expressed my impression about Basques and Basques music in my Second Sonata. Though it based on folklore, there is a fugato in the second movement. It is unique. I don’t know any fugato like that. This is also my know-how, if you want to. There is a polyphonic section and the theme goes in different voices in one tonality but it sounds atonal. After 2 bars second voice appears, and the first one develops in a different direction. This is a very interesting moment.
But if we will talk about intention First, Third sonatas and concert Frescos can be compared. There are some issues that was formulated and solved at different levels in these compositions. If First Sonata tells about a man and society, if Frescos show us the formation of humanity through Christian ideas, Third sonata has really global concept. Probably I need to stop composing the sonatas.
So we can say, it is always possible to find a semantic arch between the first and the third movement in your triform sonatas, and also this arch can be found between First and Third sonata – it is an attempt to comprehend the world.
Yes, it is an idea by the way (laughs).
How do you see the position of Third sonata in your oeuvre? Are you satisfied with the result of your work?
I’m very grateful you decided to write about my sonata. I think nobody will do it better than you, because you’re very close to the process of creating, you have seen the sonata just from start. And it gave me a lot, because I know how to listen to well-intentioned criticism. Maybe otherwise Sonata would not be so perfect. It is quite perfect, I think. I do not see any extra notes in it. Conversely, when I finished it and showed to one composer, it seemed to him that the code slightly short. And finally I wrote one more page, and rightly so. When you create something, you repeat the same thing many times, and start to think that it is enough. But for those people, who listen to it for the first time or not very often it could be not enough. If you take a look at rock or pop music you will see they always repeat the same over and over again. It is not because there are not clear words there or something else, but because when you listen to the same thought several times, you start perceiving it different way. Not coincidentally that there were reprises in old sonatas and modern performers ignore them quite often.
By the way I walked in college after the concert today and have heard somebody playing Jewish episode from the Final of my sonata. I’ve asked my student, who has learned this sonata. “So… – he said – half of students already play this episode by ears”. I immediately remembered as people sang arias from Verdi or Mozart operas. It is other times now and other songs, but the fact that people singing themes from my sonata, it is interesting, yes. This means they hooked. And they play by ears, you know, scores just appeared and they are already playing (smiling).
So I’m satisfied. But I have already said, the intention is wider and, of course, one accordion is not enough. Initially, the idea was to compose it for accordion and orchestra. But for the symphonic version an accordion can be not needed. I do not know. On the other hand, there is the material which is needed exactly an accordion.
May be you can use the accordion not as solo instrument with orchestra but a part of orchestra, inside of it.
Yes, I think so. When needed, it will appear. I don’t want to call it concert, it is not.
To sum up, what can you say about position of this sonatas in your oeuvre in common?
Well, many people say it is summit so far. I do not know, maybe I would have said the same thing. But I don’t want to belittle my previous compositions. There is also something unique.
Do you agree with my thought which precedes our interview that the Third Sonata with her intensity of images, ideas, energy of statement purports to be the symbol of a new stage of your oeuvre?
Of course … Yes, yes, yes.
Thank you very much you have found time to answer my questions and share your thoughts and ideas with our readers and future performers of your compositions. I have no doubt that this new work, like previous ones, will take its worthy place in the world accordion repertoire. Thank you and wish you new creative achievements.
Thank you! Thanks that you chose me first for your series of articles about Russian composers.
Suddenly, huh? (Laughs).
In conclusion I would like to say that the appearance of a Third sonata is a big event in a world of accordion art. After the premier performance I’ve heard the opinion of one authoritative listener that as it has happened with Third sonata by Vladislav Zolotarev, the new work by Viatcheslav Semionov will undoubtedly have an impact on future accordion compositions. It’s safe to say that there are not many works especially in accordion literature where global issues of human existence arise and resolved at such serious level.
Currently Viatcheslav Semionov is working on his new composition, and we hope soon he again delight us with new work full of their emotion, sincerity and clarity and brightness of images.
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