Forgotten Russians: Vasily Kalinnikov

Vasily Kalinnikov was a Russian composer, born in 1866. Although he isn't particularly well-known outside of Russia, he was acquainted with some heavy-hitters, including Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. He had modest success in music, but was never particularly well-off. Late in life Rachmaninoff discovered him living in poverty, and hastily made arrangements to get some of Kalinnikov's music published. It brought in some money, but Kalinnikov didn't live long enough to see much of it, dying just before his 35th birthday.

My grandfather heard the first symphony of Kalinnikov played on KUSC (Los Angeles) years and years ago. He immediately fell in love with it and it has stuck with him throughout the years since then. I think I enjoy this piece more for the sentimental value attached to my grandfather than anything else. Still, it's a pleasant work (and Kalinnikov's most famous to boot) that could have broad appeal with a bit more exposure.

Aurally it sounds like a symphony Tchaikovsky never got around to writing - perhaps nestled between the second and third symphonies. There two themes introduced in the first movement movement, the first in the violins and the second in the cellos. These themes are recalled again in the final movement, where the symphony brightens from G-minor to G-major. In between is a delicate second movement with oboes soaring over gentle chords from the harp, giving way to a gypsy-sounding dance midway through.

While I don't find the piece adventurous enough to put in in "Dave's Top Ten", the catchiness of the melodies, the harmless (but not bland) orchestration and overall pleasantness of the work will ensure it is kept in my library for the foreseeable future. You're welcome grandpa.


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