The Demon, Opera in three acts and seven scenes (in three voiumes with German and English libretto)
Opera in three acts and seven scenes (1871)
In his childhood, Anton Grigoryevich Rubinstein fell between all stools, torn hither and thither between the Judaism of his ancestors and his own Christian upbringing, and between Germany and Russia. From his earliest boyhood, which he spent in Moscow from the age of four, he was discovered to possess musical gifts no less extraordinary than those of his brother Nikolai. He was taught from the age of five by his mother Kaleriya Christoforovna (1807-1891), presented his first public recital before his tenth birthday, and undertook a concert tour to Paris one year later in the company of his teacher Alexander Ivanovich Villoing (1808-1878), who, incidentally, instructed him free of charge. In Paris he met Franz Liszt, with whom he would remain in contact until the latter’s death; he also met Felix Mendelssohn. He received instruction in music theory in Berlin from Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn (1799-1858) and studied piano with Theodor Kullak (1818-1882). To the present day he remains legendary for his “historical concerts,” in which he gave breathtakingly virtuosic and challenging hours-long recitals for days on end. It is said that he once collapsed at the keyboard during one of these recitals. Toward the end of his life his health, and particularly his mental constitution, increasingly deteriorated. He was seen to fall into depressions, especially in conjunction with the deaths of close members of his family. He also began to lose his powers of sight, causing him to play and conduct almost entirely from memory. He died eight days before his sixty-fifth birthday, presumably owing to a heart condition that he refused to have surgically treated.
In the course of his career Anton Rubinstein created a number of large-scale works, all of which have vanished from the concert hall. Besides six symphonies, five piano concertos, two cello concertos, a violin concerto, two further works for piano and orchestra, and a large amount of chamber and piano music, he turned out twenty operas, including sacred operas and a Biblical stage work piece in five scenes.
Exactly when Rubinstein began to work on The Demon has eluded discovery. The work is based on a like-named Oriental tale written in 1841 by Mikhail Yuriyevich Lermontov (1814-1841), who met an untimely death at the age of barely twenty-six in a duel with the Russian officer Nikolai Martynov (1815-1875). The Demon caught the attention of contemporary composers mainly because it was banned under the stern regency of Nikolaus I Pavlovich (1796-1855) and only became accessible to the public again in 1860. Unsurprisingly, this work by the ill-fated storyteller promptly kindled great curiosity on an international scale. Musicians and artists in particular were drawn to the tragic figures in Lermontov’s tale, openly revealing the influence of Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), who had advanced to become the lodestar of Gothic Romanticism (we need only think of Robert Schumann’s magnificent cross-generic setting of Manfred, Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, or Tchaikovky’s Manfred Symphony). It is assumed that Rubinstein began to devote himself to this material in 1864 but only started work on the score in 1870 or 1871. While composing the opening scenes, he tried his hand at writing the libretto, drafting the scenario freely from the literary original. Being unable to produce a convincing text himself, in February 1871 he asked his longstanding friend Yakov Petrovich Polonsky (1819-1898) to prepare a libretto. Polonsky, however, turned down the project. Rubinstein thereupon turned to Apollon Nikolayevich Maykov (1821-1897), who likewise quickly distanced himself from the undertaking but recommended Pavel Viskovatov (1842-1905), who as Lermontov’s biographer was thoroughly familiar with the material. Viskovatov agreed, but only on condition that Rubinstein make no changes whatsoever to his verses.
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210 x 297 mm