Balakirev, Mily / orch. Casella, Alfredo


Balakirev, Mily / orch. Casella, Alfredo

Islamey, Oriental Fantasy for orchestra

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Balakirev, Mily / orch. Casella, Alfredo

Islamey, Oriental Fantasy for orchestra

As the informal leader and energizer of a group of five Russian composers who became known popularly as the moguchaya kuchka (“mighty handful”; the others were Modest Musorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, and César Cui), Mily Balakirev, himself an excellent pianist, sought to bring together in one large-scale work a spirit of virtuosity reflective of the style of the great Franz Liszt, whose music he deeply admired, while at the same time incorporating a native Russian spirit by the use of folk melodies. The result, completed in 1869, was Islamey, known ever since as one of the most massive and spectacularly difficult works ever composed for the piano, even though it lasts less than ten minutes. Balakirev dedicated Islamey to Anton Rubinstein’s younger brother Nikolai, who complained about its bristling difficulties but finally gave the premiere performance that same year; later, Liszt himself played it.

The grand sweep of wide-register piano sound that dominates much of Islamey suggested that the work could be reconceived for orchestra. So it was that the young Alfredo Casella, composer and conductor active in Paris and inspired by the coloristic orchestration of Debussy and Ravel, chose Islamey as a subject for a large-scale arrangement. Igor Stravinsky’s Conversations (1959) records a message from Rimsky-Korsakov: “A certain Alfredo Casella, an Italian musician, came to see me today. He brought me a complicated score of incredible size, his instrumentation of Balakirev’s Islamey, and asked me to comment on it and to advise him. What could one say about such a thing?” Casella’s score is dated 1908, so this would not have been long before Rimsky-Korsakov’s death. It was published that year by the Leipzig publisher D. Rahter, in association with the Moscow publisher Jurgenson, with Casella’s dedication “as a sign of admiration and affection” to the pianist and conductor Alexander Ziloti, Rachmaninoff’s cousin. …

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Score No.






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