Last Thursday, in discussing Mozart, I hinted that today I’d be featuring a work by a composer whose promise really was cut short by a tragically early death.
Vasily Kalinnikov lived almost as long as Mozart did, dying of tuberculosis in January 1901, just shy of his 35th birthday. Unlike Mozart, Kalinnikov left behind a very small body of work, consisting of two symphonies, a handful of smaller orchestral works, some choral music, and a number of songs. What little we have of Kalinnikov suggests that a powerful voice in late Russian Romanticism was stilled by the tuberculosis that killed him. He impressed many musicians of his day, including the great Sergei Rachmaninov.
Kalinnikov’s First Symphony is one of my all-time favorite works, and it’s a testament that his music still lingers on the periphery of the standard repertoire. The present work is Bylina, an “epic poem” or concert overture, and…that is literally all I’ve been able to find out about this piece. But like the Symphony No. 1, Bylina is lyrical and dramatic in the best brooding Russian way; at times it almost suggests a cinematic feel. And again, listening to this I wonder what might have come from Kalinnikov’s pen had better health and greater wealth been his.
Here is Bylina by Vasily Kalinnikov.