In May 1938, Prokofiev was approached by the great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein, who proposed they collaborate on a film about the 13th-century military hero Alexander Nevsky. The result is one of the rare occasions when a great film not only boasts a great score, but is made infinitely more powerful and meaningful by that score. Although Eisenstein and Prokofiev later collaborated on Ivan the Terrible, Alexander Nevsky that remains their greatest achievement, and it is still unrivaled in the brilliance of its linking music and film.
The vivid, almost visual impact of the film music Alexander Nevsky is due in no small part to way it was composed. Few, if any, films have ever relied so heavily on music to provide meaning and dimension to the images on the screen. In every scored sequence in the film, background noise and dialogue drops out almost entirely, leaving the music alone to connect and propel the story. In some sequences, such as the opening prologue and the moments before the battle on the ice, the film becomes a series of nearly static images—almost like still photographs.
Prokofiev’s music mirrors and adds emotional weight to those images with no other support. For example, as the Russian soldiers wait in stillness and silence for the coming German attack at the climax of the film, Prokofiev’s music employs a series of quiet, static chords in the brass, followed by whirl of woodwinds that subliminally evoke the feel of the frozen lake on which they stand and the cold wind that rises occasionally. There is no sound of wind in the movie (it was actually filmed at the height of summer), but it’s there in the music.
In some of the images, even the clouds display patterns echoed in the music. This is in no way traditional Hollywood “mickey-mousing,” where music playfully follows the exact action on the screen. Rather it is a breath-taking synthesis of sound and image, each of equal importance to the artistic goal. This is what the director Sergei Eisenstein sought in his collaboration with Prokofiev, sometimes shooting film to match the music. Rising to the demands of such a visionary artist, Prokofiev wrote a score which he knew could stand alone as well in the concert hall.
Sakhi is a group of six young female artists from India who tell the multifaceted story of womanhood as experienced in India through traditional music and dance.
While women have been involved in Indian music and dance for centuries, they have tended to be overshadowed by men since the mid–19th century, perhaps reflecting a social structure that is decidedly skewed. Most of the literature documenting Indian classical music is dedicated to males. In the available historical literature, virtually all the major innovations, musical theory, and technical virtuosity are attributed to men. Invariably, discussions about Hindustani (North Indian) music focus on the ustads (masters) who were the leading lights during the Mughal period (12th to 19th centuries). Some of these masters founded important gharanas (traditions), but many would not accept women into the guru-shishya (teacher-disciple lineage) that was the essential music training method. Things were not much different in the Carnatic (South India) tradition where, until recently, a few 18th-century male “saint-composers” were adulated to the exclusion of most others.
Women as courtesans in various parts of India, however, had long played a vital role in preserving the values of traditional Indian music and dance. Historically, music and dance were associated with worship. The devadasi tradition of South India can be traced back to the sixth century when dancing girls were dedicated to particular temples. By the 10th century, many of these temple dancers were sought out by local princes to perform at court, adding a secular dimension to their art. While courtesans were social outcasts and looked down upon as degenerate by polite society, they nevertheless were much in demand by connoisseurs of classical and semi-classical music and dance. At the turn of the 18th century, after music had experienced a long period of decline under the austere Islamic reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, the arts of the courtesan enjoyed a renaissance. While the more strict classical forms—dhrupad and khyal—remained mostly in the male domain, women had refined what are known as the “light classical” song forms of thumri and dadra. These, along with bhajans (Hindu devotional hymns) were the particular domain of women, along with regional folk songs. Courtesans nurtured these musical forms, developing them into exquisite expressions of the human soul.
Sakhi explores the many aspects of Indian womanhood through a musical journey. Femininity abounds in the classical and religious descriptions of India. Thus, India and the river Ganges (the most sacred river of the Hindus) are described as the Mother. Female deities and mythological figures abound and are worshipped and held in respect by both women and men. Each deity has multiple aspects; thus, Durga is the all powerful mother-goddess and protector from evil; Kali represents the spirit of change and is often depicted as the destroyer; Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, learning, and the arts, representing the creative spirit; and Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, both material and spiritual, and the embodiment of beauty. All these aspects of the feminine are explored by Sakhi along with characteristics of mythological figures such as Draupadi, the heroine of the epic Mahabharata who is one of the earliest representatives of an Indian woman free to choose her own life partners, and such historical characters such as Meera, a 16th-century mystical poet and devotee of Krishna. Sakhi not only depicts the heroine who overcomes all obstacles in her struggle, but also the meek, timid, young girl who has been denied her rights for so long that she is unable to express her true self.
Music in India has always been used as a vehicle of spiritual enlightenment as well as intellectual stimulation. Musical compositions glorifying and worshipping female deities and mythological characters have been popular for centuries and are still much in demand. Indian classical music is modal and is built on the interaction between raga (a melodic pattern based on five to seven notes) and tala (rhythmic pattern). Some of the genres are:
Khyal is the contemporary form of North Indian classical vocal music that became popular in the mid–18th century. A khyal includes one or two short songs (bandish); the raga unfolds with a considerable amount of improvisation based on the syllables of the song/poem. Sakhi chooses bandish with lyrics from a female perspective.
Thumri is a light classical genre, that originated in the 15th century and became highly developed in the mid–19th century. It is a lyrical and romantic style that gives the performer considerable freedom to introduce various ragas. The texts express desire, longing, and separation, usually through the love story of Krishna and Radha.
Dadra refers both to the six-beat tala and to a light classical song form that is a derivative of thumri. This style has been popularized in recent years through Bollywood songs.
Chaiti, hori, and kajari are light classical song forms particular to various regions of India and often derived from folk idioms.
Bhajan is a devotional song with no fixed form that is common throughout India and was of particular importance to the mystical Bhakti movement.
Tarana is a Hindustani song that employs syllables or repeated words and sometimes a Persian couplet. The thillana is a Carnatic rhythmic piece that is generally performed at the end of a South Indian concert and widely used in dance performances. Some scholars say that the thillana is derived from the tarana.
Sargam, in both Hindustani and Carnatic music, is where the names of the notes sa, re, ga, ma, and so on are used instead of words.
Kathak is a form of North Indian classical dance with origins in the art of the nomadic bards of ancient India, known as kathakars or storytellers. It was originally similar to South Indian bharata natyam, but evolved during the Mughal period as court entertainment under the patronage of princes and local rulers.
When it comes to performing Beethoven’s symphonies, does orchestra size matter? Sir Simon Rattle discusses his experience with orchestra size and how it affects the performance of Beethoven’s symphonies.
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In this week’s edition of the best Carnegie Hall stories: diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 21, but now with four seasons of performances at Carnegie Hall; a once in a lifetime experience with Peter, Paul, and Mary; and hearing a voice that changed her life.
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“I simply wanted to play well, not because I was ambitious,” explains Kissin. Watch Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson speak with pianist Evgeny Kissin about his childhood ambitions.
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Missed the webcast of Carnegie Hall's Opening Night Gala, or just want to watch it again? The free replay is available via medici.tv for 90 days after the performance. Watch as pianist Evgeny Kissin joins the New York Philharmonic and Music Director Alan Gilbert in a performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. Magnus Lindberg's new work, Vivo, and Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 rounded out the program. Scroll down to view highlights from the live Twitter commentary during the performance.
MAGNUS LINDBERG Vivo (World Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1
RAVEL Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2
At the start of our 125th anniversary season, we introduce the first ever Carnegie Hall Digital Hall of Fame, a year-long celebration of individuals whose lives or careers are inextricably woven into the fabric of the Hall’s 125 years of history. All portraits were created by Stanley Chow Illustration and exist collectively here, along with biographical information.
The first inductee is Andrew Carnegie. Learn more about our founder, a Scottish industrialist and philanthropist.
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