Margarita Zelenaia

Music Stories (based on Chekhov)

Year: 1997

Duration (in minutes): 11'39;

Difficulty: High (professional)

Category: mixed instrument ensemble, mixed instrument quintet, small chamber ensembles - 2 to 4 players

Instruments: any brass, any string, any woodwind, bassoon, flute, horn, oboe, violin

Publisher: Self-Produced

Description: I wrote my “Music Stories” (based on Chekhov) for baritone and chamber ensemble (flute, oboe, bassoon, French horn and two violins). The world premiere was held in New York, at a series of concerts dedicated to memory of the victims of 9/11 incident in October of 2001. It was performed by Kreshnik Zhabjaku (baritone) and chamber orchestra “One World Symphony”, directed by David Hong.
Two actual stories, written by Chekhov when he was at the age of twenty five, are taken for the basis of “Musical Stories”. These stories were published in a satirical magazine “Oskolki” in St. Petersburg.
The reason I was prompted to write music to Chekhov’s prose is that I’ve always loved to read and reread his work, full of witty humor and lighthearted irony, piercing lyricism and a unique way of story telling.
In addition, it is precisely prose that provides this incomparable freedom of interpretation for the composer, absence of necessity to follow fettering rhythmical patterns. I strongly felt that Chekhov’s stories “My, She” and “Life is Beautiful” have a potential of becoming a true musical monologue, a small mono-play, based on the theatrical principle of development.
Similar to a tight spring, the intrigue in “My, She” keeps the reader wondering until the very end. Only then it is clear that the “She”, who’s “with me day and night…prevents me from reading, writing, enjoying nature…leading to a verge of bankruptcy, this demanding French Coquette…where everything is sacrificed for her: career, fame and comfort…” is nothing else but laziness. It is that same laziness, so loved and nourished by all of us (although we do make pretense that we are trying to confront it), every human being’s predicament (perhaps, a Russian human being especially).
In the second story the writer gives different recipes of how to turn a wretched life into a wonderful one. All one has to do is sincerely rejoice in the knowledge that “it could have been much worse”. He invokes us to be happy no matter what, rejoice, rejoice, rejoice! “If your matches suddenly go off in your pocket, rejoice and offer thanks to Heaven that your pocket is not a gunpowder warehouse… If poor relatives come to pay you visit to your country house, rejoice it is not the police… If you have pain in one tooth, rejoice it is not all your teeth that are aching”. Altogether, “rejoice you are not a pig, nor an ass, nor a bug! Rejoice that at the moment you are nether limp, blind, deaf, mute, nor plague stricken!”
Reading this story, I was thinking that the word rejoice can vary in its interpretation. It can assume different forms, from a direct dictionary meaning to the meaning bitter and sarcastic, suggesting the speaker is sick of life.
More or less, I wanted to experiment with different states inherent to human nature. Especially now, after the 9/11 tragedy, in this strange atmosphere of fears, expectations, and suspicions, Chekhov’s appeal to rejoice every day lived sounds applicable, like never before.

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