Georgy Firtich: Victory Over The Sun


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ComposerGeorgy Firtich
Year of composition2006
Scored forsingers, piano and percussion
Instrumentsvoc, pno, drum kit (cymbal, crash cymbal, cowbell, snare drum, bass drum)
Total number of pages92
Genrechamber opera
TextLibretto by Aleksei Kruchenykh
Prologue by Velimir Khlebnikov
Duration1 h
Number of parts2 acts, 6 scenes, 28 parts
Date of premiere03.05.2007
LocationPowerhouse Theatre, Vassar College
City, countryPoughkeepsie, New York, USA
PerformersStudents of the Vassar College
Dramatis personaeA Reader (spoken word)
Two Futurist Strongmen (bass)
Nero and Caligula (middle voice)
A Time Traveller (high voice)
The Ill-Intentioned One (without singing)
A Machine Gun of The Future (without singing)
The Squabbler (high voice)
One Enemy (without singing)
Enemy Soldiers (without singing)
Sportsmen (middle voices)
Gravediggers (quartet or choir)
The Aviator (high or middle voice)
A Telephone Talker (without singing)
Eight Sun Carriers (without singing)
The Motley Eye (without singing)
The New Ones (without singing)
The Cowardly (without singing)
The Fat Man (high voice)
An Attentive Worker (middle voice)
A Young Man (middle voice)
An Old Timer (without singing)
Choir (singing)

The original production of the Russian futurist opera Victory Over The Sun was conceived and staged in St. Petersburg in 1913 by a trio of Russian avant-garde artists, Aleksei Kruchenykh (1886-1968), Mikhail Matiushin (1861-1934), and Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). Kruchenykh wrote the libretto, Matiushin composed the musical score, and Malevich designed the stage sets and costumes. The futurist poet and visionary Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922) added a prologue to the text of the opera. While these men each went on to make separate major contributions to avant-garde poetry, music, and painting, their brief collaboration in the production of Victory Over the Sun was destined to become the most famous — and certainly the most raucous — challenge to conventional precepts of art in the history of Russian modernism. A riotous amalgam of atonal music, absurdist “trans-rational” poetry, and cubo-futurist sets, the opera was deliberately intended as a defiant challenge to the idea that logic and reason must be the guiding principles of artistic creation, and it is hardly surprising that the original public performances invariably ended in pandemonium.

On May 3, 2007, Victory Over the Sun was staged at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York and viewed by an audience far more appreciative of the irreverent nature of the modernist aesthetic. The Vassar production was born of a student project and brought to fruition in an intense cooperative effort between students and faculty. It was directed by Katherine Marvin’2007, a Vassar College student who was in charge of the overall production, with her Vassar colleague, Lydia Yankovskaya, providing musical coordination and coaching. Assistant Professor of Russian Studies Nikolai Firtich was the production manager and academic consultant. A fortunate circumstance made it possible to ask the noted St. Petersburg composer Georgy Firtich to create a new score for the opera (only fragments of Matiushin’s original score have survived), and to come to Vassar in order to take part in the performance with a company of Vassar student singers and musicians. The production of 2007 was envisaged not as a historical restoration, but as reinvention from the perspective of the present, one that aspired to convey the explosively innovative impulse of early twentieth-century avant-garde.

The theatrical production at Vassar became the catalyst for two scholarly conferences on the contexts of Victory Over the Sun, both organized by faculty members of the College’s Russian Studies department. On the day after the première, a symposium on the futurist opera and on contemporary Russian theater was held at Vassar College, followed, in November 2007, by a sequel in St. Petersburg, hosted by the city’s Composers’ Union and presented by Vassar’s Russian Studies department in conjunction with St. Petersburg’s Apollon Art and Music Society. The conferences featured papers by noted scholars from the US, Russia, and Finland as well as presentations by several prominent Russian avant-garde artists, and the bilingual collection of essays and visual materials was published as a result of these two occasions. Together with the attached DVD of Victory Over the Sun, this collection offered detailed analyses of the cultural contexts in which this emblematic avant-garde work arose, as well as giving some idea of the contemporary Russian movements that have attempted to reconnect to the cultural current represented by Victory Over the Sun.

Our volume, titled “From Gogol to Victory Over the Sun: Trajectories of the Russian Avant-Garde” (Volume XXXV, Transactions of the Association of the Russian- American Scholars in the U.S.A., New York, 2009) appeared on the centenary of Filippo Marinetti’s “Futurist Manifesto” (1909) as well as on the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Nikolai Gogol (1809), a writer whose brilliantly enigmatic work contains features that anticipated crucial elements of the avant-garde vision.

— Nikolai Firtich

Georgy Firtich (1938-2016) is one of the most original and versatile contemporary St. Petersburg composers. The graduate of the St. Petersburg State Conservatory (Rimsky-Korsakov), where he studied under the tutelage of Iury Baklashin and Boris Arapov, Georgy Firtich is well known to the wide Russian audience as an author of music for over seventy popular films and animated features. Starting from the early 1960s he wrote numerous compositions in popular genre including songs and instrumental compositions for jazz orchestras of radio and television. For jazz aficionados Firtich was also a jazz pianist, improviser and arranger.

However, his professional peers and true connoisseurs of contemporary music know Georgy Firtich as composer of operas, ballets, symphonic and chamber works, oratorios, cantatas, and piano sonatas as well as numerous vocal cycles. In all the genres that Georgy Firtich mastered, his compositions are always provocative and sometimes even shocking, taking the listener on a new twist of musical adventure, developing further the avant-garde musical idiom to which Georgy Firtich continued to make original contributions throughout his career.

In words of his friend and fellow composer Sergei Slonimsky: “Georgy Firtich in not among those composers who become more moderate with age and somewhat more “academic”, departing from the experimental spirit of their youth. On the contrary, the native traditions of Russian Futurism, of the Russian avant-garde, continue to find their striking and brilliant reincarnations in the music of Georgy Firtich, whose creative energy is inexhaustible.”

Georgy Firtich left a rich musical heritage that continues to inspire performers of all ages. Composer’s major project, destined to be his last, was the musical mystery based on the symbolist novel by Andrei Bely (1880-1934) Petersburg (1913) entitled “Bely. Petersburg”, which premiered in St. Petersburg’s Theatre of Musical Comedy on September 9, 2015. The sheer energy, musical versatility and imagination of that work testify to the composer’s unbending creative spirit.

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