Pop music by Rimsky-Korsakov and Michael Daugherty
The fairy-tale opera “Sadko” by the Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov had its first performance in Moscow on today’s date in 1898. This opera is still staged in Russia, but rarely anywhere else—even though some of its wonderful melodies have proven extremely popular.
One of the opera’s arias had a tune so catchy that it was set to English words as “Play That Song of India Again” and became a best-selling Paul Whiteman recording in the 1920s. In the big-band era, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Song of India” even made the American “Hit Parade.”
The line between popular culture and classical music has often been blurred—and seldom so wickedly as in the works of the American composer Michael Daugherty.
This music is from his “Le Tombeau de Liberace.” Now, in classical music terminology, a “tombeau” is a memorial tribute to an eminent musician or composer—in this case, it’s Wladziu Valentino Liberace, the flamboyant, rhinestone-encrusted pop pianist and showman who died in 1993.
“Starting from the vernacular idiom,” writes Daughtery, “I have composed ‘Le Tombeau de Liberace’ as a meditation on the American sublime: a lexicon of forbidden music. It is a piano concertino in four movements, each creating a distinct Liberace atmosphere.”
Many of Michael Daugherty’s other concert pieces have also been inspired by pop icons, real and imaginary, ranging from Desi Arnez to Superman.
Music Played in Today's Program
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)Song of India, from Sadko (arr Kreisler)Gil Shaham, vn; Akira Eguchi, p.DG 447 640
Michael Daugherty (b. 1954)Candelabra Rhumba, from Le tombeau de LiberacePaul Crossley, piano; London Sinfonietta; Markus Stenz, cond.Argo 458 145