• Title
    A Silly Horse
  • Performer
    Tatjana Milentieva, Oleg Malov
  • CD
    MDC 7844


Alexander Knaifel A Silly Horse (1981)

On the 28th of November 1943, Alexander Aronovitch KNAIFEL is born into a family of musicians. The war forces his parents to flee to Siberia but they return to Leningrad in September 1944. At the age of seven, young Alexander, who is to play the cello, enrols in the Rimski-Korsakov School where his father works as a violin instructor and his mother teaches theoretical subjects. Between 1961 and 1963, he perfects his skills in Moscow with Rostropovitch. Upon his return, however, he abandons the cello once and for all and he presents himself at the Conservatory with a short sonata for piano. This sonata gives him access to the second year of composition with Boris A. Aropov. As of 1965, he invests all of his efforts into an opera in three acts which is based upon a tale by Oscar Wilde, viz. The Ghost of Canterbury. In the sixties, Knaifel also composes several pieces destined for ballet: a symphony-ballet in two acts, Eternal Efforts, a ballet entitled Medea, short choreographic scenes for Leonid Jakosbson and a phantasmagoria for children, The Sparrows of Petrograd, 1968. Nevertheless, he is first noticed abroad through two other compositions: the purely instrumental Lamento (1967) for solo cello and the purely vocal Monody (1968) for woman's voice. Tikhon Khrennikov denounces the execution in Cologne in 1979 of A prima vista (1972), a collective improvisation for four percussionists, for misrepresenting Soviet music. Denisov, Gubaidulina and four others are also accused of the same mistake.

As a young man, Knaifel is enamoured with cinema, but his parents never encourage this non-musical vocation. Consequently, he exorcises his demons by writing more than forty scores for film director Semion Aronovitch. Despite this rather intense activity, he still finds time to write two scores that will become his most significant work of the seventies. In 1975, he completely revises a ballet on Jeanne d'Arc and in 1978 it emerges as Jeanne, A Passion for thirteen instrument groups and 56 soloists. Numbers have always fascinated Knaifel and with this piece, they enter into the compositional process. Like Gubaidulina, Knaifel thinks in terms of a mode of thought which is both rational (formalising structures and proportions) and spiritual (generating magical and symbolic forms through what one might call a golden musical number). Consequently, both musicians share the Pythagorean conviction that the harmony of the Universe depends upon the harmony of numbers and proportions. Knaifel himself states that "In Jeanne I discovered numbers, in Nika I discovered words." Entitled Nika, 72 fragments by 17 performers (1973-74), this other exceptionally long composition (140 minutes) does indeed associate numbered parameters with a very specific use of words carried to the fringes of sound and the other way round: seventeen interpreters equal to seventeen sphinxes utter the same enigmatic phrases seventeen times. The phrases quote Heraclites ("Eternity, a child playing dice"), Dante or even Nika Turbina, a child who writes poems and who confirms: "I am not the one writing the poems". This statement should be put alongside those by Alfred Schnittke and Knaifel himself in which they assert that their work is dictated by a voice that comes from somewhere else.

In the next composition, he elaborates a third dimension, that of childhood. In 1981, Knaifel writes a cycle of fifteen melodies, A Silly Horse for his wife, vocalist Tatiana Milentieva. Alice in Wonderland and the other side of the mirror exert an attraction on Knaifel and this is confirmed by an entry in his Diary that stems from the same period: "In this our world I feel out of time and out of place." Therefore, Knaifel is an unclassifiable musician, as is his colleague from Saint Petersburg, Galina Ustvolskaya. Their registers, however, are fundamentally different: Ustvolskaya's register is definitely alien to the world that surrounds it whereas Knaifel continues to address this world. Sometimes his work even mirrors its most concrete realities, as in the piece "Chrami March" featured on another Megadisc CD.

Nevertheless, most of his compositions since 1985 exhibit a different orientation. Their titles betray religious concerns: God (1985), written on the famous tribute (1784) by Russia's first poet, Gavrila Derjavine, Agnus Dei (1985), Litany I and II (1988), Soft Light, written on the texts of vespers and Ascension in 1991, Jacob's Ladder (1993), Heavenly King (1994), a Prayer to the Holy Spirit and, finally, Chapter Eight (1995) for choir and cello, created by Rostropovitch in Washington cathedral. Yet, none of these scores bear any liturgical meaning or betray a specific religious tenor. Born into a non practising Jewish family, Knaifel professes his attraction to both Orthodoxy and Buddhism, although his only true religion is beauty. "Beauty is all-important to me, beauty means energy, the inexhaustible, the burning moment, fire." Proclaimed by Heraclites as long as 2,500 years ago (Fragment 90: "All things are exchanged for fire and the other way round."), Knaifel confirms the magic of beauty when he states: "Only through consumption can we liberate the energy that may yield beauty." Nevertheless, this particular message bears no Promethean significance. In fact, this is a reference to the tiny, nearly forgotten flame buried in the depths of the soul, the flame that flickers softly across these pages where calm and silence, the sophistication of sound and the abolishment of time rule in recaptured innocence.

A Silly Horse is a cycle of fifteen melodies written on children's tales by Vadim Levin, a Russian poet who was inspired by the English "nursery tales" (the score features an English version of Levin's tales). Written for a female vocalist and a (male) pianist, this piece is unique through many aspects. The most important one, however, is the seriousness which presides over the creative process and which should also dominate the execution of the piece. One would expect a diversionary piece for children but the score reveals we are dealing with a quasi-symphony in seven movements consisting of different groupings of the melodies. Silence also constitutes an important element: each time a silence is introduced, its length is specified in the score. Incidentally, the composer designates these pauses as "audible silence". The composer also greatly emphasises the instrumental character of the score, not due to the piano (which plays only a modest role) but mainly because of the female vocalist and the pianist himself who is required to do much more than just play the piano (he is also expected to knock on the wood of his instrument or rub his hands rhythmically. Sometimes he even whispers, sings or clicks his tongue). In other words, both executants become actors of equal importance and these actors perform a kind of ritual, a stage play. The stories create an imaginary world which is often a world of animals, but the latter are merely used as instruments to hint at human realities. The composition obviously takes the world of children very seriously. This approach is reflected by the minute details of the interpretation, which are made explicit by the composer's 69 written recommendations.

This passage from a child's carefreeness to an adult's doubts is illustrated from the very beginning (A Simple Tale) when, after a long preliminary silence and two shrill notes by the piano, the soprano tells the story of a small poodle that patters all day long, even in the rain and snow until, one day, it realises it has become an adult mongrel. After this allegory about the passage of childhood into the adult world, the composer asks the interpreters to exchange parts for the second melody (The Chest), the pianist playing like a soloist with the female vocalist having to listen very carefully, to become accompaniment for the pianist. Played slowly and with long intervals, the piano creates an insubstantial atmosphere which underlines the dead-end conversation between a cow and a turkey. When man makes his appearance (nrs. 3, 4, 5, 9, 11, 12) , allegory is mostly replaced with irony. The sixth melody, A Silly Horse, is also the general title of the cycle. This very short melody tells the story of a horse that has bought four galoshes: two new ones which he wears when the weather is fine and two damaged ones which he wears when it is raining a little. But when it starts raining cats and dogs, he does not wear them at all because he does not want to damage them. This rather credible allusion to the absurd logic of the regime is emphasised by a martial rhythm. A very similar but much longer melody would be the tenth. It spins out the story of a bull calf that is always tired and it features a wide spectrum of sonorous evocations. The enigmatic presence of the cats is typical for numbers 4, 7 and 8. With the last melody, Sad Song About an Elephant, Knaifel drives to extremes the type of sonorous research towards which he is exceptionally well disposed, viz. research related to the final traces of sound and time. This is why the reverberation of each note the piano plays last some ten seconds while the female vocalist is forced to elongate every note of her song (which consists almost entirely of the G note) to such an extent as to test the very limits of her respiratory capacity. In the end, both vocalist and pianist join the silence, the pianist by playing impossible and inaudibly shrill notes on the right-hand side of the piano while humming in counterpoint until a very long silence puts an almost oneiric end to the performance. Clearly, there is a visual dimension to the oeuvre which cannot be committed to disc but repeated listening will allow the attentive individual to penetrate much deeper into this very special universe that calls for particular adherence on behalf of both the executants and the auditors.

Written in Saint Petersburg on 9 December 1981, A Silly Horse has been executed abroad several times (and even in Dutch at the Holland Festival ) but Alexander Knaifel's wife, soprano Tatiana Milentieva, remains the privileged interpreter. This also goes for the pianist from Saint Petersburg, Oleg Malov, who had already collaborated with Knaifel on his own previous CD as on those devoted to Galina Ustvolskaya Frans C.Lemaire

A Silly Horse Rhymes by Vadim Levin English version by Fainna Solasko

1. A Simple Tale A puppy trotted down the street. His name was either Spot or Skeet. He ran about in rain and sleet And didn't mind the cold or heat, And even if he froze his feet, The puppy trotted down the street.

Trot-trot, trot-trot in cold or heat, Trot-trot, And he Became A big pooh !

2. The Chest One day A big gobbler Was strutting Along. His cart Held a chest that Was strapped with A thong.

Now there came A cow that was all Out of breath. "Oh what's in The chest ?" She said, running ahead.

" I do beg Your pardon, But we've never met. So kindly Move, madam. There's no Need to fret."

At this the Old cow stopped. She shook Her old head. She glared at the chest and The gobbler and said :

"Oh no! I shan't move from this spot till I know What's inside this chest, and I won't Let you go." * * * To this Very day The big gobbler Is there, And so Is the cow. They do make a Strange pair.

And as for the chest, well, The gobbler can't hide it,

But nobody yet Has been shown What's inside it.

3. Mr Croaky Mr Croaky, Esquire, Made his home in Meadow Mire, In a cask there, and seemed very well.Mr Quacky, Esquire, Strolled about in Meadow Mire, And, you know, Mr Croaky's been gone.

4. Wickie-Wackie-Wookie Wickie-Wackie-Wookie Mousie Has built herself a little housie. With a roof? No. With windows? No. No walls, no floor, but just a door, Yet, oh how cosy is the house of Wickie-Wackie-Wookie Mousie.

Wickie-Wackie-Wookie Cat Just purrs as He lies on his mat. There are No words. It sounds Quite flat, But that old cat knows what he's at. He purrs and rubs his paws, pat-pat, Wickie-Wackie-Wookie Cat.

5. A Green Tale Dear Auntie Greta (She wore a green sweater), Dear Uncle Slaters (He wore his green gaiters), As well as their daughters Odetta and Dora (The girls both had on light-green tams of angora) At dawn, with Aurora, (Their coach had a green door), Went off on a visit to Granny Lenora. But young brother Tony Astride his small pony ("His halter and saddle are pea-green", said Tony) Set out, though the road was quite stony.

Dear Auntie Greta (She wore a green sweater), Dear Uncle Slaters (He wore his green gaiters), As well as their daughters Odetta and Dora (The girls both had on light-green tams of angora), That evening returned in their coach with the green door, The one which they'd taken at dawn, with Aurora, To go off and visit dear Granny Lenora. But young brother Tony And his little pony (His halter and saddle are pea-green, said Tony) Returned home by train from their journey.

6. A Silly Horse One day a horse went and bought four galoshes. One pair was brand-new, the other had gashes.

Horse wore the new pair on days that were sunny, Prancing about, though it looked very funny.

It would put on the old pair with the gashes When it was drizzling, and when there were splashes.

If it would pour and the streets were awash, Horse would go walking without a galosh.

7. Getting Acquainted Dolly and Bill Climbed onto the sill To see what the new cat was like.

Puss smacked Bill's head, And then Dolly said : "I didn't know kitties could fight".

8. A Winter's Tale (A Lullaby) Daniel-Danny and Daddy, and Kitty Went sledding down hills that were snow-white and pretty. At last, it got late, and they came traipsing home, To grandmother Maggie, who was all alone.

Daniel-Danny and Daddy, and Catty Then each had a hot bowl Of soup and a patty. They sat by the fireside All three, softly dozing, And warmed their Cold hands and Four paws that were frozen.

The flames leaped and danced, and the quick shadows flitted, As Daniel-Danny slept, while Granny knitted. Soon Daddy went out to see if it was dark yet. Kitty just lay there and purred on the carpet.

9. Mr Grundy "Mr Grundy, Mr Grundy, Won't you call again some Sunday?" "In an hour from now, not some day." "Oh, you're so kind, Mr Grundy."

10. Bull Calf When I was a boy, I'd go down to the creek, I'd carry a pail and a rod, And waiting for me there, So gentle and meek, Was Bull Calf. He'd smile and He'd nod. That silly brown calf Would keep staring at me, While chewing away on his cud. His big ears would twitch as he swayed giddily, His nose gleaming black as black mud.

Hello there, old pal," I'd say. "How do you do?" And he'd always answer : "Moo-oo."

I live in a town, for I've grown up since then, And it's a long way from the creek. But still, I do wonder About him and when I'll see that brown bull calf so meek. How is the old Silly? Does he Miss me, too? To whom Does he now say Moo-oo?

If you ever Chance to pass by that small creek And there see a silly bull calf, Whose nose is so black and whose coat is so sleek, Who likes you to smile and to laugh, Be sure that you speak To him as I would do, And he'll surely answer: "Moo-oo."

11. Jo More Jonathan More, The same one that swore He'd killed a Whale in Fair Wood, Jonathan More, Who'd never before Bought anything that was good, Jonathan More, Who had a great hoard: Two big chests full of corks, Jonathan More, Who rode to the door On a bull just for larks, Jonathan More, Who couldn't ignore A sty That ruined his good looks, Jonathan More, Who sat on the floor, With a goat, reading books, Jonathan More, Who found it a bore, Visiting Friends by the sea - Why he, Why this very Jo More, He just simply adored his tea.

12. A Conversation Which Took Place Between Professors John Dill and Claude Gilly John Dill, a man of Brackenside, Was on his way to Quilly, When in the river he espied His friend and colleague Gilly.

"To think that I'd meet you today!" Said Dill in tones excited. "I knew that you'd be far away, As you were to be knighted."

While swallowing a wave or two, His colleague Claude Replied: "Sir John, I think that I am through, I'm drowning Here," he sighed.

'T was then That Dill said, "Why, indeed!" Poor Claude, Poor Gilly floundered. He sank a bit, Grasped at a reed And gazed about, astounded.

"The water seems Quite warm", Dill mused, As he sprawled on the grass. "Glub-glub", Said Gilly, quite confused, Which probably meant "Yes".

13. A Night's Tale Mr. and Mrs. Buckley Woke up quite late one night. Mr. and Mrs. Buckley Figured the time was just right. Mr. and Mrs. Buckley Pulled out their big cedar chest. They found their old spyglasses, luckily, and some walnuts, But left all the rest.

Mr. and Mrs. Buckley Climbed huffing and puffing up, Up to the attic slowly, Watching their every step. Up they went with four sacks now, They lugged them up higher, quite high. The load was so big and so bulky They felt they were getting quite tired, Mr. and Mrs. Buckley.

They reached the roof and the night air, There below was the town. They started to crack the nuts there, And soon nutshells were sailing down.

14. A Short Song of Much Rain All month long now We've had rain. Water On the Window Pane. Water on the Roofs and trees. Water on the Grass and leaves. Water outside Every hearth, Water On the wet, Wet earth. Far away from land we see Wet, wet Ships put Out to sea.

15. A Sad Song About an Elephant I can't tell you how many chums I see: My moose, and my goat, and my bear, My partridge that flies up to perch in a tree, They're all glad to have me there. My hedgehog is off to have lunch with a friend, And buzzing by is busy bee. But never has there ever come round the bend An elephant friend just for me.

I'm wakened each morning by my pal the jay. Old goat comes to munch on some hay. Red fox sweeps my room with her tail every day, The animals all come to play. My starling will call as it flies overhead, Dear bunny will sit on my knee.

But never has there ever come round the bend An elephant friend just for me.

Recording data

alexander KNAIFEL a silly horse (1981) Tatjana Milentieva soprano Oleg Malov piano

Fifteen Tales for (female) Singer and (male) Pianist Rhymes by Vadim Levin English version by Fainna Solasko

I 1. A Simple Tale 2. The Chest

II 3. Mr Croaky

III 4. Wickie-Wackie-Wookie 5. A Green Tale

IV 6. A Silly Horse 7. Getting Acquainted

V 8. A Winter's Tale (A Lullaby) 9. Mr Grundy 10. Bull Calf

VI 11. Jo More 12. A Conversation Which Took Place Between Professors John Dill and Claude Gilly

VII 13. A Night's Tale 14. A Short Song of Much Rain 15. A Sad Song About an Elephant

Original recording Leningrad, October 1987 Sound Engineer Felix Gurji Remixed recording St. Petersburg, July 1996 Sound Engineer Victor Dinov Recorded and Edited in the presence of Alexander Knaifel

Artistic Direction Patrick De Clerck Executive producer Ric J.B. Urmel

Front Cover detail of original painting "Untitled" by Ilse D'Hollander (1996) (oil on canvas / 37x40cm) Text Frans C. Lemaire Sleeve Design [Sign*]-Brussels Special Thanks to Lev Levinson, Ekaterina Blazhkova