The Supreme Inspiration V: Performers & Directors

Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948)
Eisenstein, famous for his silent film Battleship Potemkin, was unusual among film directors in having a genuine feel for music. He wrote: ‘No montage can be accomplished if there is no inner “melody” to determine its construction.’

Knowing of Prokofiev’s association with his one-time teacher, the theatre director Meyerhold, and of his recent visit to Hollywood, he invited him to score his film Alexander Nevsky. This propaganda film had to be made rapidly and Eisenstein, impressed by Prokofiev’s work under these conditions, asked him to work on his magnum opus, Ivan the Terrible. An equal partnership, Eisenstein often allowed Prokofiev to write music for unedited rushes, thus allowing the composer considerable control over the rhythm and mood of sequences. Eisenstein in turn inspired Prokofiev to write some of his most evocative and emotionally eloquent music.

Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007)
Known to his many musician friends as ‘Slava’, this legendary cellist has inspired many of this century’s greatest composers to write some of their finest works. His playing is noted for its unusual accuracy of intonation, tremendous energy and range of tone, and a compelling musicality. Graduating from the Moscow Conservatory with the highest distinction, several major works were dedicated to him including concertos by Myaskovsky, Khachaturian, and Prokofiev, with whom he formed a close friendship. Possibly most important to his career, though, was Shostakovich’s dedication of his First Cello Concerto. Britten, hearing him play this in 1960, was inspired to write several works for him: the result, after 15 years almost entirely devoted to writing vocal music, was a Cello Sonata, three Cello Suites, and the Symphony for cello and orchestra.

Other outstanding works inspired by him include concertos by Lutoslawski, Panufnik, Dutilleux’s Tout un monde lointain and Bernstein’s Slava overture.

David Oistrakh (1908-74)
One of the greatest violinists of his day, he was noted for his warm and powerful tone, able to be elegant or monumental. These characteristics inspired Prokofiev to write one of his greatest works, the First Violin Sonata. Many other Soviet composers, including Khachaturian, Shostakovich and Myaskovsky, dedicated works to him.

Martha Graham (1894-1991)
This modern American dancer successfully devised a technique – aimed at expression rather than display – which could serve as the basis for any dancer to develop their individual style. The most famous work written for her is Copland’s Appalachian Spring, closely followed by Barber’s Cave of the Heart, which has Medea’s ‘Dance of Vengeance’. Menotti, Hindemith and William Schuman also composed for her.

Two singer muses: soprano Cathy Berberian – intelligent, humorous and versatile – married the composer Berio who wrote several works for her, as did Stravinsky (Elegy for JFK) and Henze; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the German baritone for whom Britten wrote Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, and Reimann wrote the opera Lear.

Classic CD magazine, 1996

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