No 1: The Magic Violin: Tempo cangiando, abbandonamente
No 2: Allegro e leggiero
No 3: Allegretto tenebroso
No 4: Molto sostenuto e semplice
To Op 34 No 1 he gave the title The Magic Violin. Although unattributed in the score, it seems likely that this comes from a poem of the same name by Nikolai Gumilev (1886–1921) in which the poet implores a child not to succumb to the seductive violin which will unleash all kinds of horrors upon him through its magic. Certainly, the sinuous lines of the recurring waltz-theme and the increasingly violent interludes seem in tune with this supposition. Although Medtner described Op 34 No 2 to friends as ‘a tale told by a river bank’ (easily discernible in the rippling currents of the left hand), by quoting from Tyutchev’s mystical poem Peace (‘… what we once called ours is gone for ever’), he suggests deeper thoughts about the ephemerality of existence, no less. Above Op 34 No 3, Medtner simply wrote ‘Wood spirit (but a kind, plaintive one)’. According to his Canadian pupil and disciple Bernard Pinsonneault he amplified this, saying with a smile: ‘He’s a highly capricious sorcerer who does a thousand magic tricks, conjures up all kind of strange creatures and launches multicoloured arabesques from his fingers; he’s a grimacing sorcerer but … he is never wicked.’ His grimaces reveal that the gulf between Medtner and Prokofiev was not as wide as either of them imagined. Op 34 No 4 bears a quotation from Pushkin: ‘… there lived once a poor knight’. Pushkin’s poem has a special resonance in the Russian psyche. Friends relate that Dostoyevsky had tears in his eyes when reading it to his children and it has been often cited as the inspiration for Prince Mishka in his novel The Idiot. Jungians interpret the character as a prototype of the creative artist, others as anti-hero. The poem tells of a knight in Palestine who worships the Virgin Mary, renouncing not only all other women but also the Holy Trinity. When, on his deathbed many years later, he is about to be dragged to hell by demons for this blasphemy, the Blessed Virgin herself intervenes and bears him aloft. The music is of an extraordinarily exalted piety and, at the moment of his transfiguration, truly inspirational, as its sombre strains transmute into a radiant D major melange of prayers, bells and angel trumpets. At this point Medtner confessed to being inspired by the sublime transition from the desolation of the Largo e mesto in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op 10 No 3 to the sunlit D major of the succeeding Menuetto.
from notes by Hamish Milne © 2007