Пряха — The Spinster

Приписано к Михаилу Тимофеевичу Выссотскому

Attributed to Mikhail Timofeevich Vyssotsky

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(Notice: This is the article I attached to a publication of this piece in Soundboard (Winter 1992, N° XVII/4)


With Alexander Frauchi's insistent performance of this piece in his concerts in the West, we have come to know this venerable old lady of the Russian seven- string repertoire. It was picked up already by Western guitarists, and several readers expressed an interest in seeing it in print.

At one time, I was thinking of including the piece in the first volume of the Russian collection, but knowing that it was given a very creditable publication in the early '50s by Clifford Essex Publishers in London, arranged by Boris Perrot, a Russian guitarist who was Julian Bream's teacher, I did not wish to be accused of ripping-off the old man His arrangement of The Spinster for the six-string guitar was so good it would have been difficult to improve on it. This is a popular piece because it is playable directly on the six-string guitar with practically no alterations. Incidentally, Perrot, who was Russian, translated the title as The Spinning Wheel." The title, in Russian, reads "priakha," which actually means one who "spins" a spinning-wheel, "prialka." Hence, Perrot was either wrong or too ill at ease to use translations such as spinster, spinstress, spinner etc. Who knows but some unmarried lady of a certain age might have taken offence....

Mikhail Timofeevich Vyssotsky (1791-1837) studied the guitar with Semion Aksionov. He never received any general or musical education, being the son of a clerk in the household of the famous poet Mikhail Kheraskov (1733-1807). He arrived in Moscow in 1813 and soon achieved phenomenal fame as a virtuoso. His ability to freely improvise on any tune became his trade mark. He was closely associated with the leading artistic circles. The poet Mikhail Lermontov dedicated to him the well known poem "Zvuki" (Sounds)

There are several legends regarding his meeting with Sor circulating in Russian guitar histories. It is not quite certain if such a meeting actually took place. Another interesting historical notion is the account in several biographical writings about him, that Vyssotsky had transcribed music by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Bach. If confirmed, this would put Vyssotsky at the fore-front of the guitar's involvement with the music of Bach, at about the same time this music was being resurrected by Mendelssohn.

Vyssotsky's music was published by several leading publishers in both Moscow and St. Petersburg during his life time

Vyssotsky's was published by several leading publishers in both Moscow and St. Petersburg during his life time. Most of of it was later re-published by Stellovsky in the 1840s, after Vyssotsky death in 1837, and again reprinted by the Moscow-based publisher Gutheil in the 1880s. It was again re-printed, using lithographic facsimile of the originals, by the Soviet music publisher Muzgiz in 1926. The list of works by Vyssotsky published by Stellovsky contains 84 edition numbers. The present work is not included in the list.

This edited facsimile is taken from its publication in the musical supplement of the October 1904 issue of Gitarist magazine, which appears to be the first publication of it in its present form. In the literary section of the magazine, the editor, Valerian Rusanov, said this about it:

...This piece is printed herewith from an old manuscript which I received from one of the pupil of M. T. Vyssotsky, one Efim Maksimovich Pavlovsky who died on August 16th 1899 at a very old age. The late Pavlovsky performed this work in a concert in 1874 in the town of Suvalki with great success. At the top of this manuscript it is written: "Priakha for the seven-string guitar, set by A. Sychra, M. Vyssotsky and P. Bieloshein."

Already in earlier times, it was known that the famous patriarch of Russian guitarists [Andrei Osipovich Sychra (1773-1850)] held the talent of M. Vyssotsky in high regard and in particular his fantasie on the Russian song "The Spinster"; he also added to it one variation of his own composition. In fact, comparing the manuscript to a printed copy of this work which was already published during the composer's life time, I was able to ascertain that in the manuscript copy there are variations which do not belong to M.T. Vyssotsky. Among these are the third variation, and after the full bar of silence, the Finale and Coda. Judging by the character of these variations, one must propose that the third variation was added by A.O. Sychra and the Finale and Coda, which contain some elements of the Adagio in the fourth variation, were composed by P. Bieloshein [Pavel Fedoseevich Bieloshein (1799-1869) a student of both Sychra and Vyssotsky, a well known performer and teacher on the seven-string guitar.]

The variation by A.O. Sychra is so good, and the addition by P. Bieloshein is done so appropriately and skillfully, that I thought better to keep them in our edition...

I have not come across a copy of the original version of Vyssotsky Rusanov speaks about, and I doubt one exists All the many Soviet editions of the piece, in both its six- and seven-string guitar versions, pretty much follow the Rusanov model as we present here. Rusanov's recognition of the specific style of Sychra as different from that of Vyssotsky, is not something which we are able to prove or disprove at this point in time and space. We simply have no choice but take Rusanov at his word and accept his description of the authorship of the piece and its various elements. The edited facsimile is simply a photographic image of the Gitarist magazine edition, from which I removed all seven-string fingering notation. I also removed several same-pitch grace- notes in the first line of the theme, on the second beat of bars 1 and 3, which do not have any specific meaning on the six-string guitar. Several obvious misprints have been corrected silently. The number of notes in the closing two chords have been adjusted from 7 to 6. [No such editorial changes have been made to the present scan...]

Performance suggestions: Fingering this work for the six-string guitar is a simple matter and does not require any elaboration. Please note, however, that the slur between the D sharp to C, Variation 1, line one, bars 2 to 3, is a slide on the fourth string. Same thing for the F#-A slide between bars 6 and 7 in the same variation. Also, the B7 chord on the third beat of the first bar of the theme, may be spelled B-f#-a-d# and played with a barré on the second fret. The present spelling of the seventh chord, typical for seven-string writing, can be played at the seventh fret with the open b string, but it requires a position shift that may or may not be desirable.

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