Emerson, Lake & Palmer? Why this piece instead of one of the more popular and commercially successful songs like “Lucky Man”, “From The Beginning”, or “Still You Turn Me On”? Well, it’s because you might not be as interested in one of my favorite pieces from them, which we’ll listen to a little further down. So I picked this rockin’ “appetizer” from the same album to get you in here.
You may want to grab a snifter of fine brandy, a choice cigar, and a velvet sleeping jacket, because we’ll end up getting all classical up in here.
But first, let’s see where this first track came from. In 1959 a group of session musicians, Earl Palmer, René Hall and Plas Johnson, worked as the house band at Rendezvous Records. You’ve heard them on many songs from the 1960’s, but don’t know it. They alone would take another article, but I’ll leave it to you to look them up on your own if interested.
After recording a successful rock version of “In the Mood” in 1960, they took on the name of B. Bumble and the Stingers so they could release more classically-inspired records. Their second such recording was “Nut Rocker”.
Let’s not stop there. The original composer of this piece was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, yes Tchaikovsky, for his two-act ballet called “The Nutcracker Suite”. It was given its premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on Sunday, 18 December 1892. You may be familiar with some of the tunes from that as they are usually played around Christmas time.
Classical music is usually a grouping of extended musical pieces woven together inspired by a concept of emotions or events. Is the re-imagined version of this song an example of the beginnings of what has become known as Progressive (Prog) Rock? It may just be.
As I mentioned, this song is a step to a song you may even less familiar with. The Emerson, Lake & Palmer version of this song was the encore of their live recording of a concert performed at the Newcastle City Hall (a concert hall located in Newcastle upon Tyne, England). The album was called “Pictures at an Exhibition”, as the rest of the album contained movements from the suite of ten pieces (plus a recurring, varied Promenade) of the same name composed for piano by Russian composer Modést Petróvich Músorgskiy (later known as Mússorgsky) in 1874.
Mussorgsky based his musical material on drawings and watercolours by artist, architect, and designer Viktor Hartmann, who produced mostly during his travels abroad. Locales include Italy, France, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. Today most of the pictures from the Hartmann exhibition are lost, making it impossible to be sure in many cases which Hartmann works Mussorgsky had in mind.
The suite is Mussorgsky’s most famous piano composition and has become a showpiece for virtuoso pianists. It has become further known through various orchestrations and arrangements produced by other musicians and composers, with Maurice Ravel’s arrangement being by far the most recorded and performed.
The final piece of Mussorgsky’s symphony was titled “The Bogatyr Gates (In the Capital in Kiev)”. The title of this movement is commonly translated as “The Great Gate of Kiev” and sometimes as “The Heroes’ Gate at Kiev”.
Hartmann considered the Great Gate of Kiev to be his best work. The gate exists only as a painting finished in 1869 depicting a plan for a city gate in Kiev. Tsar Alexander II had held a competition for the design of a great gate to commemorate his survival of the assassination attempt on him in 1866, but the project was cancelled. Maybe the Tsar was kind of squeamish about publicly remembering his own murder plot?
Raise, or refill, that brandy snifter, and settle in for about 10 more minutes. We can now get to the actual track I had mentioned. Here is Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s live performance of “The Great Gate of Kiev” recorded in 1974 at California Jam. Not only do you get a great musical performance of the piece, but some of the most notable theatrical moments performanced on stage.
Greg Lake composed and added lyrics for the piece, befitting the mood of the movement.
Born in life’s fire,
Born in life’s fire.
Come forth, from love’s spire
In the burning, all are [of our] yearning,
for life to be.
And in pain there will [must] be gain,
New Life!Stirring in, salty streams
And dark hidden seams
Where the fossil sun gleams.They were, sent from [to] the gates
Ride the tides of fate
Ride the tides of fate.
They were, sent from [to] the gates,
In the burning all are [of our] yearning,
For life to be.There’s no end to my life,
Death is life.
Keith Emerson was known for his theatrics and, most notably, his synthesizers. He had a close relationship with Dr. Robert Moog as he was inventing his instruments. The beast shown in the video was the Advanced Moog Modular System IIIc (incl. ribbon controller with several ‘theatrical’ effects). Fortunately it has been preserved in a new home and still being played, along with his other keyboards he used during his career. A nice article on it can be found here.
You may now retire back to your chambers and your own selections of music, but now you are hopefully just a little more cultured. But, please, Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World.