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8.550758 - GLAZUNOV / DVORAK: Violin Concertos in A Minor
Alexander Glazunov (1865 - 1936)
Antonin Dvořák (1841 - 1904)
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov has not fared well at the hands of later critics. He enjoyed a remarkably successful career in music, becoming Director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1905 in the aftermath of the political disturbances of that year, and retaining the position, latterly in absentia, for the next twenty-five years. His earlier compositions were well received, but the very facility that had attracted the attention and friendship of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov was to be held against him. A Russian critic could praise him for the reconciliation he had apparently effected between the Russian music of his time and the music of Western Europe, but for a considerable time the Soviet authorities regarded his music as bourgeois, while one of the most eminent of writers in the West on Russian music, Gerald Abraham, considered that it had fallen to Glazunov to lead what he described as the comfortable decline of Russian music into ignominious mediocrity. Recent critics have occasionally taken a more balanced view of Glazunov's achievement. Due respect is paid to his success in bringing about a synthesis of Russian and Western European music, the tradition of the Five and that of Rubinstein. Boris Schwarz has summarised the composer's career neatly, allowing him to have been a composer of imposing stature and a stabilising influence in a time of transition and turmoil.
Born in St. Petersburg in 1865, the son of a publisher and bookseller, as a child Glazunov showed considerable ability in music and in 1879 met Balakirev, who encouraged the boy to broaden his general musical education, while taking lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov. By the age of sixteen he had completed the first of his nine symphonies, a work that was performed in 1882 under the direction of Balakirev, and further compositions were welcomed by both factions in Russian musical life, the nationalist and the so-called German.
Glazunov continued his association with Rimsky-Korsakov until the latter's death in 1909. It was in his company that he became a regular member of the circle of musicians under the patronage of Belyayev, perceived by Balakirev as a rival to his own influence. Belyayev introduced Glazunov to Liszt. whose support led to the spread of the young composer's reputation abroad. The First Symphony was performed in Weimar in 1884, the Second directed by Glazunov at the 1889 Paris Exhibition. The Fourth and Fifth Symphonies were introduced to the London public in 1897. In 1899 Glazunov joined the staff of the Conservatory in St. Petersburg and in 1905, when peace was restored to the institution after student demonstrations, he became Director, a position he held, nominally at least, until 1930.
In 1928 Glazunov left Russia to fulfil concert engagements abroad, finally, in 1932, making his home in Paris, where he died four years later. These last years took him to a number of countries, where he conducted concerts of his own works. In England a reporter compared his appearance to that of a prosperous retired tea-planter, with his gold watch-chain spread across his starched white waistcoat, resembling, for all the world, a well-to-do bank- manager. His views on modern music were often severe. He found the Heldenleben of Richard Strauss disgusting and referred to the composer as "cet infame scribouilleur". Of Stravinsky he remarked that he had irrefutable proof of the inadequacy of his ear. Nevertheless it was under his direction that the Conservatory produced a number of very distinguished musicians. While Prokofiev did little to endear himself to Glazunov, Shostakovich received considerable encouragement and was unstinting in his admiration of the older composer as a marked influence on all the students with whom he had contact, to whom Glazunov was a living legend.
Glazunov wrote his Violin Concerto in A minor in 1904 during the summer months after the death of Belyayev. It was first performed in St. Petersburg on 4th March 1905 by Leopold Auer, to whom it was dedicated. Two weeks later Auer's fourteen-year-old pupil Mischa Elman played the concerto in London and another pupil, May Harrison, has left some account of her own performance of the work in St. Petersburg in 1912, with Glazunov conducting, after a rehearsal in which he had gone through the Brahms Double Concerto at uniformly slow speeds, something attributed by some to habitual over-indulgence in alcohol.
The concerto includes a slow movement, marked Andante sostenuto, framed by the first movement Moderato. The opening theme is first heard in the lower register of the violin and its very Russian outline is in contrast with the lyrical second subject, marked Tranquillo and in the key of F major. The central Andante sostenuto shifts into the key of D fiat major, its principal theme played first on the G string of the violin. Two plucked chords signal the return of the principal Moderato theme from violas and bassoons, with a fragment of the secondary 1heme from flute and oboe, before a recapitulation in which the soloist is allowed moments of passionate virtuosity in handling the principal theme. The re-appearance of the second theme leads soon to a cadenza and the end of the movement. The final A major Allegro is dominated by its cheerful Russian principal theme, heralded by the trumpets and taken up at once by the soloist. This provides a framework for contrasting episodes in a concerto that is accepted as a significant addition to romantic violin concerto repertoire.
Antonfn Dvořák must be considered the greatest of the Czech nationalist composers of the later nineteenth century, and he continues to enjoy the widest international popularity. His achievement, like Glazunov, was to bring together music that derived its inspiration from Bohemia's woods and fields with the classical traditions continued by Brahms in Vienna. At the same time he established a distinctively Czech musical idiom, suggesting the future development of music stemming from what had long been a rich source of musical inspiration within the Habsburg Empire.
Dvořák was born in 1841 in a village of Bohemia, where his father combined the trades of inn-keeper and butcher, which it was expected that his son would later follow. As a child he played in his father's village band, his early training as a violinist in the hands of the village schoolmaster. Schooling in Zlonice, where he was sent at the age of twelve, lodging with an uncle, allowed instruction in the rudiments of music from Antonin Liehmann. Two years later he was sent to Kamenice to learn German, but the following year the needs of his family made it necessary for him to return to Zlonice, where his parents had now settled, to help in the butcher's shop. Liehmann continued his lessons and persuaded his father to allow him to study in Prague. In 1857 he entered the Prague Organ School, where he was able to remain for two years.
Dvořák at first earned his living in Prague playing the viola in a band led by Karel Komsák, which was later to form part of the orchestra of the Provisional Theatre, established in 1862. He was to become principal viola-player and to continue as an orchestral player for the next nine years, for some time under the direction of Smetana, who exercised considerable influence on Dvořák's parallel work as a composer. In 1871 he found himself able to resign from the orchestra and to marry. He took a position as organist at the church of St. Adalbert, taught a few pupils and otherwise devoted himself to composition. It was through the encouragement of Brahms, four years later, that his music was brought gradually to the attention of a much wider public. In particular Brahms was able to persuade Simrock to publish Dvořák's vocal Moravian Duets. Their success was followed by the publisher's request for further music of this kind, resulting in the first series of Slavonic Dances, Opus 46, composed for piano duet, but orchestrated at the same time by the composer. The same year, 1878, saw the composition of the three Slavonic Rhapsodies, Opus 45.
From this time onwards Dvořák's fame grew and he was to win particular popularity in Germany and in England, visiting the latter country on several occasions and fulfilling commissions for choral works for Birmingham and Leeds. In 1891 he was appointed professor of composition at Prague Conservatory and the following year accepted an invitation to go to New York as director of the new National Conservatory .The period in America gave rise to one of his best known works, the Symphony "From the New World". By 1895 he was back again in Prague, teaching at the Conservatory, of which he became director in 1901. He died two years later.
Dvořák wrote the first version of his Violin Concerto in the summer of 1879 and at the end of November sent the completed work to the violinist Josef Joachim, to whom the concerto is dedicated. The following April he visited Joachim in Berlin and various suggestions were made, leading to a thorough revision of the work. Joachim still had further revisions to suggest and made his own adjustments to the solo part, while the orchestral part had seemed sometimes too heavy, as demonstrated by a run-through in Berlin in 1872 with the Musikhochschule Orchestra, and was consequently revised. The concerto was available in its final form by the end of the year and was first performed in October 1873 in Prague by the Czech violinist František Ondñček.
The first movement is briefly introduced by the orchestra, leading to the solo statement of the principal theme, which dominates the movement, re-appearing almost at once in the subdominant. The soloist later announces a short secondary theme in C major, but it is the mood and rhythm of the main theme that prevails. The second movement, marked Adagio, ma non troppo, is linked to the first and Dvořák resisted suggestions from his publisher's representative to make any change, since he considered the first movement too short to stand alone. In F major, the movement allows the soloist to announce the moving theme that is the basis of w hat follows, in music that must recall Brahms in its scoring and mood. The last movement, a Czech dumka in all but name, provides a wealth of thematic invention in contrasting episodes, marked by the recurrent principal theme, with its distinctive cross rhythms.
The Romance for violin and orchestra, Opus 11 was one of the works that Dvořák wrote in 1873, the year of his Third Symphony and of the String Quartets in A and F minor. The delightful first subject appears also in the slow movement of the F minor Quartet, and is announced first by the orchestra, before the gentle entry of the solo violin with the same theme. The second subject seems to recall a theme from the second movement of Schubert's Second Symphony, and the material is developed with more or less elaborate violin figuration before the first melody is re-introduced, making its final appearance in the key of F major as the work draws to a close.
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
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