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8.553503-04 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Raymonda (Moscow Symphony, Anissimov)
English 

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865 - 1936)

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865 - 1936)

Raymonda, Op. 57

(Ballet in Three Acts)

 

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 modem 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.

 

The music of Raymonda has proved very much more satisfactory than the original ballet. In 1895 the minor novelist and columnist Lydia Pashkova submitted her scenario to the director of the Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky. After revision this was sent to the veteran choreographer of the Imperial ballet, Marius Petipa. The work was eventually staged at the Marlinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in January 1898, initially with a benefit performance for Pierina Legnani, who danced the title role. Sergey Legat took the premier danseur role of Jean de Brienne, with Pavel Gerdt in the character role of Abderakhman. Sets were designed by Orest Allegri, Konstantin Ivanov and Petr Lambru and costumes by Ekaterina Ofizerova and Ivan Kaffi.

 

The action of the ballet is set in medieval Hungary. Raymonda is betrothed to Jean de Brienne, a crusader, who is called away to the wars. She is also the object of desire to the Saracen knight Abderakhman, who plans to abduct her. The White Lady (Dame blanche), a guardian spirit of Raymonda's noble family, appears and prevents the abduction, and Abderakhman is killed in combat by Jean de Brienne. The principal action ends with the second act. The third act honours the happy couple, Raymonda and Jean de Brienne, and is sometimes offered now as a separate item in ballet programmes. It consists of a series of divertissements, including the famous Pas classique hongrois.

 

There have been various re-stagings of Raymonda, either in its original form, or with a revised scenario and adapted choreography, with versions by Pavlova, Balanchin and Nureyev among others. Dyagilev himself took from it a men's pas de quatre, with Nizhinsky, for his opening season in Paris in 1909. However unsatisfactory the narrative and dramatic structure of the piece, it remains, in the version of the eighty-year-old Marius Petipa, a classic of choreography, while its music has its own lasting attractions. Glazunov shared with Tchaikovsky an ability to handle the short forms that ballet demands, within a coherent wider structure. His evocative score for Raymonda is immensely colourful, whether in the varied set-pieces of the first act, with its romance, its ghostly apparitions and dance of elves and goblins, or in the character dances of the exotic second act or in the final celebrations of the third.

 

 


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