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8.553512 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 16 - The Sea / Oriental Rhapsody / Ballade / Cortege solennel (Moscow Symphony, Golovschin)
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
It is becoming increasingly unnecessary to defend the reputation of Glazunov. He belonged to a generation of Russian composers that was able to benefit from more professional standards of compositional technique, absorbing and helping to create a synthesis of the national, that might sometimes be expressed crudely enough, and the technique of the conservatories, that might sometimes seem facile. Glazunov worked closely with Rimsky-Korsakov, to whom Balakirev, his mother's teacher, had recommended him, and played an important part in the education of a new generation of Russian composers such as Shostakovich.
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in St Petersburg in 1865, the son of a publisher and bookseller. As a child he showed considerable musical ability and in 1879 met Balakirev and hence Rimsky- Korsakov. By the age of sixteen he had finished the first of his nine symphonies, which was performed under the direction of Balakirev, whose influence is perceptible in the work. The relationship with Balakirev was not to continue. The rich timber-merchant Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev had been present at the first performance of the symphony and travelled to Moscow to hear Rimsky- Korsakov conduct a second performance there. He attended the Moscow rehearsals and his meeting with Rimsky-Korsakov was the beginning of a new informal association of Russian composers, perceived by Balakirev as a threat to his own position and influence, as self-appointed mentor of the Russian nationalist composers. Glazunov became part of Belyayev's circle, attending his Friday evenings with Rimsky-Korsakov, rather than Balakirev's Tuesday evening meetings. Belyayev took Glazunov, in 1884, to meet Liszt in Weimar, where the First Symphony was performed.
In 1899 Glazunov joined the staff of the Conservatory in St Petersburg, but by this time his admiration for his teacher seems to have cooled. Rimsky-Korsakov's wife was later to remark on Glazunov's admiration for Tchaikovsky and Brahms, suspecting in this the influence of Taneyev and of the critic Laroche, champion of Tchaikovsky and a strong opponent of the nationalists, a man described by Rimsky-Korsakov as the Russian equivalent of Hanslick in Vienna, a comparison that, from him, was not entirely complimentary.
Glazunov, however, remained a colleague and friend of Rimsky-Korsakov , and demonstrated this after the political disturbance of 1905, when the latter had signed a letter of protest at the suppression of some element of democracy in Russia and had openly sympathized with Conservatory students who had joined liberal protests against official policies. Rimsky-Korsakov was dismissed from the Conservatory, to be reinstated by Glazunov, elected director of an institution that, in the aftermath, had now won a measure of autonomy. Glazunov remained director of the Conservatory until 1930. In 1928 he left Russia in order to attend the Schubert celebrations in Vienna. Thereafter he remained abroad, with a busy round of engagements as a conductor, finally settling near Paris until his death in 1936.
It says much for the esteem in which Glazunov was held that he was able to steer the Conservatory through years of great hardship, difficulty and political turmoil, fortified in his task, it seems, by the illicit supply of vodka provided for him by the father of Shostakovich, then a student there. Emaciated through the years of privation after the Revolution, he eventually assumed a more substantial appearance again, compared by the English press to a retired tea-planter or a prosperous bank-manager, with his rimless glasses and gold watch- chain. His appearance was in accordance with his musical tastes. He found fault with Stravinsky's ear and could not abide the music of Richard Strauss, while the student Prokofiev seems to have shocked him with the discords of his Scythian Suite. His own music continued the tradition of Tchaikovsky and to this extent seemed an anachronism in an age when composers were indulging in experiments of all kinds. The fantasy The Sea, Opus 28, was written in 1889 and dedicated to the memory of Richard Wagner. The score contains the following programme.
Through long centuries the sea has carried its waves to the shore, sometimes pursued by a raging wind, sometimes rocked by the light breath of the air. A man sat on the shore and the various pictures of nature passed before his eyes. Bright sun shone in the sky, the sea was calm. Suddenly a raging whistling gust of wind arose, followed by another. The sky grew dark, the sea became agitated. The elements launched into a struggle, relentless, with a great roaring, with majestic force. A violent storm burst. But the tempest passed away, the sea became calm again. The sun shone anew over the calm surface of the water. And everything that the man had seen and all that he had felt in his soul- he recounted later to other men.
Rimsky-Korsakov found the work too Wagnerian, of the Meistersinger period, and others of his circle were critical of it, although some might have detected a debt to Rimsky-Korsakov himself. Audiences, however, responded to a colourful and evocative score. Certainly the picture offered is a vivid one, as the waves mount, followed by a sudden calm, with the harp leading to a romantic new theme. A storm gathers force, only to subside, as the tranquillity of the opening is restored.
Glazunov wrote his Oriental Rhapsody. Opus 29, in the same year, following the Russian vein of exoticism that had found expression in some of the work of Borodin and of Rimsky-Korsakov. The work, dedicated to the painter Ilya Repin, is in five movements, for which a programme is provided. The first movement suggests evening, with the town sleeping. The call of the watchmen is heard from a French horn, echoed by a second, muted horn, and the song of an itinerant musician, an exotic theme, forms the melodic substance of the movement, which closes with the echoed calls of the watch. The first theme of the dance of young men and girls is announced by the oboe over the plucked notes of the strings and the rhythm of the tambourine. Occasionally cross-rhythms are introduced, as the energetic dance continues, never relenting in its progress. The harp and divided lower strings, with the woodwind, introduce the old man's ballad, its narrative melody entrusted first to the violins in a slow movement that finally leads to fanfares and, in the next movement, the march of troops, returning in victory, and general triumph. The last movement finds the warriors celebrating their victory, with the young singer appearing in the midst of the dance with his song from the opening movement. The Rhapsody ends in a final wild orgy, with reminiscences of what has passed.
The F major Ballade, Opus 78, was written in 1902. In May Glazunov played it through to Rimsky- Korsakov and other guests at the latter's house, together with another work, the still unfinished Seventh Symphony. In his Reminiscences of Rimsky-Korsakov, Yastrebtsev, present on that occasion, praises the strength and beauty of the Ballade. The work is framed by a slower section, dominated by a strongly felt and extended theme rather from the world of contemporary Vienna than that of St Petersburg. The central section brings greater excitement in what might be imagined as martial acts of bravery, if a narrative is to be sought.
1910 brought the third of Glazunov's solemn processionals, the Cortege solennel, Opus 91. The procession opens with a fanfare, followed by a very Russian hymn-like theme, developed with touches of contrapuntal imitation and deft use of the contrasting sections of the orchestra.
Moscow Symphony Orchestra
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