About this Recording
8.553496-97 - GLIERE: Red Poppy (The) (Complete Ballet)

Reinhold Gliere (1875 -1956)

Reinhold Gliere (1875 - 1956)

The Red Poppy

Reinhold Gliere (Reyngol'd Moritsevich Glier), a Soviet composer of Belgian descent, was born in Kiev in 1875, the son of a maker of wind instruments. He played the violin and wrote music at home and studied for three years at the Kiev Conservatory before entering the Moscow Conservatory in 1894. There he studied the violin with Hfimaly and composition with Taneyev, taking lessons in harmony from Arensky and his pupil Konyus and in orchestration from Ippolitov-Ivanov. He completed his studies in 1900 with a one-act opera- oratorio after Byron, Zemlya i nebo (Earth and Heaven).

Gliere's first employment was as a teacher at the Gnesin Music School, and he was to spend the summer holidays of 1902 and 1903 as tutor to the eleven- year-old Prokofiev. For two years from 1905 he studied conducting with Oscar Fried in Berlin, making his first appearance as a conductor in Russia in 1908, while his compositions continued to make a favourable impression. In 1913 he returned to Kiev to teach the composition class at the Conservatory, of which he became director in the following year. In 1916 his former pupil Prokofiev appeared as soloist in Kiev in his own first piano concerto under the direction of Gliere.

From 1920 until his retirement in 1941 Gliere taught composition at the Conservatory in Moscow. He showed particular interest in the music of the various ethnic minorities of the Soviet Union, making a detailed study of the music of Azerbaijan that bore fruit in his opera Shakh-Senem, written in 1924 and performed in Russian in Baku three years later, followed by staging in Azerbaijan in 1934. His musicological investigations extended to Uzbekistan and other Soviet republics, while the more familiar music of the Ukraine provided him with another native source of inspiration.

During his career G1iere occupied a number of official positions. In the early years of the Revolution he headed the music section of the Moscow Department of Popular Education and was Chairman of the organizing committee of the Union of Soviet Composers from 1938 unti11948. His work was officially recognised by various state awards, including the title of People's Artist, bestowed in 1938. He died in Moscow in 1956.

As a composer Gliere followed the Russian romantic tradition, something that brought him official praise in 1948 when the music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich was condemned. In particular his ballet music proved popular. The Red Poppy, later known, to avoid the connotation of opium, as The Red Flower , satisfied political choreographic demands and became a well known part of ballet repertoire from 1926 onwards, while the later ballet The Bronze Horseman, completed in 1949, also retained its place in Soviet repertoire.

The Red Poppy (Krasnj mak), with 1ibretto and original decor by M. Kurilko and choreography by Lev Lashchilin and Vasily Tikhomikov, was first staged at the Bolshoy Theatre on 14th June 1927, when Ekaterina Geltser danced Tao- Hoa and Aleksey Bulgatov the heroic Captain. Set in a Chinese port, the story of the ballet is simply told. The dancer Tao-Hoa falls in love with the captain of a Soviet cargo ship, to whom she gives a red poppy. Li-Shan-Fu, her manager, plots to kill the captain by having her give him poisoned tea, but she refuses. Later, in a coolie uprising, she saves the life of the captain and is later killed in a coo1ie uprising by a bullet from Li-Shan-Fu. She hands a red poppy to a little Chinese girl, as she dies, a sign of love and of freedom. Scope is given for divertissements in the second act, a dream-sequence, set in an opium den. Here Tao-Hoa sees a Golden Buddha, ancient goddesses, butterflies, birds and flowers.

The ballet starts with an appropriate introduction, suggesting a Chinese setting with its pentatonic melodic material. A more ominous mood appears, suggesting the oppression to which the coolies, dock-workers are subjected, tyranny and suffering that will lead to their revolt. The dancing-girl Tao-Hoa enters, in a more lyrical atmosphere. The restaurant itself has a cosmopolitan clientele, represented in the various dances that follow, including a Boston Waltz and finally leading to the entrance of the Russian captain and the dance of his sailors. The love of the couple is established in Tao-Hoa's scene and variation, followed by a coolies' victory dance and a celebratory dance by the Russian sailors.

The second act is set in an opium den. Here there is a dance of Chinese women and an Adagio for the four goddesses of ancient times. Tao-Hoa dreams of the Buddha, of the fabulous phoenix of legend and of the ship of her beloved.

Reality returns with a Charleston and a dance in the restaurant, with preparations for the Chinese theatre, followed by an Umbre/1a Dance, a Puppet Dance, with xylophone, and a Chinese Acrobat Dance. The coolie uprising is plotted and in this the captain is only saved by the intervention of Tao-Hoa, allowing him to sail away with his men. In the aftermath Tao-Hoa is shot, to hand a red poppy to a little girl, as she dies. The flower, by its colour, symbo1izes communism, which will bring freedom to the oppressed, a sign of hope of abetter world, expressed in the well known Internationale, the Communist anthem.

The Red Poppy, its name changed to The Red Flower in 1957, was greeted with some acclaim at its first staging. It seemed innovative, with a clear and acceptable political message, fulfilling the aims of the Soviet cultural establishment. Musically the libretto presented the composer with a number of problems. While the oriental setting provided an exotic background, enabling Gliere to make use of characteristic pentatonic melodies, there were inevitable juxtapositions of other musical material, associated with colonial oppression or with the gallant Russian sailors and their captain. It might, therefore, be suggested that the work as a whole lacks something of the unity that might have been found in a more traditional ballet. Whatever reservations might be held about the score, Gliere certainly won lasting success with The Red Poppy, of which excerpts, such as the Russian Sailors' Dance, have become very familiar.


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