About this Recording
8.553537 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 - The Kremlin / From the Middle Ages / Poeme Lyrique / Poeme Epique (Moscow Symphony, Krimets)

Alexander Glazunov (1865 -1936)

Alexander Glazunov (1865 -1936)

The Kremlin, Op. 30

From the Middle Ages, Op. 79

Poeme Iyrique, Op. 12

Poeme epique, Op. posth.


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 impressed Balakirev and 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, founder of the St Petersburg Conservatory and a system of professional training for musicians. 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-Korsakovuntil 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, unti11930.


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 inf3me 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, whose father secured a supply of vodka for his son's teacher, 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 symphonic picture The Kremlin was written in 1890 and is fully in the nationalist mood, as characterized by Glazunov's mentor Rimsky-Korsakov. The picture is, in fact, thoroughly Russian in its thematic content, revealing the heart of Russia in the great monuments of the Kremlin, its palaces and cathedrals, in music that seems to reflect something of the music of the Five and something of what was to come with the Russian ballets of Rimsky- Korsakov's pupil Stravinsky. The first of the three movements shows the grandeur of the Kremlin, against which is set a popular festival, before the meditative and religious mood of the second movement, with the tolling of the bell and the solemn traditional chant. The third movement brings a lightening of atmosphere, with music of alternating energy and lyricism, ending in exultant triumph, for the entry of the Prince.


There is a further return to an older world in the suite Iz srednikh vekov (From the Middle Ages), written in 1902. The opening Prelude, ominous in its first bars, moves forward to something more lyrical and romantic in contour, as young lovers lie together, oblivious of the stormy sea outside the castle. The second movement Scherzo bursts in, with all its vigour, a street-actor's Dance of Death, a demonstration again of Glazunov's mastery of instrumental colour. This leads, without a perceptible break, to the third movement, Troubadour's Serenade, with its harp accompaniment and gently extended melody that gradually dies away to nothing. The suite ends with The Crusaders. A fanfare introduces music of martial character, although there are again moments of lyrical contrast, with a meditative element suggested by the nature of the subject, ending in a hymn of triumph.


Glazunov's poeme lyrique was written between 1884 and 1887, during the first years of his connection with Belyayev. The work opens with a fine-spun melody of essentially romantic dimension, Russian in its colouring, if less so in its thematic content. The poeme epique was written in 1933 and 1934 during the composer's final years in Paris, in honour of the Academie des Beaux Arts de l'lnstitut de France. Any programme to this Russian epic bilina, with finely crafted music, an example of Glazunov's continuing sureness of touch and command of earlier idiom in what is by now a new age, is best left to the imagination of the listener. Nevertheless, thematically, the work is based on the letter-names A, C, A, D, E (mi) and E, although it is completely in the earlier idiom of The Kremlin.

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