About this Recording
8.553538 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4 - Stenka Razin / Une fete slave / Cortege solennel (Moscow Symphony, Krimets)

Alexander Glazunov (1865 - 1936)

Alexander Glazunov (1865 - 1936)


Stenka Razin, Op. 13

Une fete slave, Op. 26

Cortege solennel, Op. 50

Fantaisie, Op. 53

Mazurka, Op. 18

March on a Russian Theme, Op. 76


Noticed by Balakirev (founding father of the Mighty Handful), taught by Rimsky-Korsakov, and encouraged by Liszt, Glazunov was Director of the St Petersburg Conservatoire from 1905 to 1930. In 1932, disenchanted with communism, he settled in Paris, joining other Russian emigres there, among them the younger Medtner. His copious output - belonging principally to that period between the deaths of Mussorgsky (1881) and Scriabin (1915) – included eight completed symphonies, four concertos for violin and piano, three ballets, a number of choral works, seven string quartets, and two piano sonatas. He published a centenary volume on Schubert in 1928.


A living legend, the oracle of Establishment St Petersburg, Glazunov's life was charmed, rewarded, honoured (from Ox bridge doctorates in 1907 to People's Artist of the Republic in 1922), but ultimately uneventful, and finally disillusioned. "Few composers," wrote Rosa Newmarch many years ago, "made their debut under more favourable auspices or won appreciation so rapidly [the schoolboy First Symphony and first two quartets] ...His career seemed the realisation of a fairy-tale set to music until the political troubles of his country threw his life and his art into the shadows". In October 1883 Vladimir Stasov, critic and champion of the Balakirev circle, predicted a golden future for him (he was just eighteen): "The principal characteristics of his music thus far are an incredibly vast sweep; power, inspiration, wondrous beauty, rich fantasy, sometimes humour, sadness, passion, and always amazing clarity and freedom of form". Life, history, the years took their toll. When the young Nicolas Slonimsky auditioned for him in 1908, he remembered an imposing man of "corporeal immensity (he weighed over 300 pounds)", matching "the contrapuntal solidity of his music ...He liked good food and he drank liquor to excess [he was also a heavy smoker]. When I saw him again in 1918, he looked like a skeleton covered with loosely hanging clothes; he must have lost half of his weight". He ended his post-Revolution New Order days pitifully deprived -sharing two rooms with his aged mother (he was still her "baby boy"), fearing his stock of music manuscript paper would run out, and dependent on Shostakovich's father risking his life to keep him illegally supplied with raw government alcohol.


Widely travelled, the cosmopolitan Glazunov was a radical second generation Russian nationalist-turned-conservative European Brahmsian, "a stabilising influence in a time of transition and turmoil" (Boris Schwarz, 1980). He was a lyricist in the Tchaikovsky manner. He revered Mussorgsky and Borodin (editing the former, and completing the latter's Prince Igor and Third Symphony). He caught the essence of Rimsky's orchestration with a brilliance to match the colour and imagination of the original. And he thought so totally "about music [that] when he spoke about it, you remembered for life" (Shostakovich). Historically, though - being how he was, living in the era and place he did - was it his misfortune to have been born arguably too late for the nineteenth century and too early for the twentieth? His music, more reviled than revived since his death, has certainly had difficulty withstanding the legacy of his predecessors and successors.


Published in memory of Borodin, the symphonic fantasy-poem Stenka Razin, Op. 13 (1885), was one of Glazunov's earliest nationalist successes. First performed at Belayev's expense at a concert in St Petersburg directed by GO Dutsch (23rd November 1885), he himself later conducted it during the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle - as the final item of Rimsky-Korsakov's first "Concert Russe" at the Trocadero (22nd June). Around the same time also, according to Rimsky's Autobiography, Messager and Raoul Pugno played it in a piano duet arrangement (Glazunov's own), a feat repeated some years after (in 1905) by Ravel and Ricardo Vines. Stefan Razin was a chief (ataman) of the Don Cossacks, who in 1670 rebelled against the ruling-landowner / serving-peasant reforms of the Romanov Tsar Alexis. Executed in Moscow, his daring exploits and raiding parties, and his struggle for the rights of common people, were long the stuff of epic Russian minstrel song. One traditional ballad tells of his capture of a Persian princess, whom he places on one of his ships, surrounded by servants and plunder. His men say that his love for her has dulled the fight in him. He denies the accusation. Offering Mother Volga "neither gold nor silver, but the most precious of all my possessions", he sacrifices "his princess fair" by throwing her into the river, leaps ashore, and, warrior-captain to the finish, leads his followers into renewed battle. Broadly mirroring this story, Glazunov's romantically opulent score is largely founded on the Song of the Volga Boatmen (printed by Balakirev in 1866). The unforgettable gravitas of this tune provides the basis for the B minor Andante introduction and Allegro outer sections; with a contrasting clarinet melody in the major a semitone lower (said to be of Persian origin), symbolic of the gentler princess, Allegro moderato. As inspired as Balakirev's Tamara, Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia or Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina Prelude, the introduction survives among the genuinly great romantic examples of Russian landscape painting and mood evocation. In 1913-15, Chaliapin (famed for his singing of the Volga Boatmen) wanted Gogol and Glazunov to collaborate on an opera about Stenka Razin. Nothing came of the idea -but it was possibly the closest Glazunov ever came to the genre.


The rhythmically vibrant symphonic sketch Une fete slave (Slav Holiday), Op. 26a (1888), was an adaptation of the orchestrally suggestive Ukrainian dance-finale from the popular G major String Quartet, Op. 26. Written in the wake of Tchaikovsky's suicide the previous November, the (first) Cortege solennel in D major, Op. 50, and the Fantaisie, Op. 53, both date from 1894. Glazunov subtitled the latter From darkness to light, musically representing such transfiguration by beginning in pathetique B minor and closing in "white" C major - a familiar enough old Neapolitan relationship (think of Haydn and Beethoven) but also a very Russian one in its semitonal sidestepping.

According to his pupil Shostakovich, Glazunov "insisted that composing ballets [and by extension dance music] was beneficial because it developed your technique... he was right". The Mazurka in G, Op. 18 (1888), was the first of several "concert" dances for orchestra independent of a balletic / cyclic context. Together with the earlier Wedding Procession (March), Op. 21 and Triumphal March, Op. 40, the March on a Russian Theme, Op. 76 (1901) shares the same militaristically heroic key of E flat perorated by Mussorgsky in the "Great Gate of Kiev" and Tchaikovsky in his 1812 Overture.


@ 1996 Ates Orga



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