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8.553561 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 7 - Symphonies Nos. 1, "Slavyanskaya" and 4 (Moscow Symphony, Anissimov)
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.
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.
Rimsky-Korsakov left a brief description of the first performance of Glazunov's First Symphony, the rejoicing of younger Russian composers and the grumbling of Stasov, the literary guide of the Five, disapproving, no doubt, of such a foreign form, and then the surprise of the audience when a school-boy came out !o acknowledge the applause. There were those prepared to hint that the symphony, dedicated to Rimsky-Korsakov, had been written by another musician, hired for the purpose by Glazunov's parents. Rumours of this kind were contradicted by the works that followed. Belyayev arranged for publication of the symphony in Leipzig, and this marked the beginning of the Belyayev publishing enterprise that proved so helpful to Russian composers thus able to benefit from international copyright agreements. The work opens with an Allegro in 6/8 metre, its lilting first subject followed by a second, duly in the dominant key and entrusted to clarinets and bassoons. There are shifts of key, skilfully manipulated, in the central development section of the movement, followed by a recapitulation that varies the orchestration and proceeds to an emphatic coda. The Scherzo that forms the second movement, in the key of C major, is underpinned by an accompanying drone, in folk-style, from lower strings and bassoons, while violas and clarinets provide the first thematic element. The trio section, in A flat, allows the flute to propose a Polish theme, taken up by the first violins, before the transition is made back to the Scherzo itself, now mingled with reminiscences of the Polish melody. Clarinets and bassoons start the E minor slow movement, with its further suggestions of Slav thematic material. Violas and clarinets again provide a drone accompaniment, in syncopated rhythm, !o a Polish theme from the oboe. There are moments of relaxation and shifts of tonality in contrasting episodes as the music moves forward, dominated always by the principal theme that gives the movement its character.
Glazunov completed his Fourth Symphony in 1893, a work dedicated to Anton Rubinstein, now nearing the end of his life, a composer who had long seemed persona non grata to Balakirev and his friends, his very name a synonym for kitsch. Rimsky-Korsakov, present at the first performance in January 1894, found the orchestration cumbersome in places, particularly in the third movement, but his disciple Vasily Vasilyevich Yastrebtsev writes with approval of the symphony as marking a renaissance in Glazunov's creativity, drawing attention to the pictorial nature of the second movement as a reflection of Böcklin's painting Diana's Chase. The first movement starts with an introductory, gently swaying Andante, of obvious Russian provenance, with its opening cor anglais melody, leading forward into an Allegro moderato that seems to continue, often with greater intensity and excitement, a pastoral mood, suggested by the rhythm of the music and its melodic content. The Scherzo opens brightly, with a rustic dance, relaxing into a trio section, and this is followed by an Andante of tender nostalgia, soon to be replaced by the urgency of an excited Allegro, vigorous in its energy, suggesting thematically, as does the whole symphony, something of the spirit of the Caucasus region that was to provide a further element of exotic inspiration in other works. The symphony ends in triumph, an example of Glazunov's assured craftsmanship and powers of invention that could only add to his already growing international reputation.
Moscow Symphony Orchestra
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