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8.553839 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 9 - Finnish Fantasy / Finnish Sketches / Karelian Legend (Moscow Symphony, Golovschin)

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865 – 1936)

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865 – 1936)

Finnish Fantasy, Op. 88

Finnish Sketches, Op. 89

Karelian Legend, Op. 99

Ouverture solennelle, Op. 73

Wedding March, Op. 21


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 Couservatory through years of great hardship, difficulty and political tuffi1oil, 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 foffi1, and then the surprise of the audience when a school-boy came out to 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 marked the beginning of what promised to be a remarkable career.


The countries bordering on or dominated by Russia provided an ample source of exoticism for composers, both under the old regime and in the changed circumstances after 1917. Glazunov turned to Finland for material in his C major Finnish Fantasy, Opus 88, written in Helsinki in 1909. The work makes imaginative use of a simple folk-song, making a modest appearance, to be gradually developed. A dramatic interruption leads to material of greater menace, to be followed by a strongly romantic passage. This in turn gives way to a well-known Lutheran chorale, principally for the brass, with an urgent string accompaniment, and moving forward to the dramatic conclusion of the Fantasy, based on elements of the chorale and earlier thematic material.


Three years later there followed Finnish Sketches, Opus 89, with its first movement drawing on the great Finnish epic, the Kalevala. This last deals, in some fifty cantos, with the conflict between Kalevala, the country of the Finns, and Pohjola, the North Country .The epic is traditionally sung to a so-called Kalevala melody, which itself has regional variants. It is, however, normally syllabic, eight notes long, to fit the eight-syllable trochaic tetrameters of the verse, with the last two, identical notes prolonged. Glazunov makes use of this ending in the theme of the first of his Sketches, creating a miniature musical epic from the material, varying the melodic formula and adding other accompanying elements. The second sketch, Solemn Procession, is based once again on a simple theme, repeated with insistence, suggesting the progress of a solemn ritual procession and leading to the brief appearance of the Lutheran hymn Ein' teste Burg ist unser Gott (A firm stronghold our God is still), soon replaced by the final march motif.


Glazunov's Karelian Legend, Opus 99, was written in 1916, shortly before the composer's Second Piano Concerto, which closes a stage in his career. In this work he turns to the disputed border region of Karelia which had already drawn the attention of Sibelius, associated as he was with those determined to end Russian domination of Finland. Glazunov's work, imaginatively scored, makes use of elements of folk-song in a colourful work, dedicated to the Latvian composer Joseph Wihtol, a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov and for a number of years a member of the staff of the St Petersburg Conservatory, before he established himself in Riga, after 1918. The Karelian Legend opens with an idyllic picture, but the music grows in excitement and intensity, as the story unfolds, leading to a rhythmic dance and an exciting and triumphant episode, before it finally dies away.


The Ouverture Solennelle, Opus 73, was written in 1900 and is highly characteristic of its composer, combining, as it does, sureness of technique in orchestration and construction with the mood proclaimed in its title. It finds a place for attractive and colourful melodic writing and mounting intensity in sequence after imitative sequence, much of it based on a transformed and much repeated motif.


Glazunov's Wedding March, Opus 21, is, more correctly a wedding procession (Svadebnoye shestviye). It was written in 1889, the year after the composer's first experience of orchestral conducting. It opens in an appropriately ecclesiastical mood but there is romantic contrast, presented in varied orchestral colours, far removed from the nominal subject of the work, although the procession eventually resumes.






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