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8.554049 - GLAZUNOV: Violin Concerto in A Minor / The Seasons

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Concert Waltz, Op. 47
The Seasons
Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82

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 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. 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-Korsakov until 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, until 1930.

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 infâme 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 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.

Glazunov wrote his Violin Concerto in A minor in 1904 during the summer months after the death of Belyayev. It was first performed in St. Petersburg on 4th March 1905 by Leopold Auer, to whom it was dedicated. Two weeks later Auer's fourteen­-year-old pupil Mischa Elman played the concerto in London and another pupil, May Harrison, has left some account of her own performance of the work in St. Petersburg in 1912, with Glazunov conducting, after a rehearsal in which he had gone through the Brahms Double Concerto at uniformly slow speeds, something attributed by some to habitual over-indulgence in alcohol.

The concerto includes a slow movement, marked Andante sostenuto, framed by the first movement Moderato. The opening theme is first heard in the lower register of the violin and its very Russian outline is in contrast with the lyrical second subject, marked Tranquillo and in the key of F major. The central Andante sostenuto shifts into the key of D flat major, its principal theme played first on the G string of the violin. Two plucked chords signal the return of the principal Moderato theme from violas and bassoons, with a fragment of the secondary theme from flute and oboe, before a recapitulation in which the soloist is allowed moments of passionate virtuosity in handling the principal theme. The re-appearance of the second theme leads soon to a cadenza and the end of the movement. The final A major Allegro is dominated by its cheerful Russian principal theme, heralded by the trumpets and taken up at once by the soloist. This provides a framework for contrasting episodes in a concerto that is accepted as a significant addition to romantic violin concerto repertoire.

The Seasons was written for the Russian Imperial Ballet and first produced at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in February 1900 with choreography by Marius Petipa. There is no particular story to the ballet, which offers a series of tableaux, one for each of the four seasons, set to music that seems to continue the tradition established in the three ballets of Tchaikovsky.

After a short introduction the curtain rises to show Winter surrounded by Frost, Ice, Hail and Ice, amid whirling snowflakes. For the first of these, Frost, there is a Polonaise, for Ice a dance played by violas and clarinets, for Hail a scherzo and for Snow a waltz. The cold of winter is banished by two gnomes, who light a fire, preparing the temperature for the following scene.

Spring is ushered in by the harp and accompanied by the gentle Zephyr, Birds and Flowers. There is a dance for Roses, for Spring and for one of the Birds, all of whom depart as the summer sun grows hotter.

Summer is set in a cornfield, where Cornflowers and Poppies dance, with the Spirit of the Corn. The heat exhausts them, and as they rest a group of Naiads enter, to a Barcarolle, bringing the water that the flowers need. There is a dance for the Spirit of the Corn, accompanied by a clarinet solo and a coda, interrupted by an attempt by satyrs and fauns to carry off the Spirit, frustrated by the intervention of the Zephyr.

A wild Bacchic dance introduces Autumn. There are brief appearances by Winter, Spring, the Bird and the Zephyr, reminiscences of the year that is now passing. There is a dance for Summer, and then the Bacchanale resumes, to be brought to an end by multitudinous falling leaves. The stage grows dark and the final Apotheosis shows the stars, as they circle the Earth.

The Concert Waltz, Op. 47, was written in 1893, the first of a set of two, the second added in the following year.

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