About this Recording
8.554293 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 13 - Symphony No. 6 / The Forest (Moscow Symphony, Anissimov)

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Symphony No. 6 in C minor, Op. 58; The Forest, Fantasy, Op. 19

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.

In 1928 he left Russia in order to attend the Schubert celebrations in Vienna. Thereafter he remained abroad, with a busy round of engagements as a conductor, finally settling near Paris until his death in 1936.

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.

Symphony No. 6 in C minor, Opus 58 was completed in 1896, during a period in which Glazunov shared the duties of conductor of the Russian Symphony Concerts with Rimsky-Korsakov. The new work was dedicated to Sigismund Blumenfeld, brother of the composer Felix Blumenfeld and described by Rimsky-Korsakov as a talented singer, accompanist and composer of songs. It had its first performance in the Hall of the Nobility on 8th February 1897, welcomed by Rimsky-Korsakov as the highest point at that time in the composer's development and a sign of a new era in Russian music. The first movement starts with a slow introduction that reaches a brief climax before the brass momentarily renews the tension and the lower strings, subdued again, lead to the stormy opening of the Allegro appassionato, the theme of which has already been heard in the introduction. The second subject is marked Più tranquillo, succeeded by the development of the first subject. The secondary theme too returns, before the material is combined in a final coda. The second movement is in the form of a theme and seven variations. The G major theme itself is presented by the strings. The wind instruments make their appearance in the second variation, marked Più mosso, Allegro moderato, the theme heard first from the flutes against the descending line of the accompaniment. This is followed by a change of metre from 2/4 to 3/8, the altered theme now entrusted to the oboe. The third variation, an E major Allegro in 6/8, is a Scherzo, the flutes at first accompanied by plucked strings. A Fugato follows, in 4/4 and marked Andante mistico, leading in turn to a fifth variation, a B major Nocturne. The sixth version of the material, in G major, is marked Allegro moderato and in triple metre, the treatment of the theme principally heard in the wind. The movement ends with a Finale introduced by the brass. The third movement is an E flat major Intermezzo, marked Allegretto, with a central section that shifts through various keys before the return of the opening. The Finale of the symphony has an Andante maestoso introduction foreshadowing the principal triumphantly Russian C major theme stated by the full orchestra. The following subsidiary material, in G major, is marked Scherzando, to be followed by the return of the principal theme, now marked Allegro pesante. A pastoral episode intervenes before the final return of the main theme and the coda with its fugal textures.

In his autobiography Rimsky-Korsakov is less flattering in his view of The Forest, to which he refers in scathing terms. Others, however, have heard the work as in the true spirit of the Russian nationalist composers, from whom Glazunov gradually diverged. In a letter to Stasov in November 1882, however, the composer tells of playing the work through to Balakirev, leader of the nationalist movement in music, and being scolded and told that the composition had no logic in it. Balakirev found the nymph episode unsatisfactory, remarked of the hunt section that there was no hunting in the forest, and advised Glazunov to abandon the piece. He subsequently modified this judgement.

Later published under the title Fantaisie, The Forest, Opus 19, was completed in 1887, a year in which Glazunov became closely concerned with the completion and publication of works by Borodin, who had recently died. The opening depicts something of the mystery of the forest of the original title in a dark-hued C sharp minor Adagio. The music moves forward to an Allegro, as the forest wakes, subsiding into an A major clarinet theme, the nymph episode that Balakirev found not to his taste. Horns and trumpets introduce the hunt in all its excitement. Tranquillity is momentarily restored, returning again to lead to a rustic suggestion of birds in a piccolo and violin solo, melting into the serenity of the conclusion of a work that reflects the contemporary interests of the Russian nationalist composers in its illustrative programme, its orchestration and its thematic material.

Keith Anderson

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