About this Recording
8.555048 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 17 - Chopiniana / Overtures on Greek Themes / Serenades (Moscow Symphony, Ziva)
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Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936)

Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936)

Overtures on Three Greek Themes • Serenades Nos 1 & 2

Triumphal March • Chopiniana

 

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 (which might sometimes be crudely expressed), and the technique of the conservatories (which 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, and this 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.

 

From the opening bars of Glazunov’s Triumphal March, written in 1892 and including an optional chorus part, American listeners will have a feeling of déjà entendu. The melody on which the greater part of the march is based is the Philadelphia camp-meeting song ‘Say, bummers, will you meet us?’, better known as John Brown’s Body. Glazunov makes imaginative use of the melody, deriving from it a triumphant paean of victory. The march was written for the Chicago Exhibition and published in 1895 with Russian words by Belyayev, bearing as well the full English title Triumphal March on the Occasion of the Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago 1893.

 

The Serenade No.1 in A major, Op. 7, written in 1883 and published three years later, shows Glazunov’s early facility in handling simple melodic materials. A solo clarinet enters, over a plucked string accompaniment, to be joined by other wind instruments. Mock-oriental motifs appear and the principal melody returns in the full orchestra before the work ends. The second of the pair, the Serenade in F major, Op. 11, was written in 1884 and scored for a smaller orchestra. It opens with a flute melody hinting at G minor, accompanied by the sustained notes of two clarinets, before the theme appears in the violins, in

F major, later to return with a flowing accompaniment. There are contrasts of thematic material, but it is the delicate F major theme that returns in conclusion.

 

The G minor Overture No. 1 on Three Greek Themes, Op. 3, dates from the years 1881-1884, and was first performed under the direction of Anton Rubinstein. Here Glazunov drew on melodies published by Louis Bourgault-Ducoudray in his Mélodies populaires de Grèce et d’Orient. The French musicologist had collected this material during a journey through Greece in 1874 and it was through him that Rimsky-Korsakov’s music was made known to music students in Paris. After a meeting in Paris Rimsky-Korsakov described him as a serious musician and a ‘bright’ man. The vein explored is that Russian preoccupation with the relative exoticism of neighbouring countries, displayed, for example in Borodin’s Prince Igor, in Balakirev’s Islamey or in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade. The overture opens with a characteristic theme that forms the substance of the slow introduction. A lively dance-song is entrusted to the clarinet, leading to a second, gentler melody for the oboe. The development of these is followed by the return of the initial Adagio and a rapid and ultimately triumphant summary of what has gone before. The work was dedicated to Bourgault-Doucoudray. The D major Overture No. 2 on Three Greek Themes was written in the same period and first introduced to the public under the direction of Balakirev, to whom it is dedicated. Again Glazunov demonstrates his precocity in his deft handling of the orchestra and his facility with the borrowed melodic material, now in full Russian guise.

 

In 1892 Glazunov put together an orchestral suite with arrangements of piano music by Chopin, Chopiniana, Op. 46. This was introduced to the public in December 1893, when it was conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov, who received a copy of the score the following year as a present from the composer, when it was published by Belyayev. It formed the basis of a later ballet Chopiniana, better known outside Russia as Les Sylphides. The ballet was first staged at the Marïinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1907 with choreography by Fokin and with Pavlova as prima ballerina, Fokin’s wife Vera Petrovna Fokina, and Anatol Obukhov. The earlier suite opens with an arrangement of Chopin’s Polonaise in A major, Op. 40. This is followed by the Nocturne in F major, Op. 12, No.1, the Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3, and the Tarantella in A flat major, Op. 43, a final Neapolitan whirling dance. Glazunov’s orchestral suite, now perhaps more familiar in the theatre, demonstrates the expected skill of the composer in orchestration, transforming the original piano pieces into something truly Russian.

 

Keith Anderson


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