About this Recording
8.570211 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 18 - Masquerade / 2 Pieces / Pas de caractere / Romantic Intermezzo (Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky)
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Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936)
Masquerade • Two Pieces • Pas de caractère • Romantic Intermezzo


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. He remained, however, 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.

Lermontov’s play Masquerade, written in 1836, five years before the writer’s death in a duel, has, over the years, attracted a number of Russian composers. Glazunov wrote his incidental music for the play in 1912–13 and this was used for Meyerhold’s 1917 production at the Alexandrinsky Theatre. Lermontov’s hero, Evgeny Arbenin, is bored with the world, despising the decadent society of St Petersburg in which he moves, moody and suspicious. In a plot that follows the story of Othello, Arbenin is jealous of his wife Nina, an innocent woman whom he poisons. The play is bitter in its criticism of contemporary society and was banned for some thirty years. The score of Glazunov’s incidental music has survived in manuscript, although it is not always easy to place the 26 numbers, some very short, in their exact dramatic context. Much of the music for the first act seems intended for the second scene, the masked ball, and the third act brings a second ball, with the fourth showing Arbenin’s final realisation and madness. Nina’s song in the third act is not included but was written in 1916 and published as Op. 106.

The first act opens with a group of noblemen, including Prince Zvezditch, Kazarin and Sprich playing cards. The Prince loses and is offered a loan by Sprich, an Iago figure, from whom he turns coldly away. They are joined by Arbenin, who is introduced to Sprich, but treats him with some disdain. Arbenin turns to the Prince, who admits that he has lost everything and, as an experienced gambler who has renounced the game, he plays for the Prince, wins and gives him what he has won, rejecting his thanks and proposing that they go on to a masked ball, where all are on the same level. Sprich, aside, resolves to be better acquainted with Arbenin.

The scene changes to the ball. Arbenin thinks nothing of the world he is now in. The Prince approaches, finding the entertainment equally empty, but Arbenin draws attention to the pleasures of encounters at a masked ball. The Prince is approached by a masked woman, who claims his acquaintance and seems charming enough. They go out together, and Arbenin appears, talking to a masked man, who foretells misfortune for him, before disappearing into the crowd. Sprich enters. Two masked women are sitting on a sofa and when one is approached she rejects the man, dropping her bracelet as she goes. Arbenin speaks disparagingly to Sprich, leaving the latter ready to seek revenge. The woman who had been talking with the Prince returns, sees the bracelet lying on the ground and resolves to give it to the Prince as a souvenir. The Prince enters and takes her hand, trying to persuade her to remove her mask. She throws the bracelet down, telling the Prince to take it, before disappearing into the crowd. Joined by Arbenin, the Prince shows him the bracelet, which Arbenin seems to recognise.

At home Arbenin awaits his wife’s return, meditating on his earlier life and the change brought about by his marriage. His wife Nina is late coming back, and the love of the couple is apparent in what follows, but suddenly he notices that her bracelet has gone, immediately feeling pangs of jealousy and accusing Nina of infidelity. She leaves the room in tears.

Nina visits Baroness Strahl, where they are joined by the Prince. Nina has been seeking her lost bracelet and the Prince now believes that it is Nina who, masked, had given him her bracelet as a love token. Nina is angry at the implication and leaves, and the Prince tells the Baroness of his supposed conquest. It is the Baroness who, masked, had shown her love for the Prince, and when he goes she expresses her annoyance at his boasting of his amorous exploit. She is joined by Sprich, to whom she is in debt, and he now senses the possibility of causing mischief.

In his study Arbenin’s thoughts are on jealousy. Kazarin calls on him, joined shortly by Sprich, who tells him that Arbenin has been cuckolded. As they await their host, Arbenin enters, in his hand a letter from the Prince to Nina that he has intercepted. He does not notice the visitors and it is clear his jealousy is increasing.

The scene changes to the Prince’s apartment. The Prince is resting, when Arbenin arrives and is denied by the servant, but resolves to wait for him, then tempted to kill the Prince as he sleeps. Instead he leaves a note, but as he goes he meets a veiled woman, in fact the Baroness, but Arbenin suspects that it is his wife. He understands his mistake, when he seizes the veil, and her attempts to explain matters are in vain. When the Prince appears, she explains to him his danger and her part in it. When she goes, he sees Arbenin’s note, a dinner, to be followed, he knows, by a duel.

Kazarin and Arbenin are at cards, the latter now persuaded to rejoin his friend in their older activities. The Prince joins them and in response to Arbenin’s insults tries to provoke a duel, which Arbenin rejects, preferring, instead, to bring disgrace on the Prince.

The new act opens at a ball, where gossip reveals that the Baroness has left town and that the Prince has been caught cheating at cards and has refused a duel. When he appears, he is shunned by the company, but, left with Nina, warns her of her husband’s jealousy and her danger. They are observed by Arbenin and as they leave he gives way to his jealousy and his resolve to kill his wife. Nina, with the other guests, is persuaded by their hostess to sing. Arbenin comes in and leans on the piano. Nina breaks off and the guests disperse. Left with Arbenin, Nina asks him to bring her an ice, which gives him the opportunity to add poison to it. She has premonitions of danger, but eats the ice, handing the empty dish to Arbenin, who throws it to the ground. They have been observed by an unknown figure, and leave together.

At home again Nina feels feverish and ill, as her maid helps her prepare for bed. Arbenin appears, sends the maid away and locks the door. Nina wonders if the ice has made her feel worse, and rejects the idea of any more such entertainments. Arbenin sits by her and rails on the emptiness of life, a masquerade ending in death. Nina wants to live, and asks for a doctor, but Arbenin refuses, eventually admitting that he has poisoned her. As she dies she continues to protest her innocence, and Arbenin his incredulity.

In the last act a stranger appears, one who has sought revenge for an old wrong, and Arbenin learns at last of his wife’s fidelity, driven to madness. The Prince too sees Arbenin now out of his mind, while he himself remains in dishonour.

Glazunov’s Two Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 14, date from 1886 and reveal his early technical skill in handling the orchestra. The first is a gently lilting Idylle, opened by the French horns, an instrument that Glazunov had been studying, as he developed his understanding to the orchestra. The second piece, Rêverie orientale, is characterized by the opening oboe solo, with its oriental intervals and flavour of contemporary exoticism.

The Pas de caractère, Op. 68, described as genre slave-hongrois, was written in 1899, the year of the ballet The Seasons. It was dedicated to Adelina Giuri, who danced the rôle of Raymonda in the ballet of that name in the Moscow première of 1900. The Moderato opening section leads to a lively conclusion.

Intermezzo romantico, Op. 69, was written in 1900. Scored for a relatively large orchestra, the music unwinds with gentle lyricism, sustaining a mood suggested by its title, and, as always, demonstrating Glazunov’s command of orchestral resources and classical structure.

Keith Anderson

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