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8.572447 - GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 19 - Les Ruses d'amour (Iasi Moldova Philharmonic, Andreescu)
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Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936)
Les Ruses d’amour


Glazunov’s music for the ballet Les Ruses d’amour was written in 1898, and the one-act ballet, with choreography by Marius Petipa, was first staged at the Hermitage Theatre in St Petersburg on 29 January 1900, with the Italian dancer Pierina Legnani, prima ballerina assoluta and creator of Odette-Odile in Petipa’s 1895 Swan Lake. She was partnered by one of the greatest Russian male dancers of the time, Pavel Gerdt.

The ballet, also called The Trial of Damis, uses a plot of respectable antiquity. Isabella, the daughter of a duchess, is betrothed to the Marquis Damis, but resolves to test his love by disguising herself as a servant. The Marquis eventually agrees to elope with her. She then reveals her true identity, satisfied at last that her betrothed loves her for herself and not for her title.

The setting of the ballet is derived from a Watteau fête champêtre, a choreographic realisation of French rococo. The music is thoroughly Russian in its orchestral colouring and general language. Glazunov, nevertheless, makes use of earlier French dance melodies, opening the whole work with a dance found in the pseudonynous Thoinot Arbeau’s Orchésographie of 1598. In the whole score there is a considerable element of pastiche, well suited to the chosen period in which the story of intrigue is set. Rimsky-Korsakov, a strong believer in his former pupil’s ability, seems to have shared with his informal biographer Yastrebtsev admiration of what the latter refers to as ‘the unusual mastery of writing and extremely pictorial beauty’ of the music.

Glazunov inspired a considerable degree of devotion and admiration among his own pupils at the Conservatory of St Petersburg, of which he became director in 1905. Subsequent critical opinion has generally been less favourable, Glazunov’s very technical competence arousing suspicion, when set against the wilder extravagances of untutored genius or anarchic experiment.

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in 1865 in St Petersburg, the son of a bookseller and publisher who had been raised to the nobility. His mother was an amateur pianist, and it was through her lessons with Rimsky-Korsakov that her son came to the notice of Balakirev, the aggressive self-appointed leader and inspiration of the Five, the group of composers of most significant achievement in the creation of Russian national music in the later nineteenth century. It was Balakirev who arranged for Glazunov to have lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov. Fifteen months later, at the age of sixteen, Glazunov completed his First Symphony, which was successfully performed under the direction of Balakirev in 1882. Belyayev, who had travelled to Moscow to hear the first performance of the symphony there, was induced, as a direct result, to establish his music-publishing company and the Russian Symphony Concerts that he also sponsored.

Glazunov was closely associated with Rimsky-Korsakov, sharing with him the task of completing the opera Prince Igor that Borodin had left incomplete at his death in 1887. The story that he wrote down from memory the Overture to the opera, which he had heard Borodin play on the piano, he later denied, in moments of frankness. His memory, however, was phenomenal, and Shostakovich, who studied at the Conservatory when Glazunov was director, tells us that he was able to remember the name, career and compositions of every student.

Glazunov remained director of the Conservatory from 1905, when he was appointed after the student protests with which he had sympathized, until 1930, although he had settled in Paris in 1928. He was well known as a conductor in Russia and abroad, and had an excellent ear and considerable technical knowledge of all orchestral instruments, although not impeccable in performance. At the performance of Rachmaninov’s First Symphony, which he conducted, his powers were impaired by alcohol, if we are to accept his wife’s account of the matter, and there were other occasions when his direction was less than distinguished. Certainly his relationship with Shostakovich was strengthened by the fact that the latter’s father had access to state supplies of alcohol in the early days of the Communist Revolution, something that was of material assistance to Glazunov.

There is no doubt that ballet in Russia succeeded in bringing together a number of elements of particular strength in Russian art. It was not only the physical ability of dancers, inspired by teachers such as Petipa, but the talent in design, and, above all, the genius for the smaller musical forms of which a ballet-score must consist and for the command of orchestration that can clothe these relatively undeveloped musical ideas so attractively. Glazunov’s score for Les Ruses d’amour is a fine example of this particular aspect of national genius.

Keith Anderson

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