GLAZUNOV / DVORAK: Violin Concertos in A Minor
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Alexander Glazunov (1865 - 1936)
Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82
Antonin Dvořak (1841 - 1904)
Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53
Romance in F Minor, Op. 11
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov has not fared well at the hands of latercritics. He enjoyed a remarkably successful career in music, becoming Directorof the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1905 in the aftermath of the politicaldisturbances of that year, and retaining the position, latterly in absentia, forthe next twenty-five years. His earlier compositions were well received, but thevery facility that had attracted the attention and friendship of his teacherRimsky-Korsakov was to be held against him. A Russian critic could praise himfor the reconciliation he had apparently effected between the Russian music ofhis time and the music of Western Europe, but for a considerable time the Sovietauthorities regarded his music as bourgeois, while one of the most eminent ofwriters in the West on Russian music, Gerald Abraham, considered that it hadfallen to Glazunov to lead what he described as the comfortable decline ofRussian music into ignominious mediocrity. Recent critics have occasionallytaken a more balanced view of Glazunov's achievement. Due respect is paid to hissuccess in bringing about a synthesis of Russian and Western European music, thetradition of the Five and that of Rubinstein. Boris Schwarz has summarised thecomposer's career neatly, allowing him to have been a composer of imposingstature 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 achild Glazunov showed considerable ability in music and in 1879 met Balakirev,who encouraged the boy to broaden his general musical education, while takinglessons from Rimsky-Korsakov. By the age of sixteen he had completed the firstof his nine symphonies, a work that was performed in 1882 under the direction ofBalakirev, and further compositions were welcomed by both factions in Russianmusical life, the nationalist and the so-called German.
Glazunov continued his association with Rimsky-Korsakov until the latter'sdeath in 1909. It was in his company that he became a regular member of thecircle of musicians under the patronage of Belyayev, perceived by Balakirev as arival to his own influence. Belyayev introduced Glazunov to Liszt. whose supportled to the spread of the young composer's reputation abroad. The First Symphonywas performed in Weimar in 1884, the Second directed by Glazunov at the 1889Paris Exhibition. The Fourth and Fifth Symphonies were introduced to the Londonpublic 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 studentdemonstrations, 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 lastyears took him to a number of countries, where he conducted concerts of his ownworks. In England a reporter compared his appearance to that of a prosperousretired tea-planter, with his gold watch-chain spread across his starched whitewaistcoat, resembling, for all the world, a well-to-do bank- manager. His viewson modern music were often severe. He found the Heldenleben of Richard Straussdisgusting and referred to the composer as "cet infame scribouilleur".
Of Stravinsky he remarked that he had irrefutable proof of the inadequacy of hisear. Nevertheless it was under his direction that the Conservatory produced anumber of very distinguished musicians. While Prokofiev did little to endearhimself to Glazunov, Shostakovich received considerable encouragement and wasunstinting in his admiration of the older composer as a marked influence on allthe 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 summermonths after the death of Belyayev. It was first performed in St. Petersburg on4th March 1905 by Leopold Auer, to whom it was dedicated. Two weeks later Auer'sfourteen-year-old pupil Mischa Elman played the concerto in London and anotherpupil, May Harrison, has left some account of her own performance of the work inSt. Petersburg in 1912, with Glazunov conducting, after a rehearsal in which hehad 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 bythe first movement Moderato. The opening theme is first heard in the lowerregister of the violin and its very Russian outline is in contrast with thelyrical second subject, marked Tranquillo and in the key of F major. The centralAndante sostenuto shifts into the key of D fiat major, its principal themeplayed first on the G string of the violin. Two plucked chords signal the returnof the principal Moderato theme from violas and bassoons, with a fragment of thesecondary 1heme from flute and oboe, before a recapitulation in which thesoloist is allowed moments of passionate virtuosity in handling the principaltheme. The re-appearance of the second theme leads soon to a cadenza and the endof the movement. The final A major Allegro is dominated by its cheerful Russianprincipal theme, heralded by the trumpets and taken up at once by the soloist.
This provides a framework for contrasting episodes in a concerto that isaccepted as a significant addition to romantic violin concerto repertoire.
Antonfn Dvořak must beconsidered the greatest of the Czech nationalist composers of the laternineteenth century, and he continues to enjoy the widest internationalpopularity. His achievement, like Glazunov, was to bring together music thatderived its inspiration from Bohemia's woods and fieldswith the classical traditions continued by Brahms in Vienna. At the same time heestablished a distinctively Czech musical idiom, suggesting the futuredevelopment of music stemming from what had long been a rich source of musicalinspiration within the Habsburg Empire.
Dvořak was born in 1841 ina village of Bohemia, where his father combined the trades of inn-keeper andbutcher, which it was expected that his son would later follow. As a child heplayed in his father's village band, his early training as a violinist in thehands of the village schoolmaster. Schooling in Zlonice, where he was sent atthe age of twelve, lodging with an uncle, allowed instruction in the rudimentsof music from Antonin Liehmann. Two years later he was sent to Kamenice to learnGerman, but the following year the needs of his family made it necessary for himto return to Zlonice, where his parents had now settled, to help in thebutcher's shop. Liehmann continued his lessons and persuaded his father to allowhim to study in Prague. In 1857 he entered the Prague Organ School, where he wasable to remain for two years.
Dvořak at first earned his living in Prague playing the viola in a bandled by Karel Komsak, which was later to form part of the orchestra of theProvisional Theatre, established in 1862. He was to become principalviola-player and to continue as an orchestral player for the next nine years,for some time under the direction of Smetana, who exercised considerableinfluence on Dvořak's parallel work as a composer. In 1871 he found himselfable to resign from the orchestra and to marry. He took a position as organistat the church of St. Adalbert, taught a few pupils and otherwise