Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865 - 1936)
Finnish Fantasy, Op. 88
Finnish Sketches, Op. 89
Karelian Legend, Op. 99
Ouverture solennelle, Op. 73
Wedding March, Op. 21
It is becoming increasingly unnecessary to defend thereputation of Glazunov. He belonged to a generation of Russian composers thatwas able to benefit from more professional standards of compositional technique,absorbing and helping to create a synthesis of the national, that mightsometimes 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 animportant part in the education of a new generation of Russian composers suchas Shostakovich.
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in St Petersburg in 1865, the son of a publisher and bookseller. As a child heshowed considerable musical ability and in 1879 met Balakirev and henceRimsky-Korsakov. By the age of sixteen he had finished the first of his ninesymphonies, which was performed under the direction of Balakirev, whoseinfluence is perceptible in the work. The relationship with Balakirev was notto continue. The rich timber-merchant Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev had beenpresent at the first performance of the symphony and travelled to Moscow tohear Rimsky-Korsakov conduct a second performance there. He attended the Moscowrehearsals and his meeting with Rimsky-Korsakov was the beginning of a newinformal association of Russian composers, perceived by Balakirev as a threatto his own position and influence, as self-appointed mentor of the Russiannationalist composers. Glazunov became part of Belyayev's circle, attending hisFriday evenings with Rimsky-Korsakov, rather than Balakirev's Tuesday eveningmeetings. Belyayev took Glazunov, in 1884, to meet Liszt in Weimar, where the FirstSymphony 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 havecooled. Rimsky-Korsakov's wife was later to remark on Glazunov's admiration forTchaikovsky and Brahms, suspecting in this the influence of Taneyev and of the criticLaroche, champion of Tchaikovsky and a strong opponent of the nationalists, aman described by Rimsky-Korsakov as the Russian equivalent of Hanslick inVienna, a comparison that, from him, was not entirely complimentary.
Glazunov, however, remained a colleague and friend ofRimsky-Korsakov, and demonstrated this after the political disturbance of 1905,when the latter had signed a letter of protest at the suppression of some elementof democracy in Russia and had openly sympathized with Conservatory studentswho had joined liberal protests against official policies. Rimsky-Korsakov wasdismissed from the Conservatory, to be reinstated by Glazunov, elected directorof an institution that, in the aftermath, had now won a measure of autonomy.
Glazunov remained director of the Conservatory until 1930.
It says much for the esteem in which Glazunov was heldthat he was able to steer the Couservatory through years of great hardship,difficulty and political tuffi1oil, fortified in his task, it seems, by theillicit supply of vodka provided for him by the father of Shostakovich, then astudent there, Emaciated through the years of privation after the Revolution,he eventually assumed a more substantial appearance again, compared by the Englishpress to a retired tea-planter or a prosperous bank-manager, with his rimlessglasses and gold watch-chain, His appearance was in accordance with his musicaltastes. He found fault with Stravinsky's ear and could not abide the music ofRichard Strauss, while the student Prokofiev seems to have shocked him with thediscords of his Scythian Suite. His own music continued the tradition ofTchaikovsky and to this extent seemed an anachronism in an age when composerswere indulging in experiments of all kinds.
Rimsky-Korsakov left a brief description of the first performanceof Glazunov's First Symphony, the rejoicing of younger Russian composersand the grumbling of Stasov, the literary guide of the Five, disapproving, nodoubt, of such a foreign foffi1, and then the surprise of the audience when aschool-boy came out to acknowledge the applause. There were those prepared tohint that the symphony, dedicated to Rimsky-Korsakov, had been written byanother musician, hired for the purpose by Glazunov's parents. Rumours of thiskind were contradicted by the works that followed. Belyayev arranged for publicationof the symphony in Leipzig, and this marked the beginning of the Belyayevpublishing enterprise that proved so helpful to Russian composers thus able tobenefit from international copyright agreements. The work marked the beginningof what promised to be a remarkable career.
The countries bordering on or dominated by Russia providedan ample source of exoticism for composers, both under the old regime and inthe changed circumstances after 1917. Glazunov turned to Finland for materialin his C major Finnish Fantasy, Opus 88, written in Helsinki in 1909.
The work makes imaginative use of a simple folk-song, making a modest appearance,to be gradually developed. A dramatic interruption leads to material of greatermenace, to be followed by a strongly romantic passage. This in turn gives wayto a well-known Lutheran chorale, principally for the brass, with an urgentstring accompaniment, and moving forward to the dramatic conclusion of the Fantasy,based on elements of the chorale and earlier thematic material.
Three years later there followed Finnish Sketches,Opus 89, with its first movement drawing on the great Finnish epic, the Kalevala.
This last deals, in some fifty cantos, with the conflict between Kalevala, thecountry of the Finns, and Pohjola, the North Country .The epic is traditionallysung to a so-called Kalevala melody, which itself has regional variants. It is,however, normally syllabic, eight notes long, to fit the eight-syllabletrochaic tetrameters of the verse, with the last two, identical notesprolonged. Glazunov makes use of this ending in the theme of the first of his Sketches,creating a miniature musical epic from the material, varying the melodicformula and adding other accompanying elements. The second sketch, Solemn Procession,is based once again on a simple theme, repeated with insistence, suggesting theprogress of a solemn ritual procession and leading to the brief appearance ofthe Lutheran hymn Ein' teste Burg ist unser Gott (A firm stronghold ourGod is still), soon replaced by the final march motif.
Glazunov's Karelian Legend, Opus 99, was written in1916, shortly before the composer's Second Piano Concerto, which closesa stage in his career. In this work he turns to the disputed border region ofKarelia which had already drawn the attention of Sibelius, associated as he waswith those determined to end Russian domination of Finland. Glazunov's work, imaginativelyscored, makes use of ele