Characteristic Suite/ Song of Destiny / Preludes
Alexander KonstantinovichGlazunov was born in St Petersburg, the son of a comfortably well-off publisher andbookseller. Balakirev, self-appointed leader of the nationalist Five, theMighty Handful, recommended study with Rimsky-Korsakov and he had encouragementfrom Liszt, to whose memory he dedicated his Second Symphony, Celebratedthroughout Europe as a composer and conductor, Glazunov directed his Stenko Razinand Second Symphony at the 1889 Paris Universal Exhibition and wasappointed director of the St Petersburg Conservatory in December 1905. Here hisstudents included Shostakovich. On 15th June 1928, embittered by theconsequences, hardship and deprivations of post-Leninist New Order Communism,he left Russia, ostensibly to attend the Schubert centenary commemorations inVienna but effectively to escape Relinquishing his directorship of theConservatory in 1930, he settled in Paris two years later, "respected, butnot ...much loved ...not really knowing for whom and for what he waswriting", as Shostakovich observed. Published in Leipzig by themillionaire benefactor Belyayev, his copious output, dating mainly from betweenthe death of Mussorgsky in 1881 and that of Scriabin in 1915, included eightcompleted symphonies (1881/82-1906), five concertos, three ballets, a number ofchoral works, seven string quartets, and a pair of piano sonatas.
Bridging the chasmbetween Tsarists and Bolsheviks, Glazunov was an artist of legendary pedagogyand picturesque personality, a man of physically gargantuan girth, a"Homeric" drinker (he must have found Prohibition America hard) Lesspioneer, more reconciler, journeying a battle-scarred road from homeland toexile, he knew life in all its facets, from society riches to tenement rags.
The "dramaticoverture" Le Chant du Destin, Opus 84, was written in 1907, theyear following the Eighth Symphony, Predominantly in 0 minor,notwithstanding paragraphs of major key contrast, it is a sonata-allegroconcert-piece of varying material, tempi and metre, unified by a recurrent,motto figure in dotted/long.triplet/long rhythm The successive minor/majorthird cells of this leitmotif prove, in the long-term duration of the firstsubject group, to be a provocative reversal of the major/minor ones generatingBeethoven's Fifth Symphony, in the course of the exposition evenoffering the same pitch-pairings backwards (F/D, G/E flat) To the RussianRomantics, as we know from Tchaikovsky, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony wasthe first great fate symbol of the age. Barring incidental diversions, theoverall tonality scheme is very Slav.
The youthful yetassured Suite Caractiristique, Opus 9, written between 1884 and 1887,dates from the time of the Second Symphony and the revision of the First(Slavyanskaya). Sources suggest that portions of the work began life as aset of piano variations written under Rimsky-Korsakov's guidance in 1880, whichGlazunov then turned into a symphonic suite, before offering it in the form inwhich we now know it. It is this earlier orchestral suite, first playedat a rehearsal in SI Petersburg on 8th Apri11884, to which Rimsky refers in hisautobiography. Befitting the greatest late nineteenth-century master of formalRussian ballet- music after Tchaikovsky, as witnessed by the ballets Raymondaand The Seasons and the Bollet Suite, Opus 52, dance is theall-pervasive inspiration of the music, brightly coloured by allusive folkimages. The opening and closing tableoux are each bipartite -the first(0 major) comprising an andante Introduction followed by a Danse rusique,allegro ma non troppo; the last a passionately climactic Elegie (adagio,D minor) and grand Cortege (alla marcia maestoso, D major).
Prophetic of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, the Cortege strikinglytakes the Introduction theme, transforming it into the major.
Evocatively scored, with trumpets and massive brass brilliantly lit, itprovides a conclusion distinctive, too, in its parody of the patterns and shapeof the Danse rustique, and in referring to ideas and keys met in thesecond and third movements -the E flat major Intermezzo scherzando andthe rapid Cameval, in D minor/major and E flat. Seekers after links ofanother sort may enjoy comparing the unlikely 518 Trio section of thesecond movement, notable for its irregular 2+3 and 3+2 accents, with the 518 Scherzofrom Borodin's unfinished Third Symphony, cobbled together by Glazunovearly in 1887 from one of Borodin's quartet movements for Belyayev, Les VendredisNo.3. The pagan elements of tbe suite look most evidently to Balakirev,Borodin (the finale of the Second Symphony and perhaps Prince Igor musicGlazunov knew intimately) and Rimsky-Korsakov. Not all is derivative, however.
The physically exultant B minor Danse orientale, witb its repetitivepercussion rhythms and reedily nasal oboe timbre, has enough twists and turnsand modal side-steps to suggest more than once the future exotictrans-Caucasian music of Ippolitov-Ivanov and Khachaturian Rimsky, indeed, whopreferred his folk cosmetic to be beautiful, found it so "very odd andsavage" as actually to have it suppressed from the 1884 try-out Theartfully counterpointed Pastorale for woodwind, horns and strings, aboutas close as one will get to a Russian equivalent of The Gift to be Simple, plumbsoccidental deptbs of a very different kind.
Published in 1911,the Two Preludes, Opus 85, for large orchestra, were composed in 1906and 1908 in memory respectively of Stasov and Rimsky-Korsakov Stasov, championof the Balakirev circle, responsible in 1867 for naming the Five the MightyHandful, died in St Petersburg on 23rd October 1906. More than two decades earlier, ina seminal essay on recent Russian music, published in 1883, he had welcomed theyouthful Glazunov as "a true master". "The principalcharacteristics of his music thus far" he wrote, "are an incrediblyvast sweep, power, inspiration, wondrous beauty, rich fantasy, sometimeshumour, sadness, passion, and always amazing clarity and freedom of form."Glazunov's tribute is an A minor Andante. Calling for forces includingthree kettledrums, unusually tuned to the tritone on B and high and low Fs,tam-tam, harp and piano, its funereal dotted rhythms unfold a gravely poeticpicture, reinforced by a closing coda making poignant use of modally flattenedsevenths. The outer sections feature a sixteen-note long/short pattern ofharmonized falling fifths, perfect and diminished, which mayor may not signifya reference to the sixteen-letter westemised form of Stasov's name, "WladimirStassoff', printed on the title-page.
NikolayRimsky-Korsakov died in Lyubensk on 21st June 1908 A staunch supporter, as hisposthumously published memoirs testify, he had always admired his precociousstudent's gifts and artistry, believing his symphonies and other works to beamong "the finest adornments of contemporary musical literature". Glazunov'sAndante lugubre piece, In memoriam, longer than the one for Stasovbut otherwise similarly tripartite in structure, is ak