GLAZUNOV: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4
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Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Symphony No. 1 in E major, Op. 5 'Slavyanskaya'
Symphony No. 4 in E nat major, Op. 48
It is becoming increasingly unnecessary to defend the reputation ofGlazunov. He belonged to a generation of Russian composers that was able tobenefit from more professional standards of compositional technique, absorbingand helping to create a synthesis of the national, that might sometimes beexpressed crudely enough, and the technique of the conservatories, that might sometimesseem facile. Glazunov worked closely with Rimsky-Korsakov, to whom Balakirev,his mother's teacher, had recommended him, and played an important part in theeducation of a new generation of Russian composers such as Shostakovich.
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in St Petersburg in 1865,the son of a publisher and bookseller. As a child he showed considerablemusical ability and in 1879 met Balakirev and hence Rimsky-Korsakov. By the ageof sixteen he had finished the first of his nine symphonies, which wasperformed under the direction of Balakirev, whose influence is perceptible inthe work. The relationship with Balakirev was not to continue. The richtimber-merchant Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev had been present at the firstperformance of the symphony and travelled to Moscow to hear Rimsky-Korsakovconduct a second performance there. He attended the Moscow rehearsals and hismeeting with Rimsky-Korsakov was the beginning of a new informal association ofRussian composers, perceived by Balakirev as a threat to his own position andinfluence, as self-appointed mentor of the Russian nationalist composers.
Glazunov became part of Belyayev's circle, attending his Friday evenings withRimsky-Korsakov, rather than Balakirev's Tuesday evening meetings. Belyayevtook Glazunov, in 1884, to meet Liszt in Weimar, where the First Symphony wasperformed.
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. Rimsky-Korsakov'swife was later to remark on Glazunov's admiration for Tchaikovsky and Brahms,suspecting in this the influence of Taneyev and of the critic Laroche, championof Tchaikovsky and a strong opponent of the nationalists, a man described byRimsky-Korsakov as the Russian equivalent of Hanslick in Vienna, a comparisonthat, from him, was not entirely complimentary.
Glazunov, however, remained a colleague and friend of Rimsky-Korsakov,and demonstrated this after the political disturbance of 1905, when the latterhad signed a letter of protest at the suppression of some element of democracyin Russia and had openly sympathized with Conservatory students who had joinedliberal protests against official policies. Rimsky-Korsakov was dismissed fromthe Conservatory, to be reinstated by Glazunov, elected director of aninstitution that, in the aftermath, had now won a measure of autonomy. Glazunovremained director of the Conservatory until 1930.
It says much for the esteem in which Glazunov was held that he was ableto steer the Conservatory through years of great hardship, difficulty andpolitical turmoil, fortified in his task, it seems, by the illicit supply ofvodka provided for him by the father of Shostakovich, then a student there.
Emaciated through the years of privation after the Revolution, he eventuallyassumed a more substantial appearance again, compared by the English press to aretired tea-planter or a prosperous bank-manager, with his rimless glasses andgold watch-chain. His appearance was in accordance with his musical tastes. Hefound fault with Stravinsky's ear and could not abide the music of RichardStrauss, 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 performance ofGlazunov's First Symphony, therejoicing of younger Russian composers and the grumbling of Stasov, theliterary guide of the Five, disapproving, no doubt, of such a foreign form, andthen the surprise of the audience when a school-boy came out !o acknowledge theapplause. There were those prepared to hint that the symphony, dedicated toRimsky-Korsakov, had been written by another musician, hired for the purpose byGlazunov's parents. Rumours of this kind were contradicted by the works thatfollowed. Belyayev arranged for publication of the symphony in Leipzig, andthis marked the beginning of the Belyayev publishing enterprise that proved sohelpful to Russian composers thus able to benefit from international copyrightagreements. The work opens with an Allegro in6/8 metre, its lilting first subject followed by a second, duly in the dominantkey and entrusted to clarinets and bassoons. There are shifts of key, skilfullymanipulated, in the central development section of the movement, followed by arecapitulation that varies the orchestration and proceeds to an emphatic coda.
The Scherzo that forms the secondmovement, in the key of C major, is underpinned by an accompanying drone, infolk-style, from lower strings and bassoons, while violas and clarinets providethe first thematic element. The trio section,in A flat, allows the flute to propose a Polish theme, taken up by the firstviolins, before the transition is made back to the Scherzo itself, now mingled with reminiscences of the Polishmelody. Clarinets and bassoons start the E minor slow movement, with itsfurther suggestions of Slav thematic material. Violas and clarinets againprovide a drone accompaniment, in syncopated rhythm, !o a Polish theme from theoboe. There are moments of relaxation and shifts of tonality in contrastingepisodes as the music moves forward, dominated always by the principal themethat gives the movement its character.
Glazunov completed his FourthSymphony in 1893, a work dedicated to Anton Rubinstein, now nearingthe end of his life, a composer who had long seemed persona non grata to Balakirev and his friends, his veryname a synonym for kitsch. Rimsky-Korsakov, present at the first performance inJanuary 1894, found the orchestration cumbersome in places, particularly in thethird movement, but his disciple Vasily Vasilyevich Yastrebtsev writes withapproval of the symphony as marking a renaissance in Glazunov's creativity,drawing attention to the pictorial nature of the second movement as areflection of Bocklin's painting Diana's Chase. The first movement starts with anintroductory, gently swaying Andante, ofobvious Russian provenance, with its opening cor anglais melody, leadingforward into an Allegro moderato thatseems to continue, often with greater intensity and excitement, a pastoralmood, suggested by the rhythm of the music and its melodic content. The Scherzo opens brightly, with a rusticdance, relaxing into a trio section,and this is followed by an Andante of tender nostalgia, soon to be replaced bythe urgency of an excited Allegro, vigorousin its energy, suggesting thematically, as does the whole symphony, somethingof the spirit of the Caucasus region that was to provide a further element ofexotic inspiration in other works. The symphony ends in triumph, an example ofGlazunov's assured craftsmanship and powers of invention that could only add tohis already growing international reputation.
Moscow Symphony Orchestra
The Moscow Symphony Orchestra was established in 1989 and is under thedirection of the distinguished French musician Antonia de Almeida. The