GLAZUNOV: The Seasons / Scenes de Ballet (Alexander Anissimov/ Inc. Betta International/ Moscow Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553915)
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AlexanderKonstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
The Seasons, Op. 67;Sc?¿nes de Ballet, Op. 52; Sc?¿ne Dansante, Op. 81
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov has not fared well at the hands oflater critics, although in his own time he enjoyed considerable success. In1905 he became Director of the St Petersburg Conservatory and was to retainthat position through all the difficulties of the next 25 years, before leavingRussia to spend his final years in Paris. A composer of great facility, with aphenomenal musical memory, he worked closely with Rimsky-Korsakov, assistinghim in that debt of honour he fulfilled in editing the music left by thoseother members of the Mighty Handful, Borodin and Mussorgsky. Toimmediate contemporaries he seemed to have brought about a synthesis betweenRussian music and the music of Western Europe, but to some Russian criticsafter the Revolution he seemed rather to epitomise the music of thebourgeoisie, an impression that may well have been fortified by his dress andappearance, compared by a contemporary English critic to those of a prosperousbank-manager.
Glazunov was born in St Petersburg in 1865, the son of a publisher andbookseller. As a child he showed considerable musical ability and in 1879 metBalakirev, from whom his mother had earlier sought theory lessons for herself,to be recommended instead to Rimsky-Korsakov. It was with the latter thatGlazunov was to study and by the age of sixteen he had completed the first ofhis nine symphonies, which was performed in 1882 under the direction ofBalakirev whose influence is apparent in the composition.
The relationship with Balakirev was not to continue. The richtimber-merchant Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev had been present at the firstperformance of the symphony in St Petersburg and travelled to Moscow to hearRimsky-Korsakov conduct a second performance there. Belyayev attended theMoscow rehearsals and his meeting with Rimsky-Korsakov was the beginning of anew informal association of Russian composers, perceived by Balakirev as athreat to his own position and influence as self-appointed mentor of theRussian Nationalists. Glazunov was to form part of this new circle, attendinghis Friday evenings with Rimsky-Korsakov, rather than Balakirev's Tuesdayevening meetings.
In 1899 Glazunov joined the staff of the Conservatory in St Petersburg,but by this time his admiration for his teacher seemed to have cooled.
Rimsky-Korsakov's wife was later to remark on Glazunov's admiration forTchaikovsky and Brahms, suspecting the influence of Taneyev, surely the onlycomposer to set songs in Esperanto, and the important critic Laroche, championof Tchaikovsky and staunch opponent of the Nationalists.
Glazunov remained a colleague and friend of Rimsky-Korsakov, anddemonstrated this after the political disturbances of 1905. The latter hadadded his signature to a letter of protest at the suppression of some elementof democracy in Russia and had openly sympathised with Conservatory studentswho had joined liberal protests against-official policies. Rimsky-Korsakov wasdismissed from the Conservatory, to be reinstated by Glazunov, elected Directorof the Conservatory, which had won a certain degree of autonomy. Glazunovremained Director of the St Petersburg Conservatory until 1930.
It says much for the general esteem in which Glazunov was held that hewas able to steer the Conservatory through years of extreme difficulty, both inthe war and the subsequent political revolution, fortified, it seems, byillicit vodka procured by the good offices of the father of his student DmitryShostakovich, but in other respects willing to share the physical hardships ofthe time, during the course of which he lost a great deal of weight.
In 1928 Glazunov left Russia to fulfill concert engagements abroad,finally making his home in Paris, where he died in 1936. These last years tookhim to a number of countries, where he conducted concerts of his own works. A DailyExpress critic described his appearance at a concert in England in 1929:When I went to watch him conduct he drew his baton from a pigskin sheaf withhis monogram in gold upon the cover. The general impression was that of awealthy retired tea-planter. His skin is parchment-coloured, his glassessquare-shaped and rimless, and a lot of gold watch-chain apparatus is spreadabout his starched white waistcoat.
Glazunov, in short, cut a respectable figure, matching the conservatismof his musical tastes. Richard Strauss's Heldenleben he found"disgusting", he alleged that Stravinsky had no ear, and he was knownto dislike the music of Prokofiev, a difficult student at the Conservatory. Hisown music continued the tradition of Tchaikovsky in an age that ventured intomore experimental territory, an apparent anachronism. In recent years it hasproved increasingly possible to hear the music of Glazunov without theprejudices of an earlier generation.
The Seasons was written for the Russian Imperial Ballet and first produced at theMaryinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in February 1900 with choreography byMarius Petipa. There is no particular story to the ballet, which offers aseries of tableaux, one for each of the four seasons, set to music thatseems to continue the tradition established in the three ballets ofTchaikovsky.
Alter a short introduction the curtain rises to show Winter surroundedby Frost, Ice, Hail and Snow, amid whirling snowflakes. For the first of these,Frost, there is a Polonaise, for Ice a dance played by violas and clarinets,for Hail a scherzo and for Snow a waltz. The cold of winter is banishedby two gnomes, who light a fire, preparing the temperature for the followingscene.
Spring is ushered in by the harp and accompanied by the gem le Zephyr,Birds and Flowers. There is a dance for Roses, for Spring and for one of theBirds, all of whom depart as the summer sun grows hotter.
Summer is set in a cornfield, where Cornflowers and Poppies dance, withthe Spirit of the Corn. The heat exhausts them, and as they rest a group ofNaiads enter, to a Barcarolle, bringing the water that the flowers need. Thereis a dance for the Spirit of the Corn, accompanied by a clarinet solo and a coda,interrupted by an attempt by satyrs and fauns to carry off the Spirit,frustrated by the intervention of the Zephyr.
A wild Bacchic dance introduces Autumn. There are brief appearances byWinter, Spring, the Bird and the Zephyr, reminiscence, of the year that is nowpassing. There is a dance for Summer, and then the Bacchanale resumes, to bebrought to an end by multitudinous falling leaves. The stage grows dark and thefinal Apotheosis shows the stars, as they circle the Earth.
In December, 1894, the first Russian Symphony Concert in St Petersburgwas devoted to a memorial concert for Anton Rubinstein, an event that was illattended. The second concert of the series included two new works, the suitefrom Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Snegurochka and Glazunov's suite sc?¿nesde ballet, dedicated to the orchestra of the Russian Imperial Opera.
The music of the Sc?¿ne, de ballet speaks for itself. Theintroductory Preambule is followed by a characteristically orchestrateddance for marionettes and a rhythmic Mazurka. The Scherzino is amore whimsical piece of writing, leading to a deeply romantic Pas d'action. Thesucceeding oriental dance explores thematic material familiar enough in Russianmusic of the period, and the suite ends with a lyri