GLAZUNOV: Works for Cello and Orchestra
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AlexanderKonstaninovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Concerto Ballata, Op.
108; Chant du menestrel, Op. 71
Two Pieces for Celloand Orchestra, Op. 20
A la memoire de Gogol,Op. 87; Ala memoire d'un heros, Op. 8
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 mightsometimes seem facile. Glazunov worked closely with Rimsky-Korsakov, to whomBalakirev, his mother's teacher, had recommended him, and played an importantpart in the education of a new generation of Russian composers such asShostakovich.
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's wife was later to remark on Glazunov's admiration forTchaikovsky and Brahms, suspecting in this the influence of Taneyev and of thecritic Laroche, champion of Tchaikovsky and a strong opponent of thenationalists, a man described by Rimsky-Korsakov as the Russian equivalent ofHanslick in Vienna, a comparison that, from him, was not entirelycomplimentary.
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 unti11930.
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. He found fault withStravinsky's ear and could not abide the music of Richard Strauss, while thestudent Prokofiev seems to have shocked him with the discords of his ScythianSuite. His own music continued the tradition of Tchaikovsky and to thisextent seemed an anachronism in an age when composers were indulging inexperiments of all kinds.
Rimsky-Korsakov left abrief description of the first performance of Glazunov'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 to 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 that followed.
Belyayev arranged for publication of the symphony in Leipzig, and this markedthe beginning of the Belyayev publishing enterprise that proved so helpful toRussian composers thus able to benefit from international copyright agreements.
The work marked the beginning of what promised to be a remarkable career.
Glazunov left Russiain 1928 in order to attend the Schubert celebrations in Vienna. Thereafter heremained abroad, with a busy round of engagements as a conductor, finallysettling in Paris in 1932 until his death four years later. The ConcertoBallata was written in 1931, three years before his Saxophone Concerto andis dedicated to Pablo Casals. It is introduced by the cello alone, leading thenarrative until a passage of orchestral excitement intervenes, with an Elgarianmelody of descending sequences for the soloist, echoed by the orchestra in someagitation. Elements of the opening are followed by an A flat major passagemarked Tranquillo, followed by an Adagio, quasi ballata, as thetale unwinds. A C minor cadenza allows the cello to continue the story, finallyin terms of great simplicity, before another, longer cadenza. There follows an Allegromarciale, then an Allegretto scherzando, which breaks off. The finalsection follows, with an air of defiant optimism, its final section accompaniedby the cello in continued double-stopping, ending a work of sure and skilledcraftsmanship.
The Chant dumenestrel ('Minstrel's Song') was written in 1900, a poignant minstrel'ssong, with a change of mood in the central section, before the woodwind returnswith the first melody. The Two Pieces for cello and orchestra are stillearlier, dating from 1887 and 1888. The Melodie is delicatelyorchestrated, always giving due prominence to the cello melody-line. The Serenadeespagnole ('Spanish Serenade') makes use of a harp and plucked strings inits orchestration, an accomplished Russian evocation of Spain, perhaps arecollection of Glazunov's visit to that country with Belyayev in 1884.
Glazunov's tribute toGogol is described as a symphonic prologue and was written in 1909, thecentenary of the writer's birth. It opens in sombre Russian style, beforemoving into a mood of more tender recollection, with a final hymn to form thesubstance of the grandiose closing section. The homage to an anonymous hero waswritten in 1885, when the composer was twenty, and has the sub-title Elegie.
It takes a generally elegiac course, with Russian thematic material, fromits opening in C sharp minor and motivic development in assured counterpointuntil its final mood of calm optimism. The whole work is a demonstration ofGlazunov's early mastery of the techniques of composition and his natural useof Russian melody.