GLIERE: Symphony No. 1 / The Sirens (Leopold Komárek/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/ Stephen Gunzenhauser) (Naxos: 8.550898)
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Reinhold Glière (1875 - 1956)
Symphony No.1 in E Flat, Op. 8
The Sirens, Op. 33
Reinhold Glière (Reyngol'd Moritsevich Glier), a Soviet composer of Belgian descent, was born in Kiev in 1875, the son of a maker of wind instruments. He played the violin and wrote music at home and studied for three years at the Kiev Conservatory before entering the Moscow Conservatory in 1894. There he studied the violin with Hrimaly, and composition with Taneyev, taking lessons in harmony from Arensky and his pupil Konyus and in orchestration from Ippolitov-Ivanov. He graduated in 1900 with a one-act opera-oratorio Earth and Heaven, based on Byron.
Glière's first employment was as a teacher at the Gnesin Music School, and he was to spend the summer holidays of 1902 and 1903 as tutor to the eleven-year-old Prokofiev. For two years from 1905 he studied conducting with Oscar Fried in Berlin, making his first appearance as a conductor in Russia in 1908, while his compositions continued to make a favourable impression. In 1913 he returned to Kiev to teach the composition class at the Conservatory, of which he became director the following year. His former pupil Prokofiev was to appear as soloist in Kiev in his own first piano concerto under Glière's direction in 1916.
From 1920 until his retirement in 1941 Glière taught composition at the Conservatory in Moscow. He showed particular interest in the music of the various ethnic minorities of the Soviet Union, making a detailed study of the music of Azerbaijan that bore fruit in his opera Shakh-Senem, written in 1924 and performed in Russian in Baku three years later and in Azerbaijan in 1934. His musicological investigations extended to Uzbekistan and other Soviet republics, while the more familiar music of the Ukraine provided him with another native source of inspiration.
During his career Glière occupied a number of official positions. In the early years of the Revolution he headed the music section of the Moscow Department of Popular Education and was Chairman of the organizing committee of the Union of Soviet Composers from 1938 until 1948. His work was officially recognised by various state awards, including the title of People's Artist, bestowed in 1938. He died in Moscow in 1956.
As a composer Glière was heir to the Russian romantic tradition, something that brought him official praise in 1948 when the music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich was condemned. In particular his ballet music proved popular. The Red Poppy, later known as The Red Flower, satisfied political choreographic demands, and became a well known part of ballet repertoire from 1926, onwards, and the later ballet-score The Bronze Horseman, completed in 1949, retains a place in Soviet ballet repertoire.
The Symphony No.1 in E Flat, Opus 8, was started in 1899, while Glière was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory, and completed in the following year. It illustrates clearly enough the composer's preference for the relatively Western classicism of Tchaikovsky, rather than the nationalism of the Five. Nevertheless the idiom is an essentially Russian one.
The first movement opens with an Andante leading to an Allegro that shows a sure handling of the orchestra, a feature of the whole work, and a testimony to the sound teaching of Ippolitov-Ivanov. There is a lively scherzo and a lyrical slow movement, its thematic material proclaiming its national origin. This is followed by a finale that provides a stirring conclusion, in spite of a tendency to over-use sequential devices.
The Sirens, a symphonic poem, was completed in 1908. It provides, in its deft handling of the orchestra, an evocative picture of those enchantresses that lured sailors to their doom. According to the Roman historian Suetonius the Emperor Tiberius would tease scholars by asking what song the Sirens sang. To this enigma Glière provided his own answer, in the language of Ondine.