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ClassicsOnline Home » GLIERE: Symphony No. 2 / The Zaporozhy Cossacks
By Bob McQuiston
Reinhold Glière (1875 -1956)
Symphony No.2 in C Minor, Op. 25
The Zaporozhy Cossacks, Op. 64
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 monumental first movement of the C Minor Symphony is followed by a lively scherzo which relaxes into a richly romantic mood, mounting in intensity until the return of the dramatic music that frames it. To this the gentle lyricism of the third movement provides a contrast, with its characteristically Russian theme and colourfully orchestrated and contrasting variations. The energetic last movement demonstrates once more Glière's technical skill as a composer, his craftsmanship and the essentially Russian source of his inspiration.
The symphonic poem, The Zaporozhy Cossacks, written in 1921, was revised as a ballet-pantomine in 1926. The Cossacks, as professional dissidents, might have seemed unappealing to a Soviet composer in 1921. In the early seventeenth century bands of undisciplined hunters and nomads had established themselves "beyond the cataracts" on the lower Dnieper, to be known as the Zaporozhy Cossacks, a group that refused the discipline that Poland, then ruler of the Ukraine, attempted to exercise. The great Cossack revolt of 1648 failed to win autonomy or the primitive form of democracy that was one of the aims attributed to it, but brought instead the protection of Moscow, subsequent dissensions and final subjugation under Peter the Great. Nevertheless the Cossacks continued to provide leadership for the great peasant revolts, whatever their true motives and it is the heroism and bravery of the Zaporozhy host that Glière celebrates in his symphonic poem, its opening thematic figure transformed from the ominous to the triumphant, as the work, based on national themes, progresses.
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GLIERE: Symphony No. 2 / The Zaporozhy Cossacks