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Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865 - 1936)
The Seasons, Opus 67
Scene 1 - Winter Scene 2 - Spring
Scene 3 - Summer Scene 4 - Autumn
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901)
I Vespri Siciliani: The Four Seasons (Ballet Music)
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921)
Bacchanale from "Samson & Delilah", Opus 47
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov has not fared well at the hands of later critics, although in his own time he enjoyed considerable success. In 1905 he became Director of the St Petersburg Conservatory and was to retain that position through all the difficulties of the next twenty-five years, before leaving Russia to spend his final years in Paris. A composer of great facility, with a phenomenal musical memory, he worked closely with Rimsky- Korsakov, assisting him in that debt of honour he fulfilled in editing the music left by those other members of the Mighty Handful, Borodin and Mussorgsky. To immediate contemporaries he seemed to have brought about a synthesis between Russian music and the music of Western Europe, but to some Russian critics after the Revolution he seemed rather to epitomise the music of the bourgeoisie, an impression that may well have been fortified by his dress and appearance, compared by a contemporary English critic to those of a prosperous bank-manager.
The Seasons was written for the Russian Imperial Ballet and first produced at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in February 1900 with choreography by Marius Petipa. There is no particular story to the ballet, which offers a series of tableaux one for each of the four seasons, set to music that seems to continue the tradition established in the three ballets of Tchaikovsky.
After a short introduction the curtain rises to show Winter surrounded by 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 banished by two gnomes, who light a fire, preparing the temperature for the following scene.
Spring is ushered in by the harp and accompanied by the gentle Zephyr, Birds and Flowers. There is a dance for Roses, for Spring and for one of the Birds, all of whom depart as the summer sun grows hotter.
Summer is set in a cornfield, where Cornflowers and Poppies dance, with the Spirit of the Corn. The heat exhausts them, and as they rest a group of Naiads enters, to a Barcarolle, bringing the water that the flowers need. There is 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 by Winter, Spring, the Bird and the Zephyr, reminiscences of the year that is now passing. There is a dance for Summer, and then the Bacchanale resumes, to be brought to an end by multitudinous falling leaves. The stage grows dark and the final Apotheosis shows the stars, as they circle the Earth.
Giuseppe Verdi is a figure of the greatest importance in the development of Italian opera, his own career coinciding with the rise of Italian nationalism and the consciousness of national unity. He was of humble family and owed his early musical training to the generosity of a rich music-lover, Antonio Barezzi, who arranged to pay for his training at the Conservatory in Milan, an institution that he failed to enter, embarking instead, with Barezzi's support, on private lessons in Milan with Vincenzo Lavigna, an opera composer and former maestro al cembalo at La Scala.
In 1836 Verdi was appointed municipal music director of Busseto, the nearest town to his native village of Le Roncole. He married in the same year the daughter of Antonio Barezzi and set about completing his first opera, Rocester. Three years later the couple settled in Milan, where Verdi was able to devote himself to the composition of opera, an early period of his career that brought success and failure, as well as tragedy in the death of his two children, followed, in 1840, by the death of his wife.
Verdi's first operas, Oberto in 1839 and Un giomo di regno in 1840, were followed by the signal success of Nabucco at La Scala in 1842. Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio, presumably based on the earlier Rocester, had been given fourteen performances, reasonable encouragement for a young composer, but Un, giomo di regno was a disaster. The years immediately following Nabucco brought the successful I Lombardi and Ernani, both of them with an overt patriotic relevance.
With these operas Verdi had established himself, and during the course of a long career he was to write more than score more stage works, culminating, in 1893, with Falstaff, a final return to Shakespeare, whose Macbeth he had transformed in 1847, followed forty years later by Otello. Recurrent plans for King Lear were never to be realised, nor Verdi's declared ambition to turn into opera the other major works of Shakespeare.
Verdi's contemporary popularity was primarily due to his great musical gifts. Nevertheless his association with the ideals of nationalism made him something of a hero to the idealists of the Risorgimento, his very name taken as an acrostic for Vittorio Emanuele, Re d'Italia, a fortunate coincidence. From 1861 to 1865 he was a member of the new Italian parliament, at the request of Count Cavour, but spent his later life at Busseto, marrying in 1859 the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, who had befriended him at the time of his first opera, Oberto, and with whom he had already been living for twelve years.
I Vespri Siciliani (The Sicilian Vespers) was commissioned for the Great Exhibition in Paris in 1835, with a libretto by the French writers Eugene Scribe and Duveyrier, adapted from a text prepared for Donizetti in 1839 dealing with another historical event of an apparently similar kind. The story of the opera concerns the massacre of French troops by Sicilian patriots in fourteenth century Palermo, an incident for which the signal had been the Vespers bell, rung to mark the wedding of the patriotic Duchess Elena, sister of Frederick of Austria, to Arrigo, son of Guy de Montfort, French governor of Sicily. The Overture sets the scene, with the ominous drum-beat of its slow introduction, followed by a lyrical theme from a later duet for tenor and baritone, Arrigo and his father. Other themes used are those that accompany the massacre and part of the music of Act IV, where Elena is in prison with the leader of the Sicilian conspiracy. The ballet music, obligatory in Paris, is often omitted from performances of the opera, a practice authorized by the composer. It forms part of the wedding celebrations of the fifth act and consists of music for the four seasons, separated by a brief mime. Summer brings a siciliano and Autumn an adagio in music for a ballet that has an independent existence in modern choreographic repertoire.
Camille Saint-Saëns lived a long life, composed a large amount of music, and by the time of his death in 1921 at the age of eighty-six seemed a relic of a distant age. As a young man he had earned the nick-name of the French Mendelssohn. He found himself, in old age, in the world of composers such as Ravel, Stravinsky and Schoenberg.
Saint-Saëns was born in Paris in 1835. His father, a clerk in the Ministry the Interior, died shortly after his son's birth, and the boy was brought up by his mother and her aunt, the latter giving him first piano lessons when he was two and a half. He showed exceptional ability and at the age of ten appeared in a public concert at the Salle Pleyel, having already learned by heart all the Beethoven sonatas.
In an otherwise distinguished enough career at the Conservatoire, where he had composition lessons from Halevy and studied the organ with Benoist, Saint-Saëns failed to win the Prix de Rome, but wrote an impressive series of compositions. In common with many other, French composers, he took an appointment as an organist in Paris and was for nearly twenty years employed in that capacity at the Madeleine.
For four years Saint-Saëns, from 1861 until 1865, taught at the Ecole Niedermeyer and it was there that he met Gabriel Fauré, who was to remain his close friend throughout his life. His marriage in 1875 was brief and unhappy and lasted a mere six years, with his two children dying in infancy. The death of his mother in 1888 proved a greater blow to his security, and he was thereafter to spend a great deal of time travelling, particularly to Egypt and to Algeria. He died in Algiers in 1921.
Saint-Saëns was immensely gifted, both as a performer and as a composer. Liszt, who heard him improvise at the Madeleine, described him as the greatest living organist, while Hans von Bülow, who heard him read at sight at the piano the score of Wagner's Siegfried declared him the greatest musical mind of the time. As a pianist he performed principally his own music, avoiding the inevitable drudgery of the mere virtuoso he might so easily have become.
The compositions of Saint-Saëns cover almost every possible genre of music. He wrote for the theatre and for the church, composed songs, orchestral music and chamber music, with works for the piano and for the organ. In style he deserved the comparison with Mendelssohn, sharing with that composer an ability in the handling of traditional forms and techniques and a gift for orchestration.
The successful opera Samsan and Delilah was first staged in Weimar in 1877. The work had originally been conceived as an oratorio, but proved too Wagnerian for French taste, so that it was not to be seen in France until 1890, when there was a performance at Rouen, followed seven months later by staging in Paris. The Bacchanale, which might at first seem an inappropriate indulgence even for a Philistine, provides a necessary divertissement in the biblical story.
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenárd was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachafurian as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns.
Ondrej Lenárd was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava, where, at the age of seventeen, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opera, where he has continued to direct performances.
Lenard's work with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and e1sewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for Opus operas by Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.
For Naxos Lenárd has recorded symphonies and ballet music by Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov. For Marco Polo he has recorded Havergal Brian's colossal Gothic symphony to great critical acclaim in the international music press.
Stephen Gunzenhauser, a graduate of Oberlin College and the New England Conservatory, served Igor Markevich and Leopold Stokowski as assistant conductor before becoming executive and artistic director of the Wilmington Music School in 1974. In 1979, he became conductor and music director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. He records exclusively for Naxos and Marco Polo and his recordings include works of Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Vivaldi, Mozart, Glière, and Liadov. In 1989/90 he recorded all nine Dvorak symphonies with the Slovak Philharmonic, as well as the three Borodin symphonies with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra.
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