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ClassicsOnline Home » GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 10 - Suite Caracteristique / Le Chant du Destin / Preludes (Moscow Symphony, Golovschin)
By Ivan March
/ Song of Destiny / Preludes
Glazunov was born in St Petersburg, the son of a comfortably well-off publisher and
bookseller. Balakirev, self-appointed leader of the nationalist Five, the
Mighty Handful, recommended study with Rimsky-Korsakov and he had encouragement
from Liszt, to whose memory he dedicated his Second Symphony, Celebrated
throughout Europe as a composer and conductor, Glazunov directed his Stenko Razin
and Second Symphony at the 1889 Paris Universal Exhibition and was
appointed director of the St Petersburg Conservatory in December 1905. Here his
students included Shostakovich. On 15th June 1928, embittered by the
consequences, hardship and deprivations of post-Leninist New Order Communism,
he left Russia, ostensibly to attend the Schubert centenary commemorations in
Vienna but effectively to escape Relinquishing his directorship of the
Conservatory in 1930, he settled in Paris two years later, "respected, but
not ...much loved ...not really knowing for whom and for what he was
writing", as Shostakovich observed. Published in Leipzig by the
millionaire benefactor Belyayev, his copious output, dating mainly from between
the death of Mussorgsky in 1881 and that of Scriabin in 1915, included eight
completed symphonies (1881/82-1906), five concertos, three ballets, a number of
choral works, seven string quartets, and a pair of piano sonatas.
Bridging the chasm
between Tsarists and Bolsheviks, Glazunov was an artist of legendary pedagogy
and picturesque personality, a man of physically gargantuan girth, a
"Homeric" drinker (he must have found Prohibition America hard) Less
pioneer, more reconciler, journeying a battle-scarred road from homeland to
exile, he knew life in all its facets, from society riches to tenement rags.
overture" Le Chant du Destin, Opus 84, was written in 1907, the
year following the Eighth Symphony, Predominantly in 0 minor,
notwithstanding paragraphs of major key contrast, it is a sonata-allegro
concert-piece of varying material, tempi and metre, unified by a recurrent,
motto figure in dotted/long.triplet/long rhythm The successive minor/major
third cells of this leitmotif prove, in the long-term duration of the first
subject group, to be a provocative reversal of the major/minor ones generating
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, in the course of the exposition even
offering the same pitch-pairings backwards (F/D, G/E flat) To the Russian
Romantics, as we know from Tchaikovsky, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was
the first great fate symbol of the age. Barring incidental diversions, the
overall tonality scheme is very Slav.
The youthful yet
assured Suite Caractiristique, Opus 9, written between 1884 and 1887,
dates from the time of the Second Symphony and the revision of the First
(Slavyanskaya). Sources suggest that portions of the work began life as a
set of piano variations written under Rimsky-Korsakov's guidance in 1880, which
Glazunov then turned into a symphonic suite, before offering it in the form in
which we now know it. It is this earlier orchestral suite, first played
at a rehearsal in SI Petersburg on 8th Apri11884, to which Rimsky refers in his
autobiography. Befitting the greatest late nineteenth-century master of formal
Russian ballet- music after Tchaikovsky, as witnessed by the ballets Raymonda
and The Seasons and the Bollet Suite, Opus 52, dance is the
all-pervasive inspiration of the music, brightly coloured by allusive folk
images. The opening and closing tableoux are each bipartite -the first
(0 major) comprising an andante Introduction followed by a Danse rusique,
allegro ma non troppo; the last a passionately climactic Elegie (adagio,
D minor) and grand Cortege (alla marcia maestoso, D major).
Prophetic of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, the Cortege strikingly
takes the Introduction theme, transforming it into the major.
Evocatively scored, with trumpets and massive brass brilliantly lit, it
provides a conclusion distinctive, too, in its parody of the patterns and shape
of the Danse rustique, and in referring to ideas and keys met in the
second and third movements -the E flat major Intermezzo scherzando and
the rapid Cameval, in D minor/major and E flat. Seekers after links of
another sort may enjoy comparing the unlikely 518 Trio section of the
second movement, notable for its irregular 2+3 and 3+2 accents, with the 518 Scherzo
from Borodin's unfinished Third Symphony, cobbled together by Glazunov
early in 1887 from one of Borodin's quartet movements for Belyayev, Les Vendredis
No.3. The pagan elements of tbe suite look most evidently to Balakirev,
Borodin (the finale of the Second Symphony and perhaps Prince Igor music
Glazunov knew intimately) and Rimsky-Korsakov. Not all is derivative, however.
The physically exultant B minor Danse orientale, witb its repetitive
percussion rhythms and reedily nasal oboe timbre, has enough twists and turns
and modal side-steps to suggest more than once the future exotic
trans-Caucasian music of Ippolitov-Ivanov and Khachaturian Rimsky, indeed, who
preferred his folk cosmetic to be beautiful, found it so "very odd and
savage" as actually to have it suppressed from the 1884 try-out The
artfully counterpointed Pastorale for woodwind, horns and strings, about
as close as one will get to a Russian equivalent of The Gift to be Simple, plumbs
occidental deptbs of a very different kind.
Published in 1911,
the Two Preludes, Opus 85, for large orchestra, were composed in 1906
and 1908 in memory respectively of Stasov and Rimsky-Korsakov Stasov, champion
of the Balakirev circle, responsible in 1867 for naming the Five the Mighty
Handful, died in St Petersburg on 23rd October 1906. More than two decades earlier, in
a seminal essay on recent Russian music, published in 1883, he had welcomed the
youthful Glazunov as "a true master". "The principal
characteristics of his music thus far" he wrote, "are an incredibly
vast sweep, power, inspiration, wondrous beauty, rich fantasy, sometimes
humour, sadness, passion, and always amazing clarity and freedom of form."
Glazunov's tribute is an A minor Andante. Calling for forces including
three kettledrums, unusually tuned to the tritone on B and high and low Fs,
tam-tam, harp and piano, its funereal dotted rhythms unfold a gravely poetic
picture, reinforced by a closing coda making poignant use of modally flattened
sevenths. The outer sections feature a sixteen-note long/short pattern of
harmonized falling fifths, perfect and diminished, which mayor may not signify
a reference to the sixteen-letter westemised form of Stasov's name, "Wladimir
Stassoff', printed on the title-page.
Rimsky-Korsakov died in Lyubensk on 21st June 1908 A staunch supporter, as his
posthumously published memoirs testify, he had always admired his precocious
student's gifts and artistry, believing his symphonies and other works to be
among "the finest adornments of contemporary musical literature". Glazunov's
Andante lugubre piece, In memoriam, longer than the one for Stasov
but otherwise similarly tripartite in structure, is akin to a quasi-Wagnerian
portrait. Underlined by chromatic growls and "Song of India"
delirium, sensuous thirds and sixths and pulsing triplets, "Easter"
chorales and oceanic arias, its diatonically wistful E major Amen goes back
hauntingly to the anchorage of Sheherazade and the 1880s.
Moscow Symphony Orchestra
The Moscow Symphony
Orchestra was established in 1989 and until 1998 was under the direction of the
distinguished French musician Antonio de Almeida. The members of the orchestra
include prize-winners and laureates of international and Russian music
competitions, graduates of the conservatories of Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, who have played
under conductors such as Svetlanov, Rozhdestvensky, Mravinsky and Ozawa, in Russia and throughout the
world. The orchestra toured in 1991 to Finland and to England, where collaboration
with a well- known rock band demonstrated readiness for experiment. A British
and Japanese commission has brought a series of twelve television programmes
for international distribution and in 1993 there was a highly successful tour
of Spain. The Moscow Symphony
Orchestra has a wide repertoire, with particular expertise in the performance
of contemporary works.
The Russian conductor
Igor Golovschin was born in Moscow in 1956 and entered the piano class of the Special Music School at the age of six.
In 1975 he joined the class of Kyril Kondrashin at the Moscow Conservatory and
in 1981 joined the Irkntsk Symphony Orchestra, winning the Herbert von Karajan
Conductors' Competition in the following year, followed, in 1984, by victory in
the Moscow National Conductors' Competition. Five years later he was invited to
join the former USSR State Symphony Orchestra, where he was assistant to Yevgeny
Svetlanov until the latter's death in 1998.
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