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ClassicsOnline Home » GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 12 - Symphonies Nos. 3 and 9 (Moscow Symphony, Anissimov)
Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)
Symphony No. 3 in D
minor, Op. 33; Symphony No. 9 in D minor
Glazunov belonged to a generation of Russian composers that was able to
benefit from more professional standards of compositional technique, absorbing
and helping to create a synthesis of the national, that might sometimes be
expressed crudely enough, and the technique of the conservatories, that might
sometimes seem facile. His music seems to bridge the gap between the two,
continuing at the same time a romantic tradition into a world that had turned
to eclectic innovation. As a young man, he worked closely with Rimsky-Korsakov,
to whom Balakirev, his mother's teacher, had recommended him, and played an
important part in the education of a new generation of Russian composers such
Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in St Petersburg in 1865,
the son of a publisher and bookseller. As a child he showed considerable
musical ability and in 1879 met Balakirev and hence Rimsky-Korsakov. By the age
of sixteen he had finished the first of his nine symphonies, which was
performed under the direction of Balakirev, whose influence is perceptible in
the work. The relationship with Balakirev was not to continue. The rich
timber-merchant Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev had been present at the first
performance of the symphony and travelled to Moscow to hear Rimsky-Korsakov
conduct a second performance there. He attended the Moscow rehearsals and his
meeting with Rimsky- Korsakov was the beginning of a new informal association
of Russian composers, perceived by Balakirev as a threat to his own position
and influence, as self-appointed mentor of the Russian nationalist composers.
Glazunov became part of Belyayev' s circle, attending his Friday evenings with
Rimsky-Korsakov, rather than Balakirev's Tuesday evening meetings. Belyayev
took Glazunov, in 1884, to meet Liszt in Weimar, where the First Symphony was
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 for
Tchaikovsky and Brahms, suspecting in this the influence of Taneyev and of the
critic Laroche, champion of Tchaikovsky and a strong opponent of the
nationalists, a man described by Rimsky-Korsakov as the Russian equivalent of
Hanslick in Vienna, a comparison that, from him, was not entirely
Glazunov, however, remained a colleague and friend of Rimsky-Korsakov,
and demonstrated this after the political disturbance of 1905, when the latter
had signed a letter of protest at the suppression of some element of democracy
in Russia and had openly sympathized with Conservatory students who had joined
liberal protests against official policies. Rimsky-Korsakov was dismissed from
the Conservatory, to be reinstated by Glazunov, elected director of an
institution that, in the aftermath, had now won a measure of autonomy. Glazunov
remained director of the Conservatory until 1930.
Glazunov left Russia in 1928 in order to attend the Schubert centenary
celebrations in Vienna. Thereafter he remained abroad, at first with a busy
round of engagements as a conductor, finally settling near Paris at
Boulogne-sur-Seine until his death in 1936.
It says much for the esteem in which Glazunov was held that he was able
to steer the Conservatory through years of great hardship, difficulty and
political turmoil, fortified in his task, it seems, by the illicit supply of
vodka provided for him by the father of Shostakovich, then a student there.
Emaciated through the years of privation after the Revolution, he eventually
assumed a more substantial appearance again, compared by the English press to a
retired tea-planter or a prosperous bank-manager, with his rimless glasses and
gold watch-chain. His appearance was in accordance with his musical tastes. He
found fault with Stravinsky's ear and could not abide the music of Richard
Strauss, while the student Prokofiev seems to have shocked him with the
discords of his Scythian Suite. His own music continued the tradition of
Tchaikovsky and to this extent seemed an anachronism in an age when composers
were indulging in experiments of all kinds.
Rimsky-Korsakov left a
brief description of the first performance of Glazunov's First Symphony, the
rejoicing of younger Russian composers and the grumbling of Stasov, the
literary guide of the Five, disapproving, no doubt, of such a foreign form, and
then the surprise of the audience when a school-boy came out to acknowledge the
applause. There were those prepared to hint that the symphony, dedicated to
Rimsky Korsakov, had been written by another musician, hired for the purpose by
Glazunov's parents. Rumours of this kind were contradicted by the works that followed.
Belyayev arranged for publication of the symphony in Leipzig, and this marked
the beginning of the Belyayev publishing enterprise that proved so helpful to
Russian composers thus able to benefit from international copyright agreements.
The work marked the beginning of what promised to be a remarkable career.
The Symphony No.
3 in D major, Opus 33 occupied Glazunov intermittently for a number of years.
He started assembling material for this work and for the Second Symphony in
1883, the year in which he left school. By 1888 he was expressing doubts about
the viability of the symphony, earning Rimsky-Korsakov's rebuke, but two years
later the work was nearing completion, arousing the interest of Tchaikowsky, to
whom it was dedicated. The first performance took place in St Petersburg in
December 1890, conducted, because of the composer's illness, by Lyadov. The
first movement, skillfully orchestrated, offers a lyrical first theme, heard
first from the violins before being taken up by the trombones before a shift to
the key of D flat. This is interrupted by a passage of marked vigour,
eventually leading back to the initial mood. The Scherzo, suggesting
still more the influence of Tchaikovsky, makes use of a glockenspiel in its
scoring. The lively opening moves on, briefly, to a more sinister contrast, and
the oboe, followed by the flute, introduces a trio section, with more than a
suggestion of Russia in its course. The F major Scherzo is followed by a
C sharp minor Andante, introduced initially by the woodwind. A solo
clarinet leads to the principal theme, announced by the first violin, a melody
that has about it something of the poignancy of Tchaikovsky Here the tenor
oboe, the cor anglais, adds a colour of its own, particularly in the central
section of the movement. The original theme returns, eventually to be restored
to its proper key, as the movement comes to an end. The Finale starts
with cheerful exuberance, with a minor key secondary theme offering contrast,
leading to two fugal sections in a carefully structured movement that
constantly suggests its Russian origin.
Glazunov started work
on his Symphony No. 9 in D minor in 1910 but sketched only the first
movement in short score, fearing the sinister implications of its numbering.
For too many composers their ninth symphony had been their last. The score was
given to Rimsky-Korsakov's son-in-law, Maximilian Shteynberg, in 1928 and was
orchestrated in 1947 by Gavril Yudin. The seed from which the movement grows is
heard in the first four notes of the viola in the slow introduction, marked Adagio,
mounting to a dynamic climax as instrument after instrument enters. The Allegro
moderato that follows is drawn from the same source, while the clarinet
introduces an Elgarian secondary theme, to be accompanied by a solo French
horn, similarly orchestrated when it is heard again in recapitulation. The
movement ends with the return of the slow introduction, gradually fading away
to a whisper.
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