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ClassicsOnline Home » GLAZUNOV, A.K.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 18 - Masquerade / 2 Pieces / Pas de caractere / Romantic Intermezzo (Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky)
Glazunov’s beautifully scored incidental music for Lermontov’s play Masquerade has only survived in manuscript. With characteristic genius, he illustrates both the glittering atmosphere and dances of splendid St Petersburg balls and depicts the horrifying descent into madness of the play’s protagonist, Evgeny Arbenin, who jealously poisons his innocent wife. The shorter works on this disc likewise show Glazunov’s amazing command of orchestral resources, whether evoking an exotic oriental vision, the vivacious spirit of Hungarian music, in the Pas de caractère, or painting a mood of gentle romantic lyricism.
Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936)
Masquerade • Two Pieces • Pas de caractère • Romantic Intermezzo
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 performed.
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. He
remained, however, 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. In 1928 he left
Russia in order to attend the Schubert celebrations in
Vienna. Thereafter he remained abroad, with a busy
round of engagements as a conductor, finally settling
near Paris until his death in 1936.
Lermontov’s play Masquerade, written in 1836, five
years before the writer’s death in a duel, has, over the
years, attracted a number of Russian composers.
Glazunov wrote his incidental music for the play in
1912–13 and this was used for Meyerhold’s 1917
production at the Alexandrinsky Theatre. Lermontov’s
hero, Evgeny Arbenin, is bored with the world,
despising the decadent society of St Petersburg in which
he moves, moody and suspicious. In a plot that follows
the story of Othello, Arbenin is jealous of his wife Nina,
an innocent woman whom he poisons. The play is bitter
in its criticism of contemporary society and was banned
for some thirty years. The score of Glazunov’s
incidental music has survived in manuscript, although it
is not always easy to place the 26 numbers, some very
short, in their exact dramatic context. Much of the music
for the first act seems intended for the second scene, the
masked ball, and the third act brings a second ball, with
the fourth showing Arbenin’s final realisation and
madness. Nina’s song in the third act is not included but
was written in 1916 and published as Op. 106.
The first act opens with a group of noblemen,
including Prince Zvezditch, Kazarin and Sprich playing
cards. The Prince loses and is offered a loan by Sprich,
an Iago figure, from whom he turns coldly away. They
are joined by Arbenin, who is introduced to Sprich, but
treats him with some disdain. Arbenin turns to the
Prince, who admits that he has lost everything and, as an
experienced gambler who has renounced the game, he
plays for the Prince, wins and gives him what he has
won, rejecting his thanks and proposing that they go on
to a masked ball, where all are on the same level. Sprich,
aside, resolves to be better acquainted with Arbenin.
The scene changes to the ball. Arbenin thinks
nothing of the world he is now in. The Prince
approaches, finding the entertainment equally empty,
but Arbenin draws attention to the pleasures of
encounters at a masked ball. The Prince is approached
by a masked woman, who claims his acquaintance and
seems charming enough. They go out together, and Arbenin appears, talking to a masked man, who foretells
misfortune for him, before disappearing into the crowd.
Sprich enters. Two masked women are sitting on a sofa
and when one is approached she rejects the man,
dropping her bracelet as she goes. Arbenin speaks
disparagingly to Sprich, leaving the latter ready to seek
revenge. The woman who had been talking with the
Prince returns, sees the bracelet lying on the ground and
resolves to give it to the Prince as a souvenir. The Prince
enters and takes her hand, trying to persuade her to
remove her mask. She throws the bracelet down, telling
the Prince to take it, before disappearing into the crowd.
Joined by Arbenin, the Prince shows him the bracelet,
which Arbenin seems to recognise.
At home Arbenin awaits his wife’s return,
meditating on his earlier life and the change brought
about by his marriage. His wife Nina is late coming
back, and the love of the couple is apparent in what
follows, but suddenly he notices that her bracelet has
gone, immediately feeling pangs of jealousy and
accusing Nina of infidelity. She leaves the room in tears.
Nina visits Baroness Strahl, where they are joined
by the Prince. Nina has been seeking her lost bracelet
and the Prince now believes that it is Nina who, masked,
had given him her bracelet as a love token. Nina is angry
at the implication and leaves, and the Prince tells the
Baroness of his supposed conquest. It is the Baroness
who, masked, had shown her love for the Prince, and
when he goes she expresses her annoyance at his
boasting of his amorous exploit. She is joined by Sprich,
to whom she is in debt, and he now senses the possibility
of causing mischief.
In his study Arbenin’s thoughts are on jealousy.
Kazarin calls on him, joined shortly by Sprich, who tells
him that Arbenin has been cuckolded. As they await
their host, Arbenin enters, in his hand a letter from the
Prince to Nina that he has intercepted. He does not
notice the visitors and it is clear his jealousy is
The scene changes to the Prince’s apartment. The
Prince is resting, when Arbenin arrives and is denied by
the servant, but resolves to wait for him, then tempted to
kill the Prince as he sleeps. Instead he leaves a note, but
as he goes he meets a veiled woman, in fact the
Baroness, but Arbenin suspects that it is his wife. He
understands his mistake, when he seizes the veil, and her
attempts to explain matters are in vain. When the Prince
appears, she explains to him his danger and her part in it.
When she goes, he sees Arbenin’s note, a dinner, to be
followed, he knows, by a duel.
Kazarin and Arbenin are at cards, the latter now
persuaded to rejoin his friend in their older activities.
The Prince joins them and in response to Arbenin’s
insults tries to provoke a duel, which Arbenin rejects,
preferring, instead, to bring disgrace on the Prince.
The new act opens at a ball, where gossip reveals
that the Baroness has left town and that the Prince has
been caught cheating at cards and has refused a duel.
When he appears, he is shunned by the company, but,
left with Nina, warns her of her husband’s jealousy and
her danger. They are observed by Arbenin and as they
leave he gives way to his jealousy and his resolve to kill
his wife. Nina, with the other guests, is persuaded by
their hostess to sing. Arbenin comes in and leans on the
piano. Nina breaks off and the guests disperse. Left with
Arbenin, Nina asks him to bring her an ice, which gives
him the opportunity to add poison to it. She has
premonitions of danger, but eats the ice, handing the
empty dish to Arbenin, who throws it to the ground.
They have been observed by an unknown figure, and
At home again Nina feels feverish and ill, as her
maid helps her prepare for bed. Arbenin appears, sends
the maid away and locks the door. Nina wonders if the
ice has made her feel worse, and rejects the idea of any
more such entertainments. Arbenin sits by her and rails
on the emptiness of life, a masquerade ending in death.
Nina wants to live, and asks for a doctor, but Arbenin
refuses, eventually admitting that he has poisoned her.
As she dies she continues to protest her innocence, and
Arbenin his incredulity.
In the last act a stranger appears, one who has
sought revenge for an old wrong, and Arbenin learns at
last of his wife’s fidelity, driven to madness. The Prince
too sees Arbenin now out of his mind, while he himself
remains in dishonour.
Glazunov’s Two Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 14, date
from 1886 and reveal his early technical skill in
handling the orchestra. The first is a gently lilting Idylle,
opened by the French horns, an instrument that
Glazunov had been studying, as he developed his
understanding to the orchestra. The second piece,
Rêverie orientale, is characterized by the opening oboe
solo, with its oriental intervals and flavour of
The Pas de caractère, Op. 68, described as genre
slave-hongrois, was written in 1899, the year of the
ballet The Seasons. It was dedicated to Adelina Giuri,
who danced the rôle of Raymonda in the ballet of that
name in the Moscow première of 1900. The Moderato
opening section leads to a lively conclusion.
Intermezzo romantico, Op. 69, was written in 1900.
Scored for a relatively large orchestra, the music
unwinds with gentle lyricism, sustaining a mood
suggested by its title, and, as always, demonstrating
Glazunov’s command of orchestral resources and
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