Friday, April 20, 2018

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)

No. 277 the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at

This week’s podcast is the first of four planned montages discussing Russian composers, and the first of two showcasing composers of the St-Petersburg school, home of the “Mighty Five” composers that are most-closely associated with Russian Nationalist  movement in music. That group, led by Mily Balakirev included Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky and César Cui. Among their moist well-known “second generation” devotees figures our featured composer this week, Alexander Glazunov.

Glazunov was significant in that he successfully reconciled nationalism and cosmopolitanism in Russian music. While he was the direct successor to Balakirev's nationalism, he tended more towards Borodin's epic grandeur while absorbing a number of other influences. Glazunov was gifted with an exceptional ear and musical memory; after Borodin's death, he completely reconstructed the Overture to Prince Igor from recollections of Borodin's piano performance of the piece!

The 19th-century mania for the Viennese waltz raged in Russia as virulently as it did in the rest of Europe—Johann Strauss the Younger spent many summers at the fashionable resort of Pavlovsk, south of St. Petersburg, after he began touring in 1856—and left its progeny in the concert and stage works of Tchaikovsky, and that of other Russian composers. In 1894 Glazunov contributed two fine specimens to the genre of the concert waltz, which are based on the Viennese model that strings together several continuous strains of complementary character. Today’s podcast opens with the first of these two waltzes.

Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A minor is one of his most popular compositions. Written in 1904, the concerto was dedicated to violinist Leopold Auer, who gave the first performance at a Russian Musical Society concert in St. Petersburg on 15 February 1905. The violin concerto is quite representative of Glazunov's technically brilliant style. There are no pauses or numbered sections in the concerto; it is nevertheless often described as consisting of either three or four movements, which may be variously labeled; the slow second movement is seamlessly inserted by the composer into the middle of the first movement, which is an original and rare structural peculiarity of this composition.
The Eighth Symphony was composed the same year the concerto was premiered, 1905. This was his last completed symphony: he started a Symphony No. 9 in 1910, but only finished an opening movement before permanently shelving the work. The Eighth is one of the greatest of Glazunov's symphonies, a brilliantly composed work of distinguished themes integrated into compelling architectural forms.

Also in the podcast, his Minstrel's song for cello and orchestra.

The Eighth hardly sounds like the work of a Russian composer of the Silver Age. The fashionable despair and the stylish taste for the apocalyptic that mars the works of other fin de siècle Russian composers like Tchaikovsky is nowhere in evidence in the Eighth. Like Glazunov's earlier symphonies, the Eighth is a powerfully positive symphony with affirmation its aesthetic and exultation its goal.
Glazunov later served as director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory between 1905 and 1928 and was instrumental in the reorganization of the institute into the Petrograd Conservatory, then the Leningrad Conservatory, following the Bolshevik Revolution. He continued heading the Conservatory until 1930, though he had left the Soviet Union in 1928 and did not return. The best-known student under his tenure during the early Soviet years was Dmitri Shostakovich.

I think you will love this music too.