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Thread: Making friends with Glazunov's symphonic poems, pictures, fantasies, rhapsodies

  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kreisler jr View Post
    Hurwitz trashed most of the Soviet/Russian recordings recently, but that's only him.
    Hurwitz, where to start. As much as I admire his musical fortitude, I am mostly repelled by his dismissiveness of anything European, including making fun of foreign names. ( He thinks of himself as an entertainer. Desperate if I'm honest).
    Nothing wrong with prefering American over European as he is American (judging by his accent), yet I find his dismissal of certain works/composers somewhat narcissistic of his own high opinion in matters classical. Full of hot air as you can tell by his appearance.
    As for Glazunov, his reference works are The Seasons and his Violin Concerto. Actually there's not a lot to dislike with his Orchestral output, including his symphonies.

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  3. #32
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    Alexander Glazunov’s Poème lyrique, op. 12 (1884-7) and Poème épique, op. posth. (1933-4)

    The first and last symphonic poems of Alexander Glazunov make an interesting contrast, both musically and concerning two different genres of poetry. The son of a well-to-do St. Petersburg publisher, Glazunov’s music was often influenced by literature. His Lyric Poem written around the age of 20 is a remarkably mature work. I haven’t seen the score but the andantino piece sounds like it’s in gently rocking 9/8 meter. This triple meter with triple subdivisions is serene here, yet active and passionate as are the harmonies, surging dynamics, and tremolando strings. At 3:48 in the USSR SSO/Svetlanov version there’s a turn to the minor key, and I suddenly wondered if this work influenced the famous third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony.

    The Epic Poem is not as well-known as most of the other symphonic poems, but it is well worth hearing. It opens with a ceremonial character, in the key of A minor and sometimes with modal harmony suggesting olden times. The composer died around two years after it was completed, and it gives a sense of looking backward. I don’t know whether there is a program behind it. To me “epic” in the title might suggest the composer’s own life, now battle-scarred from long high-level involvement in the classical music world during turbulent times!

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    Stenka Razin: Symphonic Poem in B minor, op. 13 (1885) is the one work that Alexander Glazunov himself designated as a symphonic poem -- suggesting a literary source, integrated narrative and musical structures, rich harmonic and timbral colors, and tone painting. It is based on a poem by Dmitry Sadonikov (1883) published as a “folk epic” about the 17th century Cossack leader. The first theme is the “Song of the Volga Boatmen” (printed by Balakirev in 1866) and the second a lyrical clarinet motif evoking the Persian princess who Stenka Razin brings aboard. There is much information about this work on the internet; I’ve used excellent program notes from the wonderful Chandos release featuring the Royal National Scottish Orchestra/Neeme Järvi. At the beginning repeated and accented triplets in the strings set up a high level of excitement that recurs after relaxed interludes. Notable are the suggestion of a “development” after 7:05 in the RNSO recording, which becomes a tough battle. The mixture of major and minor chords in modal harmony as well as rapid chromatic modulations set a somber and tense mood throughout. Joen_cph's description of the piece as "quasi-Rimskyan" is right on, and not surprising in that Glazunov had been Rimsky-Korsakov's private student in the four years before composing it. Stenka Razin is a great achievement by the 20-year-old Glazunov.
    Last edited by Roger Knox; Sep-16-2021 at 02:16.

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  6. #34
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    Glazunov's The Forest: Fantasy in C# Minor, op. 19 (1887) was inadvertently left off my earlier list. It is the composer's first orchestral fantasy -- a type that is sometimes included in lists of symphonic poems. The work is considerably longer than Stenka Razin and I don't think it hangs together as well. Nevertheless it is an advance for the 22-year composer with many points of interest, and is well worth hearing. In this fantasy I think the forest is an enchanted one. The piece opens mysteriously, the mood becoming ambiguous. Then a slow section is intended to depict nymphs who it seems turn to frolicking. An aggressive nocturnal hunt follows with a strongly-accented repeated-note rhythm in the strings. Neither Balakirev nor Rimsky-Korsakov liked this work, Balakirev observing that there is no hunt at night. But there are no nymphs at all -- this is a fantasy! The last four minutes are peaceful and pastoral with a piccolo bird at dawn. (Flute and piccolo players must love Glazunov!)

    I'm sure there's more to the story and if anyone knows a good source for the meaning and interpretation of Glazunov's program music please post. The recording in Glazunov Orchestral Works, Vol. 13 by The Moscow SO/Anissimov on Naxos (2000) is excellent.
    Last edited by Roger Knox; Sep-17-2021 at 17:13.

  7. #35
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    Glazunov’s The Sea: A Symphonic Fantasy, op.28 in E major (1889) has a straightforward plan: the sea swells up; there is a tremendous storm; the storm subsides and the sea is calm. The composer’s program begins: “A man sat on the shore and the various pictures of nature passed before his eyes.” The man stays put throughout the storm and the program ends with: “And everything that the man had seen and all that he had felt in his soul - he recounted later to other men.”(1) The program’s language is almost Biblical and there may be allegory involved. Anyway, an important thing in this work is the man’s interior life and what he passes on to his community. Glazunov is a late Romantic composer and the work certainly awakens my feelings. In the first section after the opening wave action the main theme emerges in C major, is joined by a lovely obbligato in the violins, and comes to a leisurely close. Then the “development” section features a remarkable storm including fearsome trombone slides and an increase in tempo, bringing the action to a climax. The final section begins with the triumphant return of the main theme, now in the home key of E major. The music becomes calmer and the celebrated spellbinding close of the work comes with canonic restatement of this melody in progressively lower registers.

    With its clear formal structure and imagery The Sea is an improvement on Glazunov’s previous symphonic fantasy The Forest. The work is dedicated to the memory of Wagner (quasi-Wagnerian as joen_cph says) and shows its composer moving out from the Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov circles, with increasing interest in Tchaikovsky. He begins to see himself as an intermediary between Russia’s musical St. Petersburg and Moscow factions. As for the symphonic fantasy genre itself, I find that Glazunov’s genre distinctions are quite precise and should be so used. Comparing The Sea to the symphonic poem Stenka Razin, what differs is simply that The Sea is more fantasy, less poem. And for keeners this cited article(2) will make fascinating reading, using Tchaikovsky’s symphony fantasy Francesca da Rimini as its detailed example. Nevertheless, the author Catherine Coppola cautions in the title “The Elusive Fantasy” that we shouldn’t be dogmatic in using such terms.
    _________________________
    1. https://mikrokosmos.tumblr.com/post/...phonic-fantasy
    2. https://www.jstor.org/stable/746856
    Last edited by Roger Knox; Sep-18-2021 at 23:09.

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  9. #36
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    Below are the 12 Glazunov orchestral works I will write about in this thread. The genres include: symphonic poem; symphonic fantasy; musical picture; rhapsody; ballad; legend. Lots of exciting and enjoyable music; coming next is a tour de force, Rhapsodie orientale.

    Poème lyrique, op. 12

    Stenka Razin: Symphonic Poem, op. 13

    The Forest: Fantasy, op. 19

    The Sea: A Symphonic Fantasy, op. 28

    Rhapsodie orientale, op. 29

    The Kremlin: Symphonic Picture, op. 30

    Spring: A Musical Picture, op. 34

    From Darkness to Light: Fantasia for Orchestra, op. 53

    Ballade, op. 78

    Fantasie finnoise, op. 98

    Karelian Legend for Orchestra, op. 99

    Poème épique, op. posth.

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  11. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Knox View Post
    Below are the 12 Glazunov orchestral works I will write about in this thread. The genres include: symphonic poem; symphonic fantasy; musical picture; rhapsody; ballad; legend. Lots of exciting and enjoyable music; coming next is a tour de force, Rhapsodie orientale.

    Poème lyrique, op. 12

    Stenka Razin: Symphonic Poem, op. 13

    The Forest: Fantasy, op. 19

    The Sea: A Symphonic Fantasy, op. 28

    Rhapsodie orientale, op. 29

    The Kremlin: Symphonic Picture, op. 30

    Spring: A Musical Picture, op. 34

    From Darkness to Light: Fantasia for Orchestra, op. 53

    Ballade, op. 78

    Fantasie finnoise, op. 98

    Karelian Legend for Orchestra, op. 99

    Poème épique, op. posth.
    You forgot one of the best: From the Middle Ages. This is Glazunov at his best. Another work I wholeheartedly recommend is his Scènes de ballet. Oh, simply gorgeous music. I suspect you'll love both works.

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  13. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by MusicSybarite View Post
    You forgot one of the best: From the Middle Ages. This is Glazunov at his best. Another work I wholeheartedly recommend is his Scènes de ballet. Oh, simply gorgeous music. I suspect you'll love both works.
    Thanks for the suggestions. I haven't listened to them yet but look forward to doing so. So far I've found that in the various orchestral genres his inspiration was wide ranging. Do you have any preferences for recordings?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Knox View Post
    Thanks for the suggestions. I haven't listened to them yet but look forward to doing so. So far I've found that in the various orchestral genres his inspiration was wide ranging. Do you have any preferences for recordings?
    Yes, I do. Järvi/Chandos for From the Middle Ages and Svetlanov/Melodiya for Scènes de Ballet.

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    3 things I like about Glazunov's orchestral music:

    1. Harmony: subtlety, e.g. frequently changing the harmonization of melodies without drawing attention to the variants. It maintains the listener's interest and avoids repetitious cliches.

    2. Emotional affect and communication: earlier I mentioned a sense of "from darkness to light," but there is also "consolation without mawkish sentimentality" at some point. Audiences appreciate that especially in difficult times like now.

    3. Absence of extremes: no emotional hysteria, esoteric mysticism, or bombastic nationalism.

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    The composition date of Glazunov's Rhapsodie orientale, or Oriental Rhapsody, op. 29 (1889) might be compared with those of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade (1888) and Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances" (1890) from the opera Prince Igor. All of these works feature folk and traditional music of Central Asia; Glazunov's adaptations of "oriental" Turkic and Mongol music are contemporary, not derivative, of those by Rimsky and Borodin. One source I've read says that Glazunov actually got more deeply and insightfully into this music than did the older composers. As we have seen, Glazunov was already a master by the age of 20, who continued to work with Rimsky not as student or assistant but as collaborator. My italics are intended to emphasize that Glazunov's rapid development means that he should not be assumed to be an epigone of Russian Five composers.

    As for the orchestral rhapsody genre, the Rhapsodie orientale does comes later than Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in its orchestral version (1857-1860) or Chabrier's Espanã rhapsody (1883). But what a grand, virtuosically-conceived and orchestrated rhapsody it is! In five parts connected by a simple program, it features traditional rhapsodic aspects of folk music, improvisational character, and a tendency towards delirium (part 5). It requires an exciting conductor, excellent orchestra, and great sound to really come off. I have enjoyed the Moscow SSO/Veronica Dudarova recording on Melodiya, but whichever one you listen to be sure it includes all five parts (the Hong Kong PO/Alameida has only four).
    Last edited by Roger Knox; Sep-28-2021 at 00:09.

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    Glazunov’s The Kremlin, op. 30 (1890) is identified with the musical picture, a genre that had a certain vogue in later 19th-century Russia; some critics include Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bare Mountain (1867) and Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880) as musical pictures. The term was intended for works that emphasized striking images more than the narrative or personal expression often found in symphonic poems. (These distinctions are not hard and fast, though.)

    The composer chose Moscow’s unique Kremlin in its historical context and created a memorable three-part work. I am moved especially by Part 2 – In the Cloister – for its sombre and ancient-sounding chordal passages, though by the end I was quite sad. Part 1, Popular Festival, features Slavonic folk dance material with ingenious changing metres, cross-rhythms, and different subdivisions of the beat. Part 3, Reception and Farewell of the Princes, is lively and at times majestic, with terrific brass and percussion. I was thrilled on my first hearing, perhaps less so on my second. In any case my idea of the Kremlin is now much changed, and I look forward to seeing and learning more of this institution.
    Last edited by Roger Knox; Sep-29-2021 at 03:21.

  21. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by joen_cph View Post
    Have you tried the 4th, probably the most immediately tuneful & a wonderful work? If you like some Tchaikovsky, there's a good chance you'll like that one too.
    Having listened twice to the Glazunov Symphony No. 4, op. 48 (1893), yes, I agree with the commendations of this work in a number of posts. The version on YT by the Moscow RSO/Nathan Rachlin is convincing. As with the symphonic poems, it is easy to "make friends" with this attractive composition. But with a symphony structural aspects come to the fore and it will take me more hearings to delve into that. Certainly the non-standard form of the composition is a gutsy move by the composer. And at the micro level Glazunoy's phrasing is sophisticated, as I've already noticed in the next work under discussion -- the musical picture Spring, op. 34 (1891).

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    Spring, op. 34 (1891) is a different work than the “Spring” part of Glazunov’s ballet The Seasons, op. 67. It is a musical picture, but one having little in common with The Kremlin. I find this piece very simpatico in a number of ways. To begin with it is quite easy to follow, being based on the rondo principle of a refrain with contrasting sections. It is in D major, pastoral with many piccolo, flute, and clarinet bird calls, and having harmony less complex and more diatonic than the Glazunov compositions discussed previously. In a swaying ¾ meter the music is elegant, by a master of the orchestral waltz. After a few hearings I “left” the outdoors and started to imagine the ballet with its gestures and phrasing of solo or group dancing. (Glazunov composed three ballets.) When the glockenspiel enters The Nutcracker comes to mind. The suggestion of enchantment is strong; this is not only a realistic spring. For me nostalgia is now intense: for childhood, perhaps in that the meter is also of the lullaby; for nature, and idyllic outdoors of my youth; for early experiences of orchestral music.

    I note Glazunov’s long opening phase, for it is not until m. 16 that the clarinet enters with a different motif. (There is a score with one of the recordings on YT.) Here there is an elision; the first note is also the last note of the initial phrase. It is a wonderfully smooth effect, barely noticeable, that produces slight asymmetry in phrase length and avoids stiffness or monotony. The next 14 measures offer simple woodwind counterpoint and it is not until m. 30 that the passage reaches a sense of closure, with the opening phrase now repeated by a full violin section. When I took theory lessons there was a time where we learned to write all kinds of musical phrases, sentences, and double periods, variously extended or contracted, as part of the form requirements. I miss that time too.
    Last edited by Roger Knox; Oct-05-2021 at 01:50.

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    The symphonic fantasia From Darkness to Light, op. 53 (1894) is said to have been motivated by Glazunov's grief at the recent, unexpected death of Tchaikovsky. It opens in B minor, the key of Tchaikovsky's Symphony no. 6 (Pathétique) that had been premiered shortly before the composer's death. At the beginning is some of Glazunov's most heartfelt and mournful music, but later (spoiler alert!) the mood shifts along with a key change to C major. A hopeful theme emerges that leads into the final Allegro section. The music modulates constantly with rapid chord changes, creating a sense of delirium for me. Then the tempo increases leading to a triumphant close. In description it may sound too obvious. Yet the work is one of Glazunov's most harmonically adventurous and as a listening experience I find it convincing throughout.
    Last edited by Roger Knox; Oct-11-2021 at 23:39.

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