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Who was this man? An hommage to Glazunov, Part I

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I’m fond of studying composers as human beings. When you think about it, they weren’t anyone too spectacular. They walked streets, interacted with the world, had opinions, experiences, emotions, troubles, just like you and me. And even though they could do things that probably many of us never could do in our lifetimes, they were still real people. Not legends, not gods, not even the stuff of fiction. Just ordinary, mortal beings.
Glazunov was indeed an unusual human being, but he was still human. One of the things I lament about the most with him was his disinclination to write about himself. There are no diaries, no autobiographies, just letters, and a few memoirs of him talking about others. In my studies to get to the bottom of who he was, he was probably the greatest obstacle! He was a deep introvert by most accounts, ever since he was young, and he was fond of simply being alone and thinking by himself.
What did he think about?
As I’ve gotten to know him better through the years, the more I’ve realized, probably a lot of things I think about…
The following is just the sketches of the life story I discovered about this great man.
Alexander “Sasha” Glazunov was born to a wealthy family in 1865 in St. Petersburg. They were a book-publishing family which started several generations before. The Glazunov publishing firm mostly published textbooks for schools, but they had the legendary renown of first publishing Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which Tchaikovsky wrote an opera for. Both parents were musical, and invited professional players to come to their home, which was an apartment complex conjoined to their business firm. Glazunov's own uncle, the brother of his father, was the Mayor of St. Petersburg.
Sasha was the oldest child. He had at least one sister, Elena, and a brother, Mikhail, who were younger, possibly even another sibling. As far as companionship went between them, I can only assume they went on good terms, ever since his sister Elena had been turned out of the house for some unknown, probably scandalous reasons, he continued to visit her and give her money to support her for many years. What pressure he must have had on him when he was young! No doubt his parents planned to give over the publishing firm to him, as they had done for generations before.
But Glazunov was not of the same business-minded stuff as his forefathers. No.
Before he really got acquainted with music, he loved to draw, and he was really good at it. He liked to take cards with the Kings, Queens and Jacks on them, and trace them on another blank sheet on top. He became very talented with realistic drawing, depicting horses with the slightest detail. Details, details, details…

His parents got him a piano tutor when he was 9, but within a few years, he was excelling so fast that they decided to go looking for someone else. That’s when they met Balakirev, Sasha’s mother’s former piano tutor. Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov both came in contact with him shortly, and had discovered that the young Sasha with the strikingly beautiful eyes was writing some short piano pieces. Impressed, Rimsky-Korsakov thought to teach him. Glazunov was about 14.
Within the course of a year, Glazunov had absorbed what most students learn in 4 years of Conservatory training, which quite frightened Rimsky-Korsakov. This was no ordinary child! He was not even a student anymore, but a colleague. On par with Mendelssohn!
And Glazunov wasn't just admired for his quick ability to learn. He had a phenomenal memory, terrifyingly photographic, and it was skill he had all his life that didn't decay with age. It was part of why people called him a superhuman, because he could hear pieces only one time, and be able to remember the whole thing down to the smallest detail! Anything he ever learned, he could play from memory, and his sight-reading abilities was also astounding. He also remembered names and faces strikingly well, which served him to greater use as a personable teacher and Director many years later.
At the age of 16 Glazunov was prompted to write a symphony, which he called the “Slavic.” In it, he alluded to various folk tunes that he heard the gardeners of their summer home sing. At the age of 16, it was completed, and with the help of his teachers got it performed, but anonymously. When the audience clamored to know who was the writer of such a mature symphony, the young shy Glazunov came on stage, not even wearing a formal suit but a student’s uniform. It goes without saying that there was mixed reactions of joy and unpleasant shock. The next weeks to follow, there were rumors about that Rimsky-Korsakov was somehow paid to write the symphony for the spoiled baby brat, and awful caricatures were drawn of him in such a way. Reduced to tears, Glazunov could only go into hiding, but his mentors didn’t let the press get a handle on it and squashed the rumors immediately. One such person at the premiere was a wealthy man named Belyayev. He loved the piece, and was in fact so moved by the prospect of a prodigy like Sasha, he decided to dedicate his life from then on to musical patronage. Belyayev started up his own music publishing company, and published all of Glazunov’s subsequent works for free! Quite a rise in fortune!! From better to awesome in the space of a year.

Sounds like a happy ending, but it was only the beginning.
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Updated Aug-20-2013 at 03:45 by Huilunsoittaja

Classical Music , Personal , Composers