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

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"It is impossible for me to occupy myself with other things, I'm obsessed with music. When I could not compose, I had the feeling of wasting my time." - Glazunov
He soon became acquainted with the musical establishment in St. Petersburg and beyond. It was a rigorous life of composing 3-4 major compositions each year for Belyayev, literally a full-time position. He was originally stylistically a Nationalist, and loved all things related, and took up the opinions of his mentors for the most part. But he entered his own “Enfante Terrible” stage where he began writing works with bizarre and lurid plots, and the use of hyper-chromaticism and extended instrumental technique (flutter-tonguing and glissandos) made even Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov grimace. This is a part of Glazunov’s past that he perhaps tried to hide when he got older. It was in the middle of this experimental phase that he encountered Tchaikovsky.

Glazunov was critical of the Moscow composers, but there were aspects of the composers like Tchaikovsky that he was really impressed with. Unlike all the composers before him, Glazunov was the first of the Nationalists to grow strong ties with the cosmopolitan style that Tchaikovsky, Arensky, and Taneyev all shared. It took many years, but Glazunov began to diverge away from the radical Nationalist views he grew up with. It is indeed hard to shake habit. Glazunov never stopped loving what he used to, but he grew into composers like Wagner much quicker than his mentors.
One can trace the history of his interests through the dedications he made for many of his works. He dedicated pretty much everything he ever wrote to someone or several people. The transition is specially apparent in his Symphony dedications. He moved from Rimsky-Korsakov and Liszt to Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein and Taneyev in the course of only 15 years! These two separate camps, the Nationalists and the Cosmopolitans, were at odds with each other, and yet Glazunov was the bridge between them both.
The kind of friendship that Glazunov had with Tchaikovsky cannot be underestimated. Glazunov loved to give scores to Tchaikovsky of his own music to the point Tchaikovsky was overwhelmed and flattered. Glazunov constantly went to Tchaikovsky for advice, but ironically made fun of Tchaikovsky too. Their relation was mostly a musical one, but there are rumors that there was a deeper bond between them, that certain secrets were traded between each other. Glazunov knew about Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality and the strange circumstances of his death, but safe-guarded the secret so well that he didn’t reveal it until 20-25 years later. They were kindred spirits, something not spoken of much in the music critic world.
Glazunov liked conducting, but was very inexperienced and nervous. He had his go at it with one of his favorite compositions, the Lyric Poem (also named by Tchaikovsky) when he was in his early 20s. He described the experience as frustrating, because he didn’t know how to control the orchestra. Ironically, the musicians kept asking him, “What do you want us to do? What do you want?” and he didn’t really know what he wanted! He wasn’t a demanding kind of person, never argumentative, never strongly assertive. The musicians complained that he didn’t focus on the right things whenever he did have something to say! Plus, when it really came to performance, he would get severe stage fright, and accounts speak of him refusing to go on stage, or stand on the podium for many minutes after he was expected to begin. This stage fright had enough influence on him to make it appear as if he was drunk, although he often drank to calm his nerves. His reserve with musicians became a signature of his conducting in the future. He was never really cut-out for it, unless it was his own music. Ironically, his sole recording of the Seasons is truly remarkable and unique, and perhaps was a sign that he had developed a better communication technique at the end.
Roughly around the years 1894-5, Glazunov had an emotional crisis. The circumstances of it are mostly unknown, possibly to do with Tchaikovsky’s death, likely to do with a sickness he developed, but it was a long period of ill-health, depression, and composer’s block. It was likely that around this time that he vowed never to marry. It may also have been at this time that Glazunov became permanently dependent on alcohol. Nevertheless, one of his greatest compositions, the 5th symphony composed in 1895, was not in vain, and shows himself having conquered his emotional struggles.
Composing Teamwork-bild_3-jpg
After many years of successful commissions and compositions, including Raymonda, Glazunov became a teacher at the St. Petersburg conservatory, at the age of 34. He instantly became a favorite among his students because of his teaching style which was very straight-forward and without highfalutin. Glazunov wasn’t much of a talker, you see, and if he would speak, it was pithy and to the point. He may have been grim on the outside, but he was always gentle. His grimace was perhaps the most feared by his students, if they were to bring to him an assignment for which he was to grade. He was impeccable with his ability to catch mistakes. It makes one almost think that perfection was in his nature, rather than something learned.

Glazunov also had an unusual sense of humor. His ideas of “jokes” were often quips and puns, and almost always musical. Although he rarely smiled, if he ever played a prank on his students, that student never forgot it. This sense of humor is present in his music as well.
Glazunov was also gifted with an ability to see talent. Prokofiev was such an example, though he was always the thorn in the side for Glazunov. Glazunov expected Prokofiev to be a disciplined student who would follow the old order, but ever since he began to his Enfante Terrible stage, Glazunov hated everything he ever composed. Nonetheless, Prokofiev admired Glazunov terribly, and they always were friends in spirit, even though not in music.
Unlike Glazunov’s relation with Stravinsky. Glazunov’s main problem with Stravinsky was his lack of a basis in theory for composition. No doubt Stravinsky’s brazen quality hit too close to home for Glazunov, who indeed had his own Enfante Terrible stage. Stravinsky idolized Glazunov for his perfection, but as we all now, that all went sour, because he could never get Glazunov's full approval. But in truth, Glazunov did very little to inspire the hatred he later met from Stravinsky. Those who become disillusioned by their idols often turn to revenge.

Updated Aug-10-2013 at 16:55 by Huilunsoittaja

Classical Music , Personal , Composers


  1. Orfeo's Avatar
    That is excellent Huilunsoittaja. This ought to be printed on Wikipedia. We need a fresh yet full biography of this composer.