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

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The incidents of 1905 will go down in Russian history forever, involving strife between the Czars and the growing dissenting establishment that would later lead to Revolution. The Conservatory locked-down after the Czar dismissed Rimsky-Korsakov from his composition chair and all the rest responded with resignations of their own, including Glazunov. The lock-down resulted in a whole recreation of the administration in which the students voted for placements. Despite his own secret wishes, Glazunov was voted as the new Director for the Conservatory in 1905. Glazunov’s compositions dating around this time resemble perhaps his secret emotions, his uneasiness of the future, and what his own fate would be. Although Glazunov had loved to compose, it seemed that he had no opportunity anymore, and his output decreased to only one composition a year, sometimes less, the rest of his tenure.
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One of Glazunov’s first moves was one of his most memorable: he declined his salary and turned the annual sum into a scholarship, to the confounded reactions of those around him. There were some extreme anti-semitic sentiments in the royal establishment, which actually led to the banning Jews from the city. However, Glazunov granted permission for Jewish musicians to live in St. Petersburg, or secretly let Jewish musicians stay at his home while they would do performances, before getting turned out. He also ignored the quota of Jewish members in his conservatory, for the simple reason that it would be irreparably harmful to the cause of music! “We don’t keep count here” was his famous statement about Jewish quota at the Conservatory. Many notable Jewish violinists and pianists came out of that Conservatory, and Glazunov knew better than to keep such talented people from enrolling. In general, the years that followed ran relatively smoothly. That is, until World War I.
In an effort to protect his students from certain death at the battlefront, like a father Glazunov wrote countless pleas to the government to keep his students where they needed to be, in the Conservatory. Many were saved, but those who were drafted, he made secret arrangements for the players to learn different instruments and join the military bands. Every lost student weighed on him. However, things turned a lot worse with the Russian Revolution in 1917.

In 1917 Glazunov was left with an impoverished musical institution with plummeting enrollment. All his students were impoverished. Heating was nearly impossible, and attendance to classes suffered for that reason. In the 10 year span that he continued to be Director were some of his most heroic and sacrificial moves to save the Conservatory, which may have been lost forever. He reorganized the institution, which had a crumbling water pipes as well as a crumbling curriculum. The Scholarship list became the Life-or-Death list for many students who couldn’t even afford food. In an effort to use the government for better purposes, Glazunov made dealings with the Soviet Education Ministry in order to get enough food and other resources. I can’t possibly describe all the stories that came out of this time period, but in sum, he treated his students like they were his own children. He would not stand for a lowering of curriculum standards, and yet out of compassion continually gave his own money to students who barely were passing.
A famous incident in 1922 shows just how far Glazunov was willing to risk himself for the greater good on the Conservatory. The Soviet government had publicly announced that they were going to move him to better living conditions, but Glazunov also publicly declined, saying he’d rather live like everyone else and that any gift to him would serve the Conservatory instead. This shocking rejection won Glazunov firewood for “his” Conservatory instead of a new home.
Shostakovich’s experience at Conservatory is one such famous example of Glazunov’s personal attention to his students. He almost did not study music had Glazunov not had given him his verdict and accepted him in. Shostakovich went into Conservatory at the same time as Elena, Glazunov’s adopted daughter did, and they graduated together. Although Glazunov couldn’t help disliking Shostakovich’s dissonant style, he was entirely impressed with his talent, and gave him due praise. In many ways, Glazunov found in Shostakovich a younger self, and that is perhaps why he became so protective of him. When Shostakovich was ill and mal-nourished, Glazunov made sure he could survive along with his family.
Musicologists wonder why Glazunov stayed so long in a country that had become a horrible place for him to endure in. The Conservatory slowly turned against his musical values, leaving him isolated in the midst of the battles for modernist music. His growing poverty and ill-health would certainly be the end of him. But I think there are many reasons that he stayed just a little longer, if one reads between the lines. Glazunov had an obligation to be there. He needed to take care of his mother, but as soon as she died in 1925, his obligations to his family were ended. Glazunov’s next obligation was his Conservatory, which he would not let disappear forever. By 1928, the Conservatory was given special privilege by the government as a place of higher education, and from that time forth flourished. It was only as soon as these things had settled themselves out it became possible to leave, as hard as it was to leave a beloved city and country. With his wife and daughter, they went abroad for good in 1928.
"... As a Russian, I suffer very much that I have no homeland and am forced outside of my homeland to roam crazily, without a certain goal ..." - Glazunov

Glazunov was saddened by the grim change in music that was happening all about him. He was certainly familiar with the avant-garde, and for the most part dismissed it. But one thing Glazunov was known to do was listen to things repeatedly, for example Richard Strauss, and sometimes it worked in his favor. If he wanted to be a naysayer, he would be a knowledgeable, sympathetic one. Often if he wanted to criticize someone, he did not do it without a bit of humor. After all, he knew that no one would listen to him anymore.
Glazunov did some touring in Europe and the US, notably to conduct his symphonies, and conduct with Elena playing his piano concertos. Those in the US begged him to stay and live there, where he would get more money, but he declined, since it was a strange place that he felt isolated in (English wasn’t his best language). Instead, he moved to Paris permanently with his wife and daughter, and lived out the rest of his days tutoring student composers and making some compositions of his own. An interest in jazz and the Saxophone led to his compositions for the instrument, notable the Quartet and Concerto. He died in 1936 impoverished and, for the most part, forgotten. In fact, his death was a shocking announcement to many in the music world since they thought (and probably wished) that he had died much earlier. Such was a man that never belonged in the world, and yet was indispensable to it.
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I wanted to focus more on his person for this Hommage, because it’s the thing that most people aren’t aware of. Rumors circulate of the wrong-doings he did in his life, without much attention to the context or detail. But although Glazunov was a quiet, seemingly aloof man, he was enormously kind and compassionate, a lover and defender of his sense of beauty, honest with himself, and willing to be isolated and hated for his beliefs.
"As for me I have to say that in general, I have scarcely changed my convictions at all and I am happy to remain a backwards musician." - Glazunov
I wanted to write this tribute because I realize that many of us distance the person from the music when we listen to, to the point that we may forget how much of their person was involved. Glazunov was called a living legend in his time, but indeed he wasn’t a legend. He was a real person, not superhuman, not the stuff of fiction. And his music is in no way “unreal” or “irrelevant” to reality. He was a genius of historic proportions with a fascinating life-story, and yet still human. I never want to forget that when I listen to his music, because it’s really encouraging. I can know that such beings walked the earth, and that I can relate to them, because I am human too. This is the 6th time I've celebrated his birthday ever since I discovered him, and I wanted to put something in ink, so to speak, to remember this occasion. I thank God for this man who has impacted my life so profoundly with his music and the model of his life.
I will end with my favorite quote about him:
"Glazunov has created a world of happiness, joy, peace, flight, ecstasy, meditation, and much, much more, always happy, always clear and profound, always incredibly noble, winged ..." - A.Lunacharsky

This concludes my long blog. Hope you go and listen to some of his music!
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Updated Aug-17-2013 at 22:46 by Huilunsoittaja

Classical Music , Personal , Composers