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Raymonda: An Introduction to an Adventure (blog 1)

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In 1897, Russian composer Alexander Glazunov was commissioned his very first ballet. This was different than the other 2 commissions that he had earlier, one in 1892 where he was asked to take his Chopiniana suite and allow it for use in a ballet, thereby becoming what was the beginnings of Les Slyphides, and his Scenes de Ballet op. 52 commissioned by the St. Petersburg Opera Orchestra. Les Sylphides was created after the fact, but it made a great impression on him as did the idea of ballet itself. Ever since Glazunov saw Tchaikovsky's ballet "Trilogy," he vowed that he would make his own ballet in the same grand style and tradition. Les Slyphides and Scenes de Ballet were only preludes to what he wanted to do with his skill, and in many ways he made them serve to prepare him for the big commission he was about to receive, to gain favor with impresarios, and eventually find the commission that reached his heart.

Much is lost to history. Was Glazunov a part of the inception of the commission itself? Was it the product of years of his begging the ballet impresarios for something that he really enjoyed writing about? What about the librettist, Lidia Pashkova? Who was she, and why did she appear with this story "after Glazunov's own heart" at the right time? Perhaps in fact this ballet was not really just about pleasing one side or the other, but a collective effort to do something that everyone enjoyed, namely, a ballet of epic medieval fantasy.

In Glazunov's dream-like musings, the high middle ages were among his greatest fancies, ever since he was young. In his teenage years he attempted an opera called the Miserly Knight based on Pushkin's text, but he did not complete it. Not necessarily interest in only the Russian middle ages, but of Europe overall. He visited castles and cathedrals in France and Germany, and swooned over the legends behind the artistry, a very romantic, idealist approach to medieval history. Noble maidens, brave knights, the religious fervor of the people. These things inspired many happy feelings for himself, which didn't end with Raymonda but went even a step further when he wrote his suite From the Middle Ages op. 79, which has hints of Raymonda. This is more than what most of his colleagues went as pertains to appreciating the West, considering Russia was not nearly as involved with the Crusades as western Europe.

Now follows the script! In the summer of 1897, Glazunov was given this plot: in Hungary in the High Middle Ages, in the years of the Crusades, there lived a young princess named Raymonda. She is betrothed to a knight, Jeanne de Brienne, who has gone off to fight in the Crusades, and has been away for a very long time, months, perhaps longer. In the meanwhile, it is her Name's Day, and it is her coming-of-age celebration as well. She has 2 friends named Clemence and Henrietta who have their betrothed with them already and expect to be wed soon, and she grows tired and somber during the festivities at remembering she doesn't have Jean de Brienne at her side. Her only consolation is a message that from the knight saying that he would return the next day if she is so willing to accept him back, and she receives a portrait of him. Melancholy Raymonda goes to sleep that night with the letter and portrait in her arms.

In the middle of the night, Raymonda has a dream where she meets the White Lady. The White Lady is a stone statue that stands in the courtyard of the palace, who is said to be enchanted and takes care of her family when trouble draws near. This is what the White Lady has come to herald. First, she presents to Raymonda an illusion of Jean de Brienne. They rejoice at meeting each other and Raymonda is encouraged. But his illusion is suddenly taken away, and in his place a new, foreign man stands, a man without a name, but with a very memorable, handsome face. This man, an Arab, the supposed enemy of the Crusaders, advances on her not to harm her, but to seduce her. Raymonda is stricken with painful feelings: Jean is not here, but instead another handsome man! But then this man is not to be trusted or to be loved instead? Raymonda goes mad and falls into the Arab's arms in submission, but the dream soon fades, and she wakes up outside. She had slept-walked! Her friends Clemence and Henrietta find her and take her back to the castle.

The next day, the Palace prepares for the arrival of Jean de Brienne and his cohorts. Raymonda knows that her dream was an omen, that someone is to come for her, and sure enough, it proves true. An Arab prince named Abderakhman comes to the Palace with signs of peace, but when he sees Raymonda, he immediately falls in love. He tries to make her listen to him, but she is afraid of him, of what could happen. Her love for Jean de Brienne is strong still, but her loyalty is tempted. Raymonda's friend stand in solidarity with her so that she doesn't feel alone. Raymonda shows much courage as Abderakhman shows her all the wonders of Arabia, presenting his dancers and slaves for her amusement. When Raymonda shows no signs of budging, he calls for a feast, where East and West reconcile, and he gives her a grace cup. Raymonda, knowing that her destiny lies with what will happen next, takes the forbidden cup. As the whole court goes on merrily in festivities, everyone becomes intoxicated, including Raymonda, and Abderakhman seizes her, planning to abduct her and take her away. Perhaps she wasn't resisting anymore anyhow. But then! Jean de Brienne breaks through the gates with his men, sees the chaos ensuing, and attacks Abderakhman, taking Raymonda back. A duel is challenged, and so the Western Knight and the Eastern Prince battle for Raymonda, who knows she has no power now for her fate, that she must accept whatever happens. However, as Abderakhman is about to slay Jean, the White Lady appear on the courtyard walls, and shines a beam of light into his eyes. Abderakhman is struck blind, and Jean does the finishing blow, killing the offender. Jean de Brienne and Raymonda reconcile gratefully, both admitting their faults, but for his winning of the duel, Jean is then blessed by Raymonda's parents the King and Queen, and so their wedding is to be celebrated. The Hungarian wedding celebration itself is the entire 3rd act of the ballet, but it could be said to have the best music. So Raymonda and Jean de Brienne live happily ever after.

Suitable commissions for works not only tied me, but, on the contrary, inspired me. For example, I had a special zeal rise up and in a rather short time composed the ballet Raymonda...
- Glazunov, on the Work of a Composer

Etudes? Impossible works-profilepic14330-jpg
Glazunov ~1897

To be continued!
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Updated Feb-21-2016 at 20:38 by Huilunsoittaja

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