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Concert Waltz for Orchestra No. 1 in D Major, Op. 47

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Alexander Glazunov
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Neeme Järvi, conductor / Yefim Bronfman, piano, plays Tchaikovsky May 5 - 7, 2011
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

By the turn of the 20th century, Russian music had become a mature art. The works of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and Borodin, having been played at home and abroad, established a national character and tradition that those masters wanted to see passed on to succeeding generations. The most important Russian musical torchbearer of the two decades after 1900, the time between the deaths of Tchaikovsky and his contemporaries and the rise of the modern school of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, was Alexander Glazunov.

Glazunov was gifted with an exceptional ear and musical memory (after Borodin's death, he completely reconstructed the Overture to Prince Igor from recollections of Borodin's piano performance of the piece), and early demonstrated his gifts in his native St. Petersburg. By age 19, he had traveled to western Europe for a performance of his First Symphony. During the 1890s, he established a wide reputation as a composer and a conductor of his own works, journeying to Paris in 1889 to direct his Second Symphony at the World Exhibition. In 1899 he was engaged as instructor of composition and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. When his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky- Korsakov, was dismissed from the Conservatory staff in the wake of the 1905 revolutionary turmoil, Glazunov resigned in protest in April and did not return until December 14th, by which time most of the demands by the faculty for the school's autonomy had been granted. Two days later he was elected director of the Conservatory. He worked ceaselessly to improve the curriculum and standards of the Conservatory, and made a successful effort to preserve the school's independence after the 1917 Revolution. In the final years of his tenure, which lasted officially until 1930, Glazunov was criticized for his conservatism (Shostakovich, one of his students, devoted many admiring but frustrated pages to him in his purported memoirs, Testimony) and spent much time abroad. In 1929 he visited the United States to conduct the orchestras of Boston and Detroit in concerts of his music. When his health broke, in 1932, he settled with his wife in Paris; he died there in 1936. In 1972, his remains were transferred to Leningrad and reinterred in an honored grave. A research institute devoted to him in Munich and an archive in Paris were established in his memory.

Glazunov's greatest period of creativity came in the years before his Conservatory duties occupied most of his time and energy. He produced much music in all forms except opera—his last major work, the Saxophone Concerto of 1934, bears the opus number 109. His best-known piece is the Violin Concerto, written just before he was installed as director of the Petersburg Conservatory, but a few other works, notably the ballets Raymonda and The Seasons, the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Symphonies, and the atmospheric tone poems The Kremlin and Stenka Razin, occasionally grace concert programs. "Within Russian music, Glazunov has a significant place because he succeeded in reconciling Russianism and Europeanism," wrote Boris Schwarz. "He was the direct heir of Balakirev's nationalism but tended more toward Borodin's epic grandeur. At the same time he absorbed Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral virtuosity, the lyricism of Tchaikovsky and the contrapuntal skill of Taneyev….He remains a composer of imposing stature and a stabilizing influence in a time of transition and turmoil."

The 19th-century mania for the Viennese waltz raged in Russia as virulently as it did in the rest of Europe—Johann Strauss the Younger spent many summers at the fashionable resort of Pavlovsk, south of St. Petersburg, after he began touring in 1856—and left its progeny in the concert and stage works of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Liadov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and other of the nation's composers. In 1894 Glazunov contributed two fine specimens to the genre of the concert waltz, which are based on the Viennese model that strings together several continuous strains of complementary character.