With the incredible
popularity of Bachís Well Tempered
Clavier, every pianist since the
middle of the eighteenth century has
learned to play it, learned to play
by means of it. The temptation
to try to imitate the master has for
most of them proven to be irresistible.
In fact Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt,
and Wagner seem to be the only notable
exceptions. Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chopin,
Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Taneyev,
Respighi, Vaughan Williams, and Shostakovich
all tried their hand. A few stopped
at the writing of Preludes,*
writing few if any fugues to follow,
and some wrote many more fugues than
preludes. One reason why such pieces
have not been played frequently is that
during the Victorian era they were considered
"mere" exercises, to be sharply
distinguished from those "inspired"
compositions where God entered the composing
process and dictated the music, compositions
where the composerís immortal soul could
shine forth unencumbered by pedantic
artifice and fussy intellectualism.
Iím not making this up, you know.
But, pedantic artifice
and fussy intellectualism or no, I have
always been fascinated by these Bach
imitations, not slightly because they
are in many cases rather good music,
or at the very least fascinating in
the insight they give as to how Bach
appeared to later generations.
Since one hears very
little of Glazunovís piano music, it
is surprising that it is so good, receiving
here the benefit of exceptionally beautiful
performances and recordings. The Op.
62 is a substantial work, perhaps the
most accessible of the set. You can
download the score from www.sheetmusicarchive.net.
The remaining works require listening
through a few times to reveal their
wonders. The preludes feature extensive
runs and arpeggiation. The fugue subjects
feature stepwise harmonies which lead
to much parallel and contrary motion
chromatic passage-work during the working
out, so the overall shape of the music
is much like that of Rachmaninov. Quoting
Shostakovich, the notes say Glazunov
was a committed contrapuntalist in developing
his orchestral textures. But he was
not really a fugue writer like Tchaikovsky
or Taneyev, but more a creator of well
woven sonic tapestries like Schubert
or Rachmaninov. Glazunovís fugues contain
much broken counterpoint, little canon,
and rely a lot on transitions and episodes.
*Before you put Chopin
entirely in this category you should
hear his Prelude and Fugue in a minor
played on the harpsichord.
Other volumes in
the Glazunov complete solo piano music
series on Helios:
Volume 1 CDH 55221, Piano Sonata #1,
Volume 2 CDH 55222, Theme and Variations,
Op 72, etc.
Volume 4 CDH 55224, Piano Sonata #2,