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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Complete Solo Piano Music

(four Helios CDs Ė each available separately)
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Suite on the name "SASCHA", Op. 2 (1883) [16.01]
Three Miniatures, Op. 42 (1893) [9.02]
Valse de Salon, Op. 43 (1893) [6.56]
Grande valse de concert, Op. 41 (1891) [8.03]
Waltzes on the theme "SABELA", Op. 23 (1893) [3.17]
Petit valse, Op. 36, (1892) [2.53]
Piano Sonata No. 1 in b flat, Op. 74 (1900) [23.42]
rec. 16-17 October 1994
Notes in English, Français, Deutsch.
Cover paintings of historic Moscow
Originally released 1996 as CDA 66833
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Three Etudes, Op. 31(1889) [11.34]
Two Pieces, Op. 22 [7.39]
Trois Morceaux, Op. 49 [9.46]
Nocturne, Op. 37 [5.38]
Miniature in C (1883) [1.25]
Easy Sonata, (1880) [1.33]
Sonatina (1880) [1.45]
Two prelude-improvisations (1918) [9.52]
Theme and Variations, Op. 72 (1900) [17.57]
rec. 26-27 February 1995
Notes in English, Français, Deutsch.
Cover paintings of historic Moscow
Originally released 1996 as CDA 66844
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Prelude and Fugue in d, Op. 62 (1899) [10.58]
Prelude and Fugue in a, Op. 101, No. 1 (1925) [13.50]
Prelude and Fugue in c sharp. , Op. 101, No. 2 (1925) [8.47]
Prelude and Fugue in c, Op. 101, No. 3 (1925) [7.21]
Prelude and Fugue in C, Op. 101, No. 4 (1925) [7.04]
Prelude and Fugue in e (1926) [11.47]
rec. 26-27 October 1995, Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, UK.
Notes in English, Français, Deutsch.
Cover paintings of historic Moscow
Originally released 1996 as CDA 66855
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Prelude and two mazurkas, Op. 25 (1890) [14.45]
Barcarolle sur les touches noires (1887) [3.10]
Two Impromptus, Op. 54 (1895) [5.19]
Idylle, Op. 103 (1926) [5.58]
Triumphal March, Op. 40 [9.41]
Song of the Volga Boatmen, Op. 97 [2.17]
In modo religoso, Op. 38 (1893) [2.51]
Pas de Charactère, Op. 68 (1900) [2.17]
Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 75 (1901) [23.02]
Stephen Coombs (Steinway piano)
rec. 22-23 June, 26 October 1995, Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, UK. DDD
Notes in English, Français, Deutsch.
Cover paintings of historic Moscow
Originally released 1996 as CDA 66866
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Many years ago I read an essay by Vaughan Williams lamenting that critics seem unable to acknowledge that German style is just that, and that musicians of other countries do and should write music in styles other than the German style. He avowed that German style isnít better, it isnít "correct" and all other styles "incorrect"; itís just that at a time when most symphony conductors and soloists were German, this was the music they admired most and played most and worked at most. He called for critics and music-lovers to be aware of other styles and judge them according to their own lights. This was also a rallying cry in Russia at the end of the Nineteenth Century against the invasion of German Style in Russia when a native Russian Style would be more appropriate for Russian music. To the Russians of that time Anton Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky were the epitome of German style invading Holy Mother Russia, and their works were savaged in the Russian press for being too German, even as they were savaged in the German Press for being too Russian. Itís no wonder Tchaikovsky had anxiety problems. DvořŠkís most ďGermanĒ Symphony is his No. 9, "From the New World," which is his most popular and widely played, but his other symphonies in the "non-German" style are equally masterful, and are progressively becoming better appreciated. It may be the current interest in world music that is finally diluting the influence of the German definition of well crafted music.

The symphonies of Glazunov, and these piano works, show that Glazunov was the master of the whole range of styles. As you can see above, some of his piano works are Preludes and Fugues, but there is a variety of other forms as well. Anyone of any critical persuasion could find some of his works to love. His "German" Sixth Symphony and Eighth Symphony have generally been most popular in the West whereas his Fifth Symphony has been most popular in Russia. Like most Elgar and most Vaughan Williams, the Glazunov Symphony No. 5 is completely in the "non-Germanic" style. No sonata form. No theme-development-recapitulation. Each phrase of the symphony arises directly from what has come before, as the circular waves spreading on a pond, each centered on the point where the stone hit the water, arise from the preceding wave and just continue until they hit the shore. This metaphor was once used in an essay to describe the form of a William Byrd Fantasia. It is to be noted that William Byrd did not write keyboard fugues, yet his counterpoint is masterful.

Glazunov did write keyboard fugues. 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 Schubert and Wagner seem to be the only notable exceptions. Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Taneyev, Respighi, Vaughan Williams, and Shostakovich have 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, e.g. Beethoven and Liszt. One reason why such pieces were for a time not played frequently is that during the Victorian era such pieces 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 and not solely 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 Preludes and Fugues. You can download the score from The remaining ones 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 and Taneyev. 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, implicitly contrapuntal sonic tapestries like Schubert or Rachmaninov. Glazunovís fugues contain much broken counterpoint, little canon, and rely a lot on transitions and episodes.

Chopin represents an infusion of Slavic musical sensibility into Western musical style, but Chopin was so morbid, and gave rise to Schumann who was even more morbid. What Glazunov gives us is a Chopin, not only without tears, but with magic and glitter, sunshine on new fallen snow, graceful as it is powerful. Glazunov (and Rimsky-Korsakov) could write light music of immense profundity, similar to the childís vision we find in Mozart, only looking east. First Debussy and then Stravinsky took this style back to Paris and revolutionized Western music.***

By 1903 when Zimbalist was studying at the St. Petersburg Conservatory Glazunov was "corpulent". His bi-polar alcoholism would lead him to lock his office door for days at a time, during which time the empty vodka bottles left outside would be regularly refilled by the servant staff. After a few days, he would emerge, all smiles, ready to continue working as conservatory director. He had a difficult and stressful job: Rimsky-Korsakov was politically liberal and academically conservative; violin professor Auer (the Tsarís personal violin soloist) was politically conservative and academically liberal.**** Counterpoint instructor Liadov cut more classes than his students did. The ever charming Glazunov moved the treacherous line between all these shoals and kept these temperaments working together. Both Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov struggled to evade the effects of the Tsarist ban on Jews residing in St. Petersburg so that the talented Jewish students Zimbalist and Heifetz could continue in their studies ó free of tuition charge ó at the Conservatory. In the midst of this Glazunov produced his Violin Concerto; the student Zimbalist played the premier, Professor Auer being politically indisposed.

Glazunov could be stubborn; when Prokofiev won the piano prize, Glazunov flatly refused to award it, and had to be tricked into walking on stage with the prize. Glazunov was most likely soddenly drunk in 1895 when he so badly botched the conducting of Rachmaninovís First Symphony, leaving the orchestra to struggle incapably on as best it could by itself, and sending Rachmaninov into an emotional collapse. According to Testament, by the time Shostakovich was a student, about 1918, Glazunov had retired into a permanent alcoholic haze from which he never thereafter emerged.

Therefore we should not be surprised that Glazunovís music varies widely in mood. The Triumphal March uses the theme that was the marching tune of the victorious Government forces in the American Civil War, with the words "John Brownís body lies a-molding in his grave..." The Waltzes are gorgeously lilting, seeming to float effortlessly off the ground. The longest works, the two Piano Sonatas and the Theme and Variations, written at about the time of the Violin Concerto, are the most substantial works in the set, and all feature very free use of form. He was a courageous explorer in his youth, only to see others, more daring but not necessarily more talented, move rapidly far past him in his maturity. By the time he had finished writing his symphonies he was considered an old stick-in-the-mud by the new revolutionaries Skriabin and Prokofiev and their champions.

* Before you put Chopin entirely in this category you should hear his Prelude and Fugue in a minor played on the harpsichord. Revenge is sweet.

** Ever the Victorian composer, Stravinsky said of Rite of Spring, "I wrote what I heard .... I was the vessel through which [this music] passed." Quoted many places, notably recently in Stravinsky: The Second Exile ... by Stephen Walsh. Stravinsky also said, "I detest Beethoven," but Rite of Spring borrows heavily from Beethovenís Third, Seventh, and Ninth Symphonies. Check it out.

*** Vaughan Williams gives the impression of being wholly original and 100% British while there is not a single great composer from whom he didnít learn something important.

**** Auer later said that Zimbalist, his first truly great student, became a great musician because he cut so many classes. This and more from the excellent biography Efrem Zimbalist: a Life by Roy Malan, ISBN 1-57467-091-3.

Paul Shoemaker

alternative reviews
Volume 1 Colin Clarke

Volume 2 Colin Clarke

Volume 3 Paul Shoemaker


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