The Ballets of Alexander Glazunov: Scenes de Ballet, Raymonda and les Saisons

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9781443840118: The Ballets of Alexander Glazunov: Scenes de Ballet, Raymonda and les Saisons
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Book by Robert Ignatius Letellier

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Reseña del editor:

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936), the Russian composer, is principally associated with his first ballet Raymonda, the apex of his cooperation with the great choreographer Marius Petipa, then in the last years of his illustrious career. Raymonda is still performed in Russia and intermittently in the West. Glazunov, a precocious musical talent from his childhood, was regarded as the inheritor of the Russian nationalist ideals. However, he soon turned to absolute forms of music, rather than the thematically inspired tone paintings so typical of the Mighty Handful. His symphonic compositions are nonetheless full of Russian folk allusion. His emotional world seems to have been centred in the atmosphere of the classical Russian ballet. The movements in his abstract orchestral scores seem to reflect a glamorous, glittering world. He was the composer of four masterful dance compositions: Scenes de Ballet, Op. 52 (1894), Raymonda, Op. 57 (1898), Les Ruses d'Amour, Op. 61 (1900), and The Seasons, Op. 67 (1900). All became major works in the sunset of the Imperial Ballet, and remain landmarks in the history of theatre music for the dance. Glazunov appears to have been a warm and genial man, a firm friend and modest about his considerable accomplishments. As a teacher he in turn exercised considerable influence on the younger generation through his composition classes at the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he also became director. His life was outwardly uneventful, but single-minded in pursuit of his musical ideals. He was full of honours when he died in Paris on 21 March 1936. The suite Scenes de Ballet, Opus 52 in 8 movements, was written in 1894, and published the following year, dedicated to the orchestra of the Russian Opera, St Petersburg. It was first performed at a concert of the Imperial Music Society in 1895, with the composer conducting from the manuscript score. Each section of this work is structured with great confidence, developed with a magisterial certainty, and defined in its own ideal musical character (Introduction, Marionnettes, Mazurka, Scherzo, Pas d'action, Danse orientale, Valse, Polonaise), and shows the composer's instinctive feel for the dance and its various genres. In Raymonda, a romance tale of the Crusades, Glazunov provided a very considerable ballet score, conceived on the broadest scale for an extended scenario. Some of the scenes, and some of the melodies and tone colours of this ballet pay homage to the Tchaikovskian tradition. The story serves as the pretext for a series of divertissements, almost too profuse, intended to show off the virtuosity and special gifts of the famous soloists. Glazunov was inspired to compose agreeable music, always easy to listen to, sometimes rather bland in its melodic facility, but always showing the composer's great mastery of form, harmony and orchestration. It misses the nobility of inner expressiveness and melodic urgency inherent in Tchaikovsky's music. The act 2 finale especially achieves elegance of form and harmonic audacity, and reveals a firm contrapuntal technique. This work has always been able to stimulate the acting abilities of the great ballerinas. In Russia, where it is still danced, there was a revitalizing revival and production in 1900 directed by the choreographer Gorsky at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. After the October Revolution it was often staged, both at the Kirov in Leningrad and at the Bolshoi. The Seasons has no story as such, and unfolds in four scenes as an evocation of the yearly phases of the natural world. Each is represented by a number of episodes, some amorous, others idyllic, but all dominated by the natural cycle of winter sleep, spring awakening, summer blossoming, and autumn harvest, moving towards sleep again. This was Glazunov's third ballet, the most important and successful of his works for the dance. As a pupil of Rimky-Korsakov, and heir to the Mighty Handful, he was by then the author of a very considerable body of compositions. The Seasons belongs to the pre-Diaghilev tradition of Russian ballet that found its culmination in Tchaikovsky's three masterpieces in the genre. Glazunov shared something of Tchaikovsky's passion for clarity and elegance, and an insistence on the primacy of melody. The fourth scene (Autumn) is best known for its fervent and rhapsodic bacchanale, a display of orchestral pyro-technics. The music is inventive, fresh, attractive, and beautifully scored throughout.

Biografía del autor:

Robert Ignatius Letellier has specialized in the music and literature of the Romantic Period. He has studied the work of Giacomo Meyerbeer (a four-volume English edition of his diaries, a collection of critical and biographical studies, a guide to research, two readings of the operas, as well as compiling and introducing editions of the complete libretti and non-operatic texts, and a selection of manuscripts facsimiles). He has also written on the ballets of Ludwig Minkus, compiled a series of scores on the Romantic Ballet, a sourcebook on the French opera-comique, a study of Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber, and edited anthologies of his overtures, ballet music, and a series of his operatic vocal scores.

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