Glazunov's A Minor Violin Concerto: Early 20th-century Russia
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Glazunov's A Minor Violin Concerto: Early 20th-century Russia

Glazunov's Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 82. The year 1904.

Portrait of Glazunov, 1906, Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov

The Russian composer Alexander Glazunov was a thirteen-year old when he became a pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In one and a half years he astonished his teacher by completing the entire course in composition, and at the age of sixteen, he had written his first symphony. Besides his technical facility, Glazunov had a remarkable musical memory. When working with Rimsky-Korsakov on completing and orchestrating the score of Borodin's opera Prince Igor it was found that the overture was missing.  Having once heard Borodin play the overture on the piano, Glazunov re-wrote the entire section from memory. In 1899 he was appointed professor of instrumentation at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.  Ten years later he became the Conservatory's director, a post that he held until 1930.

The fact that Franz Liszt appreciated Glazunov as a composer gives us an insight into the reason for his quick rise to popularity.  No doubt attracted to its certain special quality of picturesque suggestion, Liszt was among the first to conduct the Russian composer's music in Europe. Even though influenced by Brahms to some degree, his music is much less abstract and almost always contains a descriptive quality, also reflecting the lyricism of Tchaikovsky, the orchestral virtuosity of Rimsky-Korsakov and the contrapuntal skill of Sergei Taneyev, another important contemporaneous Russian teacher and composer.  Overall, Glazunov's compositions are melodious and exhibit a firm sense of musical form. Although he was considered to be "old-fashioned" by the younger composers Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Glazunov remains a composer of imposing stature and a stabilizing influence during the turbulent years of the Russian Revolution.

The opening measures of the violin part of Glazunov's Op. 82 Concerto

The Glazunov Violin Concerto, with its rhapsodic bursts of melody, sensuous harmonies and technical fireworks, holds a very special position in the violin repertoire.  Composed in 1904, it offers a particularly challenging but rewarding vehicle for the virtuoso performer. Glazunov's Violin Concerto is a one-movement work in two distinct sections. It begins with a long ternary section: an impassioned main theme framing an Andante sostenuto in the center, followed by a development and reprise of the first Allegro. The second section employs a rather free rondo structure with the solo violin inventing decorative variations on the main theme each time it recurs.  As the work assumes greater and greater vitality and drive, the two sections of the concerto are united by a virtuosic cadenza for the violin, prefacing the Finale. The two episodes which make up the Finale are highly diverse: the first is graceful, the second is humorous. The violinist is called upon to produce numerous emotions, from tender lyricism to a fiery pizzicato. The main theme reappears in different guises, finally giving way to a march-like version which concludes in a burst of joy and vigor.

Glazunov dedicated his Violin Concerto to the famous virtuoso Leopold Auer, who was at the time a professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Auer gave the first performance of the Concerto in St. Petersburg on March 4, 1905, with the Symphony Ensemble of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by the composer himself.

Try these links first to watch the complete performance of the concerto:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2mnr81jCWw&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgwhOew5dxA&feature=related

* Author's addendum:

The embedded links above contain a complete performance of the A minor Concerto in two sections.  The work is performed without any pause, and here is very grandly done by Hilary Hahn.  To purchase a recording of this piece, I'd recommend trying any old archival performances which took place in Glazunov's lifetime, simply because the 1920's-30s produced many very interesting recordings of works by then-living composers and have been digitized and remastered in our time, so both the clarity and historical interpretations can be remarkable.  These are only examples,  Please support working artists by purchasing music and art legally.  Thank you.

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Comments (8)

Great musical pieces from another talented musician in history. My thumbs up for this Ileen.

Thank you, Will.

Well, I finally had to go online to get links that worked correctly, but it was certainly well worth it, Ileen. This is quite a technically impressive piece! But I have to say, if it weren’t for a few Tchaikovsky-esque flourishes midway through and near the end, I never would have suspected it’s Russian! I’d never heard this before now and appreciate being turned-on to it!

...Glazunov rocks. Thank you, James.

As I've long contended, the Russian's created rock music!

To Michael & James: I'm sorry, guys, but YouTube disallowed embedding on this recording without telling me! I've updated and added links to get to it. To watch these videos on a PC, right click to open a new tab, and that should do it.

No problem. I just went online and pulled them right up. They disallowed embedding, but they're still easy to access directly.

Ranked #4 in Music & Musicians

The same thing has happened to me with Youtube videos, but I followed the links and was able to listen to the piece. I enjoyed it, and as always your analysis is enlightening.

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