Intermezzo romantico, Opus 69 (1900)
Alexander Glazunov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on August 10, 1865, and died in Paris, France, on March 21, 1936.
Approximate performance time is eleven minutes.
Alexander Glazunov started piano studies at the age of nine. By the age of eleven, he had begun composing. In 1879, Glazunov met Mily Balakirev, the founder of group of Russian nationalist composers known as “The Five” or “The Mighty Handful” (the other members included Alexander Borodin, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov). Thanks to Balakirev, Glazunov began studies with Rimsky-Korsakov. Those studies lasted only two years, but formed the basis for an enduring friendship, and Glazunov’s lifelong veneration of the senior composer.
In 1882, the sixteen-year-old Alexander Glazunov enjoyed a tremendous success with the world premiere of his First Symphony, conducted by Balakirev in St. Petersburg. One individual who was greatly impressed by the Symphony was the Russian music publisher, Mitrofan Belyayev. Belyayev decided to further the careers of Russian composers through the establishment of the Russian Symphony Concerts in St. Petersburg, and a music publishing concern in Leipzig.
The “Belyayev Circle,” which included such composers as Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Anatoly Lyadov, and many others, helped to bridge the Russian nationalist efforts of Balakirev’s “Mighty Handful” with Western music traditions. Indeed, Glazunov, who traveled extensively throughout Europe, is viewed as one of the composers who most successfully achieved this reconciliation and synthesis. Glazunov was a prolific composer, whose works include numerous symphonies and independent orchestral works, ballets, choral and solo vocal compositions, and several chamber pieces.
In addition to his success as a composer, Glazunov was a respected teacher. In 1899, he was appointed as a professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In 1905, he was named the Director of the Conservatory, a position he held until 1928. Glazunov also took a great interest in conducting, although this was probably not his foremost talent (he led the 1897 world premiere of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony in St. Petersburg, an unmitigated disaster that plunged the young pianist/composer into a profound depression).
Glazunov’s 1900 evocative orchestral work, Intermezzo romantico, showcases the Russian composer’s lyrical gifts and mastery of orchestral colors.
Concerto No. 1 in A minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 99 (1948, rev. 1955)
Dmitri Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on September 25, 1906, and died in Moscow, Russia, on August 9, 1975. The first performance of the Violin Concerto No. 1 took place in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) on October 29, 1955, with David Oistrakh as soloist, and Evgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic.
Approximate performance time is thirty-nine minutes.
In January of 1948, Communist leader Andrei Zhdanov summoned members of the Union of Soviet Composers for a conference. There, Zhdanov censured such prominent Russian composers as Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, and Nikolai Miaskovsky for writing music that displayed “formalist deviations, subjectivism, and the rejection of Socialist Realism.” At the Zhdanov conference, Shostakovich’s compositions were characterized as favored listening “of nobody except foreign bandits and imperialists.” A month later, Zhdanov issued an official decree that included a condemnation of Shostakovich’s music.
Shostakovich completed his First Violin Concerto on March 24, 1948, the month after the Zhdanov decree. He dedicated the work to his dear friend, the brilliant Russian violinist, David Oistrakh (1908-1974). Shostakovich well understood, given Russia’s existing political climate, that a performance of this complex and emotionally searching piece was out of the question. In fact, it was not until after Joseph Stalin’s death in March of 1953 that even a modicum of freedom of artistic expression became possible in Soviet Russia. The premiere of the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto took place seven years after its original composition. Oistrakh, the work’s dedicatee, was the soloist. Evgeny Mravinsky conducted the Leningrad Philharmonic at the October 29, 1955 concert.
Oistrakh, an immensely popular Soviet artist, championed the work in an article that appeared at the time of the premiere. Oistrakh’s defense of the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto was not only eloquent, but courageous, given the fact that his assessment came in advance of any “official” verdict by the Soviet Composers’ Union:
We have prepared this premiere with the very greatest care—we have insisted on about ten rehearsals in the presence of the composer...The Concerto poses exceedingly interesting problems for the performer, who plays, as it were, a pithy “Shakespearean” role, which demands from him complete emotional and intellectual involvement, and gives him ample opportunities not only to demonstrate his virtuosity but above all to reveal his deepest feelings, thoughts and moods.
The premiere of the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto was a great success, with the audience offering an enthusiastic reception. Oistrakh’s continued sterling advocacy of this magnificent work helped to assure its status as one of the finest of 20th-century Violin Concertos.
The Shostakovich First Violin Concerto is in four movements. The first is an extended, mysterious Nocturne (Moderato). The second movement Scherzo (Allegro) is a danse macabre. The slow third movement is a Passacaglia (Andante), a series of variations over a repeated figure (here, introduced by the cellos, bass, and timpani). A lengthy solo Cadenza leads without pause to the closing movement (Burlesque. Allegro con brio) in the spirit of a trepak, a vigorous Russian dance in 2/4.
Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, Suites 1 and 2, Opus No. 64-bis/64-ter (1935-6)
Sergei Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka, Russia, on April 23, 1891, and died in Moscow, Russia, on March 5, 1953. The first performance of the ballet, Romeo and Juliet, took place at the Brno Opera House in Czechoslovakia, on December 30, 1938.
Approximate performance time of the excerpts is thirty-eight minutes.
Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet has long been celebrated as one of the greatest ballet scores. But during the period of its creation and early performances, Prokofiev met resistance at every turn. This prompted the great Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova, who danced the role of Juliet at the July 11, 1940 Leningrad premiere, to offer the following toast, a play on the concluding lines of the Shakespeare original:
Never was a story of more woe
Than this of Prokofiev’s music for Romeo.
Prokofiev adapted music from his Romeo and Juliet ballet for two Orchestral Suites (premiered, respectively, in Moscow, in 1936, and Leningrad, in 1937) as well as a collection of Ten Pieces for Solo Piano, Opus 75 (1937). Prokofiev completed a third Orchestral Suite in 1946.
This concert features excerpts from the First and Second Orchestral Suites.
I. Montagues and Capulets (Suite 2, No.1)—The brief and fierce introduction is derived from an Interlude that follows the Prince of Verona’s warning to the warring Montague and Capulet families. After the introduction, the Dance of the Knights begins.
II. Juliet as a Young Girl (Suite 2, No. 2)—The playful nature of the thirteen-year-old Juliet is magically evoked by the spiccato violin figures, but there is also more reflective music that suggests the blossoming young woman.
III. Minuet (Suite 1, No. 4)—The Minuet accompanies the arrival of the guests to a ball at the Capulet home. The stately dance alternates with contrasting episodes.
IV. Romeo and Juliet (Suite 1, No. 6)—At night, Romeo stands beneath Juliet’s balcony and prays for her to appear. Juliet comes to the balcony, and the two declare their eternal love.
V. Madrigal (Suite 1, No. 3)—This lovely, delicate music accompanies Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting at the Capulet ball.
VI. Masks (Suite 1, No. 5)—Romeo, Montague’s son, and his friend, Mercutio, arrive at the ball, wearing disguises. Capulet and his wife enter with their daughter Juliet, and bid the musicians to play, and the guests to dance. At the sight of Juliet, Romeo immediately falls in love with her.
VII. Romeo at Juliet’s Grave (Suite 2, No. 7)—This excerpt is derived from the Ballet’s final scene. Romeo has learned of Juliet’s supposed death and has rushed to the Capulet tomb.
VIII. Death of Tybalt (Suite 1, No. 7)—Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel. Romeo is now married to Juliet, and therefore, is Tybalt’s cousin. Romeo therefore refuses to fight. Mercutio intercedes and is mortally wounded by Tybalt. When Romeo learns that his friend has died, he is overcome with anger, and kills Tybalt.