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Tonight's Great Composer is the Russian Alexander Glazunov, who influenced a generation.
Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936), who was the long-time director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, merged nationalism and cosmopolitanism to create something new in Russian music at a time of great turmoil for his country.
As a child, he had begun studying piano at the age of nine and composing at 11. Balakirev, the former leader of the nationalist group of composers known as The Five, recognised the young Glazunov's talent and brought his work to the attention of Rimsky-Korsakov. By the time Glazunov was 18 his music had reached an international audience and, throughout his 20s, his compositions were performed regularly in Europe, America and England.
Glazunov wrote for almost every genre. He completed eight symphonies, composed chamber and choral music, and a violin and two piano concertos. He also wrote three ballets. The last, The Seasons, premiered in St. Petersburg in 1900. Unconventionally, the ballet does not have a story but instead creates four tableaux based on the changing seasons. It's played tonight by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.
The year of the premiere of Glazunov's Violin Concerto, 1905, was a significant one in Russian history. The students at the St. Petersburg Conservatory staged large-scale protests over the Tsarist government's handling of the abortive January revolution, and both Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov supported them, to the extent of taking part in the concerts they organized and even creating pieces for those events. Glazunov's accomplished and colourful concerto is infused with Russian spirit.
The Symphony No. 5 in B flat major is also known as The Heroic. Glazunov described the symphony as 'an architectural poem'. One contemporary critic called the symphony 'very profound' and 'sparkling' and reported that the scherzo had to be reprised on opening night to the delight of the audience.
Finally tonight, Glazunov's Triumphal March' was written for the World's Columbian Exposition, a celebration in Chicago in 1893 of the 400th anniversary of Columbus' 'discovery' of America. Glazunov makes extensive use of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" in the piece, merged with a particularly English pastoral quality - perhaps a nod to the European origins of many American citizens.
Glazunov: The Seasons
Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Glazunov: Violin Concerto
Violin: Leila Josefowicz
Charles Dutoit conducts the Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Glazunov: Symphony No.5 in B flat major
Jose Serebrier conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Glazunov: Triumphal March
Yondani Butt conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra