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Letters From Glazunov

“The Saxophone Concerto Years”


by André Sobchenko

S ixty years ago in the


spring of 1936, at the
age of fifty-four, Russian
Conservatory,
Glazunov, the
professor of
composer Alexander composition
Konstantinovich and instrumen-
Glazunov died in his tation, provided
apartment near Paris. In full support and
Russia (at that time it was agreed to be a
the Soviet Union) life judge.
continued in rapidly So over all
changing keys. Stalin’s those years
“Great Terror” kept Alexander
spreading its wings. In 1936 the news- Konstantinovich’s music
paper Pravda, (the mouthpiece of the continued to sound in the
Communist Party) for the first time hall of Leningrad Conserva-
attacked Shostakovich and his music, tory named in his honor
using it as a lesson to other artists “Glazunov Concert Hall.”
whose works did not support Commu- The music was played by
nist dogma. New types of music loyal the members of the
to the regime cultivated the “right Glazunov String Quartet.
mood.” Names such as symphony Glazunov’s emigrant life
Airmotor by Miaskovsky and sym- started on June 15, 1928, when he tions for bourgeois instruments such as
phony Red Cavalry by Knipper ap- accepted an invitation to be a judge at the saxophone.
peared together with eternal themes the Schubert competition in Vienna. He In May of 1930, the Soviets officially
like Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev and left Russia permanently. He traveled closed the Iron Curtain, which meant
the innocent Peter and the Wolf. around Europe and finally settled in the end to the trips abroad for citizens.
The Soviet authorities dictated the Paris. In that period, the city was a Glazunov probably understood that he
composition of art for artists who were mecca for the arts and home to many would not be an exception. In the
inside the then USSR, as well as for Russians. The composer ’s series of spring of 1929, the newspaper
those who emigrated. Glazunov, who illnesses, bronchitis, infection of the Leningradskaya Pravda printed a notice
for the last eight years lived in France, inner ear and others, followed immedi- by the musical council of Leningrad
kept the Soviet government in a diffi- ately. Alexander Konstantinovich Conservatory stating that they were
cult position. Because Alexander wrote petitions, one after another, to reconsidering Glazunov’s continuation
Konstantinovich distanced himself the Communist musical authorities in the post of director. The officials
from any political stance, the authori- citing these illnesses and asking them carefully thought about Glazunov’s
ties were sure that the composer would to extend his absence. Henceforth, musical contribution and decided to
return to his homeland. The composer conservatory level textbooks in the hold the current position until the
of Russian national music was per- Soviet Union stated that the last period composer’s return. Glazunov was
fectly suited for the category of the of Alexander Konstantinovich’s life removed from the post much later.
“Fathers” with the likes of Rimsky- was very unproductive because of his Glazunov, in spite of his imputed
Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and Glinka. illnesses and due to the fact that he “musical unproductiveness,” was a
Also, it is well known that when the was under the influence of Western very active correspondent. A review of
government organized a balalaika Bourgeois culture. This influence was the complete publication of the
competition in the Hall of Petrograd evidenced by the creation of composi- composer’s documents from the Soviet

66 September/October 1997
composing his Leaf from an first two variations are strict classical
Album (trumpet, French horn, medieval style. Next follows a varia-
two trombones), Glazunov tion with trills á la Schumann (akin to
again began to write music for his symphonic etudes), variation á la
wind instruments. He started Chopin and Scherzo. The Finale is in a
composing a quartet for four fairly playful style. I am afraid that
saxophones. this composition will fatigue perform-
ers due to its length. I talked to one of
Postcard to Maximilian them, and he assured me.
Oseevich Shteinberg
(Paris), 21 March 1932 To I. A. Wolfman
I have an idea to write a quar- (Paris) 9, rue Lemoine, Boulogne s (ur)
tet for saxophones. These S (eine)
instruments are distinctively 21 June 1932
audible; in the orchestra they Pain became unbearable; I am start-
even cover regular woodwinds ing to lose my strength. I do not go
by their sound. There are great anywhere, and I do not even put on
saxophone soloists in the band clothes. I cannot even think to leave
of the National Guard. Move- Paris in such a condition as early as
ment I is coming to an end, I July. I have not touched the piano for a
have an idea for II-Canzona. long time. Thank God I sent the score
(for printing) of the saxophone quartet
To I. A. Wolfman before my condition became worse, but
(Paris), 9, rue Lemoine, when will I hear my creation?
Boulogne sur Seine
11 May 1932 To Shteinberg
9 December 1932
Alexander Glazunov, age seven
Dear Ian Ansovich! It seems I shall finally hear my quar-
Thank you for your kind tet next week. I still worry about how
archives reveals records of original holiday greetings. I am sorry I have matters will stand with “breathing,”
correspondence from Glazunov. Par- not written for so long. I was busy because the number of rests are few,
ticularly intriguing are the contents of composing, and I have almost com- and I wish to achieve full consonance.
the letters related to his saxophone pleted a quartet for (?) four saxo- Although one of the variation has three
compositions. Apparently, Glazunov phones. The novelty of this work really voices that are built on organ point.
tried to share his new projects with thrills me, because I was formerly
many of his colleagues. Some of the writing only string quartets. I don’t To A. N. Rimsky-Korsakov
letters were addressed to Maximilian know how it will sound. 9 January 1933
Oseevich Shteinberg who was a profes- If more gentle instruments like the
sor of composition at St.Petersburg/ To Shteinberg clarinet family with its bassets and
Leningrad Conservatory. Shteinberg 2 June 1932 bass clarinets were substituted for
(Rimsky-Korsakov’s son-in-law) was saxophones, it “just would not sound
taking special instrumentation courses Dear Maximilian Oseevich! right” as Stasov used to say.
under the professorship of Glazunov. I received a letter from your sister
Many of the letters were written by the who is worried about my health. I am To L. V Nikolayev
composer to A.N. Rimsky-Korsakov guilty of being quite behind on my (Paris) 32, Avenue J B. Clemént,
(son of the famous composer) and to correspondence;- too much composing. escalier 14, Boulogne s (ur) S (eine),
L.V. Nikolaiev with whom My health continues to be poor. My 8 March 1933
Shostakovich and Sofronitsky had been swelling on the right foot does not I heard my quartet of saxophones
studying piano. A small part of the leave me; the skin splits; sometimes it finally with real sound. The separated
correspondence was recalled from hurts. I walk most of the time wearing parts sound good. I am afraid the
memory by Nadezhda Nikolayevna light shoes because I cannot wear (musical) color will be monotone; I
Shteinberg and is presented in con- boots. In damp weather, my gout pain can’t do anything about that the whole
densed form. increases. range is: and you cannot get more than
Besides piano, Alexander I completed a composition for four four notes at the same time.
Konstantinovich was very familiar saxophones (2 movements already
with many woodwind and brass in- scored and the third is in sketches). To M. 0. Shteinberg
struments. In his childhood he studied Movement I, Allegro B-dur in 3/4 with 32 Avenue, J. B. Clemént, escalier 14,
clarinet, and later he learned to play rhythm: a bit of American! Boulogne s/S. France
trombone, trumpet, cello, viola, and Movement II, Canzona Variee. The 15 March 1933
French horn. Thirty-two years after theme is built only on harmony; the One day a Frenchman, meloman

Saxophone Journal 67
Alexander Glazunov’s practice room in 1920. also report to be the room
in which he was born

good with brass? The bells letters is interrupted. The following


did not work. I do not see information is based on Shteinberg’s
Alexander Glazunov & M. Scriabina, the widow of any innovation here. The sketches of the missing letters. The
composer A. Scriabin Pictures may be performed words in quotation marks are the exact
asked me, whether Mussorgsky him- here in Paris for location (for rent, words of Glazunov.
self orchestrated Night on Bold Moun- French) approximately 400 Francs for 1934 began with Glazunov’s illness,
tain, or whether it was done by one use. How did it go with you? flu and bronchitis. In March the com-
Rimsky-Korsakov? All that made me poser started work on his concerto
write short memoirs about Nikolai To I.A. Wolfman, “under the influences of attacks rather
Andreevich, in which I especially 14, rue de la Franqe Mutualiste, than requests from the Danish saxo-
devoted attention to the question of Boulogne s/S. phonist Sigurd Rascher.” Glazunov
my French friend... About Tushmalov, 11 April 1933 mentioned this situation in a letter
you have to be a little cautious. After The quartet of saxophones was dated March 17th. The work went very
the first rehearsal, Rimsky-Korsakov played for me in rehearsal at Salle fast and successfully, and in a letter
re-orchestrated Limoges, the middle Paveau. They played excellently, and it dated April 4th, the work was com-
section of Baba-Yaga (e-moll) and the sounded full and original. I am glad pleted.
bells in Gates. Twice I heard Ravel’s that I heard this work.
orchestration which I consider a mas- To Shteinberg
terwork, but I do not share your excite- To M. 0. Shteinberg 4 June 1934
ment, perhaps because I am not satis- 10 December 1933 I completed the Concerto for saxo-
fied with this music at all. On the The performers are such virtuosi that phone, both the score and clavier, and
contrary, I did not like at all the “mum- it is impossible to imagine that they most likely I will hear performances
bling” of the muted trumpet in Two play the same instruments as we hear within days by the Frenchman Mule
Jews. That reminded me of the chicken in jazzes (Glazunov’s misspelling). and the Danish saxophonist Rascher.
cackle. Nor did I like the tense tuba What really strikes me is their breath- The concerto is written in Es-dur and
solo in Bydlo. About he saxophone ing and indefatigability, light sound, goes non-stop. First goes exposition,
solo, thanks to a wonderful performer and clear intonation. Allegro Moderato, 4/4 and ends in g-
(he played the first saxophone in my moll. After a short development fol-
quartet), I liked it from the second time To Shteinberg lowed by singing Andante in Ces-dur
I heard it. The instrument, with its rich 26 December 1933 (sometimes H-dur), 3/4 is the transi-
timbre, stood out brightly from the The whole composition with stops tory into a little cadenza. The conclu-
accompaniment of the strings. Can the takes approximately 35 min. From this sion begins after the cadenza with a
clumsy Promenade be made to sound moment the chronological link of the condensed Fugato 12/8 in c-moll. All

68 September/October 1997
Alexander Glazunov’s work desk in Paris,
his last apartment
the previous elements appear again
To
which bring this to Coda in Es-dur.
Shteinberg
The form is very condensed, and the
5 December
total time is no more than 18 min. The
1934
accompaniment is built on strings with
The Saxo-
much divisi, which, in some point, will
phone Con-
substitute missing wind section. I use
certo was
this technique very often; strings in
premiered
octave divisi and an upper voice in Alexander Glazunov’s room while he was director of
twice by St. Petersburg Conservatory
unison with two cellos. Inforte, I use
Sigurd
double notes a lot. I did show my Era, this composition was not a stan-
Rascher in the two largest cities of
Concerto to Metner, brothers Konus dard part of the repertoire of Russian
Sweden. Next year I will hear it in
(George, Yuli, Leo) and Tcherepnine orchestras. The most famous orchestra,
Paris.
(Nilolai Nikolaievich), and they ap- the USSR State Symphony under E.
proved of my work. I am afraid of the Svetlanov, which had a mission to play
On March 21 of 1936 Glazunov died.
double notes effect. I will ask Yuli
Unfortunately there is no further infor- mostly Russian and Soviet music,
Konus who was working with my made a series of recordings called
mation indicating if the composer ever
violin concerto. He is a big expert on Anthology of Russian Symphonic Music.
heard his work performed. The perfec-
such subtleties, and he prescribed the Sadly, Glazunov’s Saxophone Concerto
tion of the Saxophone Concerto and
articulation to Tchaikovsky. was omitted. In 1936, the French pub-
other compositions always took prece-
To Shteinberg lisher Alphonse Leduc made a most
dence over his ego. He readily re-
13 July 1934 unusual addition to the piano reduc-
quested ideas and integrated the musi-
Saxophone Concerto completed, the tion. The publisher printed the name of
cal conceptions of colleagues and
score and the clavier as well I am just A. Petiot as a second composer. Inter-
actual performers.
waiting for the moment I hear it in estingly enough, in all the archival
concert; that is why I registered it for letters recorded, Alexander
The letter to A. Y. Shtrimer:
the concert season with my Symphonic Konstantiovich Glazunov never men-
“Dear Alexander Yakovlevich, I’m
Poem (Poéme Epique). tioned that fact he worked with a
mailing you my latest correction of
(cello) concerto. I do not know when companion!
To Shteinberg Thirty-six years after Glazunov’s
the clavier will be ready in print. Pablo
21 November 1934 death, on October 14, 1972, the Soviet
Casals is coming to Paris today, and I
Saxophone Concerto will be a part of authorities decided to officially ac-
will have a rendezvous with him. He
the season concerts in England and knowledge him as a Great Russian
wrote me about his concerns regarding
Scandinavia. The Danish saxophonist composer of the Soviet period.
the articulations, and he wants to
Rascher, very good and tremendous Glazunov’s ashes were returnrd to the
suggest some small changes. If I find
technique, will perform it. In Paris, Mr. Motherland. They were reburied at the
them reasonable, I will be happy.
Mule, first class saxophonist and best Necropolis for Masters of Art in
Casals assures me that he plays the
soloist of “Garde Republicaine” wants Alexander Nevsky Lavra, Leningrad.
Concerto already from memory.”
to play my Concerto. In the mid-70s the Ministry of Culture
Some additional facts regarding the
Concerto for Saxophone and String Or- made the decision to offer saxophone
chestra deserve note. During the Soviet classes for the first time to students of

Saxophone Journal 69
St. Petersburg Conservatory

higher education. The first conserva- Master of Music degree


tory level saxophone class in the USSR with Kenneth Radnofsky
was opened at the Gnessin Institute of at Boston University.
Music in Moscow. One of the dominant Andrei Sobchenko resides
factors in this decision was simply to in Silver Spring, Mary-
perpetuate and honor the music writ- land and is an Irish citi-
ten by a Russian composer. zen. §
The letters presented are derived
from two Soviet publications: Editor ’s Note:
In Russia Glazounov’s name
Glazunov. Issledovaniya. Materialy. is spelled “Glazunov.”
Publikatsii. Pis’ma. V dvuh tomah.
Leningrad, 1960 and Glazunov. Pis’ma,
Stat’i, vospominaniya. Izbrannoye.
Moskva, 1958, and the translations from Thirty-six years after Glazunov’s death, on
the Russian originals are my own.
October 14, 1972, the Soviet authorities de-
Andrei Sobchenko cided to officially acknowledge him as a Great
Andrei Sobchenko, a native of Rus- Russian composer of the Soviet period.
sia, is currently Instructor of Wood- Glazunov’s ashes were return to the Mother-
winds at Morgan State University in
land. They were reburied at the Necropolis for
Baltimore, Maryland. He has appeared
as a soloist and orchestral musician in Masters of Art in Alexander Nevsky Lavra,
Russia, France, Germany, and the USA. Leningrad.
In Russia he played with most of the
major orchestras including the Moscow
Philharmonic (Rhapsody in Russia,
Sheffield Lab, Inc., 1988), the USSR
State Symphony, and the Bolshoi The-
ater Concert Band. He was Principle
Saxophonisi with the Russian Federa-
tion Concert Band. As a soloist in the
USA, he appeared on National Public
Radio to premier a newly commis-
sioned saxophone sonata from World-
wide Concurrent Premier & Commis-
sioning Fund, Inc.
Mr. Sobchenko completed his first
degree at the Gnessin Institute of
Music, Moscow. Later, he received the

70 September/October 1997