Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865–1936)
Glazunov was born to a family of a well-known book publisher in Saint Petersburg. As a child, he showed remarkable abilities and by the age of sixteen already composed a symphony. His composition teachers were two of the Mighty Five—Mily Balakirev and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. As a young man Glazunov became a member of a circle of musicians supported by Mitrofan Belyayev, a wealthy patron of the arts. Belyayev’s circle became the aesthetic successor to the Five. In 1884 at the invitation of Franz Liszt, Glazunov’s First Symphony was performed in Weimar. Then nineteen-year-old Glazunov was present at the performance and had a chance to meet the aging master.
The most productive period in Glazunov’s life came at the break of the century. During the period from 1897 to 1906 he composed three ballets, four symphonies, the violin concerto, two piano sonatas, numerous string quartets and art songs. In 1899 Glazunov also accepted a professorship at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He remained connected with that institution to the end of his life and served as the director from 1905 to 1928. Among his students there were many important composers including Dmitry Shostakovich. His administrative duties, however, required most of his creative energy and his compositional output was substantially diminished.
Unlike some of his colleagues, Glazunov remained in Russia after the revolution and established a working relationship with the new regime. In 1928 however, Glazunov went to Vienna in order to represent the Soviet Union at the Schubert centenary celebrations. He never returned to Russia, finally settling in Paris, where he died in 1936.
Glazunov’s compositional inheritance is vast: there are nine symphonies, numerous concerti, including an unusual 1934 concerto for saxophone, several successful ballets, numerous chamber instrumental and vocal compositions. Glazunov together with Rimsky-Korsakov was deeply involved with completing unfinished works left by Borodin and Mussorgsky. He orchestrated large portions of Borodin’s Prince Igor and Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death. In his works Glazunov attempted to reconcile strongly nationalist tendencies of the Mighty Five with the European academic approach. As an educator Glazunov represented the link between Russian romanticism and the twentieth century, yet the composers of the younger generation, such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev rejected his teaching as old-fashioned and regressive.