11 Aug 2010

Composer of the Week – Alexander Glazunov

Yesterday was the birthday of Russian composer, Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936). Glazunov was a popular composer in his early life, who went on to become the director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory for almost 25 years. He had a great influence on some of the early Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich.
Glazunov tried his hand at conducting, and, while he loved it, and was an active conductor throughout most of his life, he was never terribly good at it. Glazunov reportedly had quite a problem with alcohol. According to Shostakovich, Glazunov would drink a hidden bottle of alcohol through music classes, and Shostakovich’s father would sometimes supply him with bootleg liquor.
Although he wasn’t the most sober Conservatory director, he cared greatly about the students, and would make it a point to know all of their work. At one point the government offered him a nicer apartment to benefit his position, but instead he asked them to send firewood to the Conservatory so the students could have an easier time studying.
Glazunov left Russia in 1928, and eventually settled in Paris. Many composers and the general public associated Glazunov with an older generation of music, so when he died in 1936, people were surprised because they assumed he was already dead.
His most popular works are his ballets and later symphonies. His Violin Concerto was a favorite of Jascha Heifetz, but it is not often performed these days. Here’s the beginning of the first movement, performed by Heifetz.

His last work was a Saxophone Concerto. Here’s a section of the first movement: