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Symphony, Part 07 (Russian)

Part VII of a massive series on examining the concept of a symphony, widely considered the most important form of classical music. Our exploration of the symphony continues with a look at Russia's contributions, from Anton Rubinstein and Rimsky-Korsakov through Glazunov and lastly, touching on the long and complex nature of Alexander Scriabin’s Symphony No. 2 and No. 3. 

Program 1

This week's programs focus on Russian symphonies from the 19th century and Russian composers whose music is frequently overlooked.

We begin with Anton Rubinstein who was born in 1829. As a young boy, the family moved to Moscow where his father had opened a successful pencil factory. Rubinstein began to study piano while living in Moscow, and took his first lessons from his mother. Rubinstein wrote his first symphony, Ocean, at the age of 21. Bill nremarks that it doesn't sound distinctly Russian because there were no other Russian symphonies to model it after. Just one year later, he began work on his second symphony.

Anton Rubinstein: Symphony No. 1 in F major, Op. 40, I, II, IV
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Kosice)/Stankovsky
Naxos 8.555476
:52, 2:43, 9:07

Rubinstein: Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 42, Ocean, I, IV, VI, VII
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Gunzenhauser
Marco Polo 8.220449
11:47, 24:31, 1:38

Rubenstein: Kamennoi-Ostrow Op. 10, No. 22
Josef Lhévinne, p
Masters of the roll Disc. 16: James Stewart Music (Amazon)
1:38 excerpt

Program 2

In 1860s Russia, a spirit of liberalism and patriotism swept the nation spurring an artistic renaissance. This was largely due to the 1855 death of Czar Nicholas I, a despot who had a throttling effect on the progress of the country.

One of these artists was Mily Balakirev, a composer who became known as the leader of The Mighty Handful. Balakirev wrote only two symphonies, one in his early 20s and one towards the end of his life. However, he was a huge contributor to a truly Russian style of composition in the 1860s.

One of Balakirev's pupils was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. His first symphony, heard in this program, was written between the years of 1864-1866.

Also during this period, The Mighty Handful discovered the tone poems of Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz. The group decided that they would like to write symphonies in the style of tone poems and thus Rimksy-Korsakov writes his second symphony, Antar, to have a definite story.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Symphony No. 1, Op. 1 in E Minor, I, III
Philharmonia Orchestra/Butt
ASV 1024
9:15, 5:00

Mily Balakirev: Symphony 1 in C, I (excerpt), II (excerpt), III
Philharmonia Orchestra/Karajan
EMI 63316
1:22, 1:07, 3:47, 6:44, :36

Rimsky-Korsakov: Symphony #2 In F Sharp Minor, Op. 9, Antar, I, IV, II (excerpt at end of program)
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Maazel
Telarc 80131
12:44, 8:20, 1:48

Program 3

Alexander Borodin, another member of The Mighty Handful, was born of distinguished lineage but out of wedlock. However, his father provided so that he could have the best education available and Borodin was educated as a doctor and became a professor of chemistry. He wrote symphonies in his spare time.

Borodin began his first symphony in 1862 and it took him about five years to complete. He started his second symphony almost immediately after the first one was complete in 1869. It took him about the same length of time to complete it. It premiered in 1877.

In 1876 and 1877, Borodin was working on his third symphony but only completed two movements before his death in 1877. The last two movements were written after Borodin's death by the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov.

Alexander Borodin: Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor (excerpt)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Ozawa
EMI 47617

Borodin: Symphony No. 1, I, IV
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Davis
Sony 62406
:39, 13:18

Borodin: Symphony #2 in B Minor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Kubelik
Seraphim 69021
27:10, 1:08

Borodin (completed post. by Glazunov): Symphony No. 3, I
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Davis
Sony 62406

Program 4

Alexander Glazunov (born 1865) was part of the second generation of Russian composers. He was very talented as a child and wrote his first symphony at the age of 16. It is called Slavyanskaya.

In 1906, he had already written eight symphonies. He had started on a ninth, but never completed it. Here is his Symphony No. 7 (Pastoral) written in 1902.

Reinhold Gliere, born ten years later in 1875, wrote a piece called Ilya Muromets. It is about a legendary Ukranian folk figure. The piece was written in 1904 and is a combination of symphony and tone poem. Most Westerners know Gliere's Russian Sailor's Dance from his ballet The Red Poppy.

The program closes with Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Lyapunov (born 1859). It was written in 1917.

Alexander Glazunov: Symphony No. 1 in E major, Op. 5, Slavyanskaya, I
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Serebrier
Warner 2564-68904-2

Glazunov: Symphony No. 7 in F Maj, Op. 77, Pastoral, II & III
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Serebrier
Warner 2564-63236-2

Reinhold Gliere: Russian Sailor’s Dance from The Red Poppy (excerpt)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Ormandy
CBS 45659

Gliere: Symphony No. 3 in B minor, Op. 42, Ilya Muromets, I & III
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Downes
Chandos 9041

Sergei Lyapunov: Symphony No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 66
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Svetlanov
Melodiya 10 00173

Program 5

Alexander Scriabin, born in 1872, was a kind of mystic and saw music in colors. He was also a follower of Friedrich Nietzche. His first symphony was written in 1901, and his Symphony No. 3 was written between 1902-1904. They are characterized by their long and complex nature.

Riccardo Muti, current conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is very devoted to conducting the music of Scriabin, something usually reserved for Russian conductors.

Alexander Scriabin: Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 29, III, IV, V
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Svetlanov
RDCD 11057
2:21, 13:25, 2:49

Scriabin: Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 43, The Divine Poem: I. Introduction & III. Jeu Divin
Philadelphia Orchestra/Muti
EMI 49115


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