R. M. Glier and the Force of Circumstance...
Arensky (d. 1906)
Balakirev (d. 1910)
Kalinnikov (d. 1901)
Rimsky-Korsakov (d. 1908)
Skryabin (d. 1915)
Taneyev (d. 1915)
"Who's killing the great composers of Russia?" an headline may well have queried, for within the span of little more than a decade perished nearly all the great composers of Russia.
Three Russian greats had died in the last quarter of the 19th Century: Borodin (d. 1887); Rubinstein (d. 1894); Tchaikovsky (d. 1893).
Three great contemporaries remained: Glazunov (b. 1865); Glier (b. 1875); Rachmaninov (b. 1873).
(While the younger generation of Russian Modernists [Myaskovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich] was maturing, Stravinsky went his own way, and Rachmaninov pursued an international career as pianist/composer/conductor.)
This left the two "great `Gs'" prominent on the Russian musical scene c.1920: Glazunov in St. Petersburg, and Glier at Moskva.
Glazunov (d. 1936) eventually ended in Paris--("In Paris! I fear that hardly points to any very serious state of mind at the last")--so impoverished he couldn't even purchase music paper.
Which brings us to the circumstantial case of R. M. Glier.
Reyngol'd Moritsevich Glier (Reinhold Moritsévitch Glière) was the Ukrainian-born son of a Belgian emigrant.
Glier studied Belle Époque art-music in Moskva (1894-1900) and Berlin (1905-07) with the violin as his primary instrument. (His Russian instructors included Taneyev, Arensky, Ippolitov-Ivanov; while his chief German associate was Mahler's friend, Oskar Fried.)
From here it must be markedly noted: the dramatic difference between Tsarist pre-war Russia (prior to 1915) and Revolutionary Soviet Russia (after 1917).
With these data in consideration, it is highly significant that by 1914 Glier was director of the Kyyiv Conservatory, and from 1920 he was head of the composition department of the Moskva Conservatoire: in other words, Glier was favoured with distinguished musical appointments under BOTH the Tsarist and Soviet regimes: adroit manoeuvring, indeed!
Eastern European history is not a forte of Anglo-American mytho-historiographers and so it may be a revelation to apprehend the appalling fact that in the dark last days of the First World War, when Russia literally fell out of the war on the Armistice of Brest-Litovsk (Dec. 1917), Germany occupied an huge swath of Eastern Europe which included Finland (30th longitudinal meridian east), the Baltic states, Belarus, Ukraine, the Black Sea, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan (50th longitudinal meridian east): this was the radical socio-political-economic cataclysm which fostered the Tsar's overthrow and the Bolsheviks' rise.
By 1918 the Bolsheviks (led by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and Molotov) had established Moskva as the state's capital, and in the following years Russia saw internal revolutionary civil wars, foreign intervention, bloodshed, and chaos.
Against all contenders, the Bolsheviks developed a managerial apparatus of The Party (with a Central Committee, a Politburo, and a Secretariat) which directed The State government via a Council of ministers with Lenin as Premier.
The stress of chaos combined with the autocratic politics of Russia resulted in an authoritarian bureaucratic dictatorship which (by 1923) Stalin captured and held in an iron grip for the next thirty years wherein all were surveilled and all opposition liquidated.
And so, from the civilized quietude of pre-war Central and Eastern Europe, to the bloody chaos of the revolutionary Stalinist Soviet-Russian empire, moves Glier to the very seat of power and fear--Moskva, 1920.
Point I: Glier was a genuinely skilled and talented artist. He was an artist: on this point there is no question. "Glier had matured in the 19th Century, and his oeuvre is firmly rooted in the great Russian music of the past. A proud successor to Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin, he was also a faithful disciple of Taneyev and Arensky, and a worthy peer to Rachmaninov and Glazunov. His high musical culture and compositional technique were superb."
As a violinist Glier himself performed in a string quartet ensemble whereby he gained "hands-on" experience of texture, voicing, and instrumentation.
Glier composed two String Octets; three String Sextets; four String Quartets; and three fine Symphonies.
He also wrote much successful music for the stage.
(It should be noted that in Stalinist Russia [as in Maoist China] theatrical entertainments [ballet and light opera] were important modes of political expression.
Moreover, Glier inherited the tradition of [amongst others] the great artist, humanitarian, philosopher, and visionary Count L. N. Tolstoy [d. 1910] who advocated the use of didactic art in the furtherance of social justice.)
Point II: Glier was as much a pawn of his own inescapable space-time as are we all. People have to deal with their circumstances, making the most of opportunities while deciding their own personal ethics about what means they will use. Frequently people are unable to escape their circumstances or change their situations in a dramatically radical (positive) way: commonly they have to accept the reality of their circumstances and manage their situations as best they can, either making do or doing without.
And so Glier in 1920s Soviet Russia had two choices: 1) accept the reality of his situation and try to build a career working in his artistic field by teaching and composing--and thereby care for the people in his closest relationships; or, 2) flee alone into a post-war devastated Western Europe wracked by economic depression and ravaged by deadly pestilence (Spanish Influenza).
The second choice was really no option at all, for he would have needed a visa for France, England, or USA--a visa which probably none would have issued; moreover, Glier was an academician not a concertizing virtuoso; furthermore, he likely had little money and a wife with children whom he was loath to abandon.
Faced with these realities, Glier sensibly chose to stay in his native country, work as well he could, and care for his loved ones.
Point III: A critic carps, "Glier was a committed communist who served the Stalinist dictatorship--in contrast to his colleagues persecuted at home or who emigrated."
This seems a spurious type of Anglo-American influenced hyper-capitalistic critique, for it doesn't take into account the fact that "persecution at home" usually meant death, and emigration was simply not feasible.
(Stravinsky and Rachmaninov got out early and made contacts in the West; Prokofiev and Shostakovich did suffer a bit for their Modernistic style, while Khachaturian and Myaskovsky indeed served the regime. [The latter were of course a generation younger than Glier.])
Glier must have conducted himself with the utmost caution and probity, stepping on a very razor's edge at every turn!
But who knows what was in Glier's heart?
Superficially he was "committed" enough to manage a successful teaching career, produce works of genuine art, and fellowship with his native peoples.
It sounds like hyper-capitalistic sour grapes to say that as a result of his hard work Glier "was greeted with enthusiasm all over the Soviet Union."
The fact that Glier became President of the Union of Soviet Composers and received numerous state awards including "Artist of the Soviet People" certainly means that he had the approval of Stalin and the Politburo.
(It is reported that Stalin had a tenor voice with perfect pitch good enough to have become a professional singer; and he seems to have favoured the music of Glinka and Mozart.)
Putting aside Glier's establishment functions, cultural enthusiasts may profit more by focusing rather on his fine art.
Glier's esthetic is very in the lyrical vein of Borodin and Korsakov.
The Symphony No. 1 (1900) is beauteously scored with wonderful combinations of winds, strings, and timpani.
The harmonies are Central European Romantic, while the melodies and rhythms are unmistakably Eastern in flavour and texture.
Glier is always original while inflecting distinctive Borodinian-Korsakovian turns of phrase: withal, the sum of Glier's art is imminently ebullient, pleasing and powerful with an unction of assurance.
"His masterworks are imbued with profound feeling and captivating melodies."
The evocative tone poem Sirens (1908) is surely a trial run for Glier's successful ballet scores: its Jugendstil style is the synesthetic correspondent to Klimt's contemporaneous Gold Fish and Water Serpents.
[Postscriptus on Glazunov:
Glazunov had been involved with the original "Mighty Little Clutch." (He was especially close to Borodin, Balakirev, and Korsakov.) Glazunov was appointed (under the Tsar) Director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory (in 1905)--an appointment he held for more than twenty years. The physical distance of St. Petersburg from Moskva may have given Glazunov more freedom of manoeuvre than Glier enjoyed; too, Glazunov probably regretted the Tsar's passing and the rise of the new State. In any case he seems to have been an older type of Russian personality and he was a documented tippler. Apparently he was unskilled or unwilling to negotiate the new order and things eventually got too hot for him. Finally (aged 63) he virtually fled Russia via Vienna on the pretence of attending Schubert's Centenary celebration (1928). Glazunov ended (like Oscar Wilde) a gravely impoverished wreck in Paris (d. 1936).]
Glière: Symphony No. 2, Op. 25; The Zaporozhy Cossacks, Op. 64
Gliere: Symphony 3
Gliere: Octet, Op. 5; Sextet, Op. 11
Kalinnikov: Symphony No. 1; Glinka: Dances from "Ruslan & Lyudmila"
Rimsky-Korsakov: The Complete Symphonies; Russian Easter Festival Overture; Capriccio Espagnol [Germany]
Scriabin: Piano Music
Arensky: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2; Piano Quintet
Balakirev and Mussorgsky: Piano Music
Glazunov: String Quartets 3 & 5 Vol. 1
Taneyev: Chamber Music