Tone Poem Tuesday

Reinhold Gliere was a Russian composer who lived long enough to stop being a Russian composer and become a Soviet one. He was born in 1875 and lived to 1956, almost exactly contemporary with Joseph Stalin. As the last living exemplar of nationalist Russian classical music, Gliere was able to avoid the various artistic purges and seemingly random shifts in taste handed down by Stalin.

Gliere is, admittedly, not always my cup of tea. Some years ago the Buffalo Philharmonic performed his Third Symphony, a gigantic work purporting to tell the life of a particular Russian hero (“Ilya Muromets”), a work that apparently has its devotees. I couldn’t get through the whole thing. Gliere and I are not on the same page, apparently…but I do like this particular orchestral poem quite a bit. Called The Sirens, it seems to me to have very little Russian character at all; to me this is much more the sound world of French impressionism. I hear, in this piece, not the echoes of the Tchaikovsky’s and the Balakirevs and the Borodins of the world, but rather the Debussys and the Ravels. The work shimmers and seems at times to be approaching a melody without quite getting there, in what must be a simulation of what the sailors heard in those voices luring them off their ships.

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