Tone Poem Tuesday

I’ve never been a big fan of composer Reinhold Gliere. I don’t know how fair that is, given my small sample size of his work with which I’m familiar, but he usually doesn’t really do a whole lot for me. I suspect a part of this is that when I was in 10th grade, we played in high school band a band arrangement of a specific excerpt from a ballet of Gliere’s called The Red Poppy. The excerpt, which might be Gliere’s most famous piece, is called “The Russian Sailors Dance”, and it’s pretty clear when listening to it that it’s meant to be a showpiece for the male dancers of the company. Problem is, it’s not that interesting to listen to; it basically plays the same melody over and over again, without enough variation to even call it a set of variations.

Adding to that is the fact that in this particular year the band director decided to let one of the fellow students, a senior who was going to be studying music, act as student conductor, so this kid led us in what felt like three months of rehearsals of “The Russian Sailors Dance”. Over, and over, and over again. It got to the point that I just simply hate the damned thing, to this day. (You can listen to it here; I’m not featuring it for this post. The guy who conducted us? He was a very talented musician who is a teacher someplace now, I think. He wasn’t the best conductor then, but sheesh, dude was 17!)

As for Gliere in general, as noted, I haven’t listened much to him. He’s a capable composer who hasn’t ever really captured me, though I will admit that I enjoyed a recent hearing of his first symphony. (His third, a gigantic programmatic work called Ilya Muromets after a popular hero of Russian legend, is something of a cult piece with people actually making substantial travel arrangements to attend live performances.) Gliere was of German descent and was born in Kiev, which makes him Ukrainian as well; and he became a particularly prized musical voice in Soviet Russia, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dmitri Shostakovich.

This piece is a wild orchestral showpiece of considerable energy and verve. It is called Holiday at Ferghana, and other than the fact that is a concert overture in D major, that’s about all I know about it. It’s quite a wild listen, and it has spots where it’s almost catchy in its rhythmic thrust. It’s a frankly swashbuckling kind of piece that makes me wonder what kind of film music Gliere might have produced had he emigrated to the west.

I’m still not sure that I’m ever going to love Gliere–but I may be warming on him a bit.

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