Anatoly Liadov

1855 1914

Anatoly Liadov

Composer

Biography

Anatoly Liadov (also spelled Lyadov) was a 20th-century Russian Romantic and nationalistic composer, who was associated with Balakirev’s circle of Russian composers. His music has much in common with that of his teacher,  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. 

Liadov was born in 1855 in St. Petersburg, Russia to the conductor of the imperial opera at the Mariinsky Theatre. Following in his father’s footsteps, Anatoly Liadov pursued a career in music, first studying piano and violin at the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1870 before developing an interest in composition. 

Liadov was not the best most motivated student and was expelled in 1876 for idleness. He was readmitted two years later to complete his study. For his graduation from the conservatory, Liadov composed a setting of the final scene of Schiller’s Die Braut von Messina (‘The Bride of Messina’).

After graduation, Liadov became part of Balakirev’s circle and Balakirev helped him found a publishing house for Russian composers. He was also appointed a teaching position at his alma mater. He was competent as a musician, composer and conductor though he was not always dependable or motivated. 

Liadov often wrote works that were to be used in ballet or other forms of dance by choreographers. He was scheduled to compose The Firebird for a 1910 Diaghilev production by the Ballet Russes, but did not finish his score on time and the young composer, Igor Stravinsky, instead received his first opportunity to compose for the company. 

Of his orchestral works, the best known are the Russian fairytale pieces, including Kikimora, Baba-Yaga and Volshebnoye ozero (‘The Enchanted Lake’). His final orchestral work was a symphonic poem titled Skorbnaya pesn (‘Threonody’).  Kikimora and The Enchanted Lake were to be part of a large-scale opera, but he was unable to complete this project.

His orchestral works exemplify the nationalist tradition developed by his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov. As with his teacher’s music, Liadov’s is also very colourful, showing a skillful use of the instruments and timbres. His orchestration is quite conservative, though he is able to blend the nationalist style with academic writing. Hints of Tchaikovsky can also be found in Liadov’s music, especially with regard to the structure of his phrases. His Baba-Yaga  has been compared to the style of Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, made famous by Disney’s Fantasia. 

Before delving into the orchestral genre, Liadov spent much time arranging the folksongs collected by the Imperial Geographical Society and many piano pieces, including fugues and canons which display his ability to successfully compose contrapuntal works. Some of his works are more characteristic, as evidenced by their titles.

Liadov’s vocal output includes his graduation piece and about 26 songs. Of these, 18 are children’s songs.

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