1875 — 1956
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Reinhold Glière was a composer of the great Russian tradition in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is known for his use of various folk elements from the eastern Soviet areas. Glière was named the ‘Father of Soviet Composers’ and his music was championed by conductors such as Leopold Stokowski. He is considered the founder of Soviet ballet and while certainly a great composer, Glière was an even more important teacher, having trained some of the most talented composers of the next generation.
Glière was born on 11 January 1875 in Kiev, Ukraine, which was part of the Russian Empire at the time. His father made wind instruments but young Glière was drawn to the violin, which he had already mastered at a young age. Their home was always filled with musicians, allowing young Reinhold to share and perform his earliest works.
By the age of 16, when it was obvious that he would become a successful professional musician, Glière entered the Kiev School of Music, where he studied for three years. He continued his studies at the Moscow Conservatoire, where he studied violin with Sokolovsky and Grgimali, harmony with Arensky and Konius, counterpoint with Taneiev, and composition with Ippolitov-Ivanov.
Among Glière’s earliest works are primarily chamber works, including a sextet dedicated to Taneyev. The majority of these chamber works were published with the help of Belyaev. Glière’s ties to Russian tradition are already evident in these works, along with his Symphony no. 1 and the early Romanzas. They are not only rhythmically unconstrained, but melodically pleasant and entirely colourful.
For his graduation, Glière composed the one-act opera Earth and Heaven after Byron. He then found a position teaching at the Gnessin School of Music in Moscow. Soon, he completed a number of orchestral works, including his Symphony no. 2, which he dedicated to Koussevitsky.
Glière then travelled to Berlin in 1905, where he remained until 1907 to study conducting with Oscar Fried. From this point on he gained a great reputation as a conductor of symphonic works. He made his Russian conducting debut in 1908.
In 1911, Glière’s Symphony no. 3 ‘Il′ya Muromets’ was first published. The work, which was dedicated to Glazunov, earned him an international reputation. His music became popular in America through the conductor Leopold Stokowski, who loved Glière’s work. Noticeable in his symphonic works is his continuance of the epic Russian tradition, especially the influence of Borodin and Glazunov.
Between 1913 and 1920, Glière served as director of the Kiev Conservatoire. He then devised a study of the music of Azerbaijan, which was encouraged by the Nationalist Policy of the Soviet Government. The goal of the study was to revive the nationalistic music of the region.
After moving to Baku, he began collecting folksongs of the people in the small towns and villages. With these melodies, he decided to write an Azerbaijanian opera based on a local fable of the beautiful Shah-Senen and her lover Ashug Kerib. The opera has mixed origins however, due to difficulties of separating the melodies of the Azerbaijanian "Mougams" (folk-tunes) from the Iranian melodies. In any case, Glière completed the opera in 1925 and it became the first Soviet grand opera to be performed in the republic’s theatres. The opera made its way to Moscow in 1938 when it was performed as the ‘piece de resistance’ at the Festival of Azerbaijanian Art.
Glière embarked on a second research project in Uzbekistan, resulting in the musical dramaGyulsara (1936) and the opera Leili and Medjnum. Another of his nationalistic works is the choreographic poemZaporozhstsy, which features the folk music of Ukraine.
Other notable works include the ballets Krasny mak (1927, ‘Red Poppy’), Krasnïy tsvetok (‘The Red Flower’) and Mednïy vsadnik (1949, ‘The Bronze Horseman’), the tone poemSireny (1908, ‘The Sirens’), the symphonic overture Friendship of Peoples, which was written for the fifth anniversary of the Stalin Constitution and the operaRachel. The latter is based on a story by Guy de Maupassant (Masemoiselle Fifi), which depicts the hatred between the French and the German during the Franco Prussian War. In 1944, he composed the Triumphal Overture Victory, which he based on folksongs from Russia, England and America.
Some of his political works were criticized for their lack of depth and originality, though others fully appreciated them. These works include the overture25 let Krasnoy Armii (1943; ‘Twenty-five Years of the Red Army’) and Torzhestvennaya uvertyura: K 20-letiyu Oktyabrya (1937; ‘Solemn Overture for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution’).
In 1920, Glière was appointed professor of composition at the conservatory, a position he held until 1940. During that time, his students included Davidenko, Novikov and Rakov. He was also active as a teacher in Kiev for a short time, where he taught Lyatoshyns’ky. Other students included as Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Miaskovsky.
Glière served on the USSR Composers’ Union from 1938 to 1948 and was in demand as a conductor and pianist. He was also a recipient of the degree, Doctor of Sciences (Research in Art). His prizes include a number of state prizes (1942, 1946, 1948, 1950) and the title People’s Artist of the USSR (1938), the RSFSR, the Uzbek SSR and the Azerbaijani SSR. He was also awarded The Order of the Red Banner and the Soviet Order of Merit.