Saturday, January 16, 2021

Glière - String Quartet No. 2 In G Minor, Opus 20

Reinhold Glière lived from 1874 until 1956, and managed to please the Czarist and Communist regimes by his composing style and talent. Not an ultra-conservative (at least in his early years), nor was he a 'modernist' during Stalin's reign (which being labeled as such could get a composer in a lot of hot water, as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and others discovered).  

He followed in the steps of the Mighty Five of Russian music; Rimsky-Korsakov ( Glière dedicated the 2nd String Quartet to him), Mussorgsky, Balakirev, Borodin, and Cui, as Russian folk song played a large role in his compositions. One of his most well known works is the 1911 epic 3rd Symphony 'Ilya Muromets', which uses Russian folklore and folk music.  As with many composers early in their career, he wrote chamber music as well.  He wrote two of his four string quartets early on, with the 2nd in G Minor in 1905. 

I. Allegro moderato - The first movement starts straight off with the first of two quite Russian sounding themes in the 1st violin:

This theme gets a short development before it is repeated in the 1st and 2nd violins.  A section of key changes and mood changes prepares the way for the 2nd theme in D major that is based on a Russian folksong:

The first theme reappears to start the development section. After fragments of it play, the second theme reappears. The music becomes more and more animated until a short pause ushers a working out towards the recapitulation. The first theme plays again in the home key of G minor, the second theme plays this time in the key of B-flat major. A coda brings the movement back to G minor, and the music ends solemnly. 

II. Andante - A theme in E-flat major opens the movement in the 1st violin, and on repetition by the cello:

 A middle section moves into different keys and increases movement slightly and has sections where it grows more passionate, but for the most part the music stays tranquil. The music slowly slows in volume as the theme returns. The music comes to a gentle, quiet close in the key in which it began.

III. Vivace -  The 2nd violin begins the movement playing a fifth of A and E,  sounding like a village fiddler beginning a dance:

The 1st violin plays the melody that is punctuated by trills. A contrasting section is in the key of D-flat major and modulated to other keys and moods before the music returns to the opening dance. The movement ends with a quiet refrain of the dance, and a hushed chord of string harmonics.

IV. Orientale: Andante - Allegro - The final movement begins with 1st and 2nd violins playing in unison, and the viola and cello playing the same melody in unison an octave lower. the music is in the key of G minor, but the ear detects something different about it:

This is a type of minor scale that is heard in different kinds of folk music, sometimes from quite different areas. I have heard it called the Hungarian Gypsy scale, some call it the harmonic melodic scale. No doubt Glière came across the scale in the research he did in Russian folk music. It has an exotic sound to it, and fits quite well in a movement called Orientale. 

After this short introduction, the music grows faster and has a persistent dotted rhythm accompanying the theme that begins in  the viola:
There is a second theme with the same persistent dotted rhythm accompanying it. The rest of the movement has both themes being stated and elaborated upon, and episodes of new material, or at least new workings out of other themes that is done so well they sound different. There is not much let up in the rhythmic drive until the end. 

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