Alexander Glazunov
Élégie Op.17:

Arranged by Ralph Sauer

tenor trombone and piano

Vancouver, BC, , Canada
Date of Publication: 2015


Alexander Glazunov was a prominent Russian composer whose life spanned the years between the nationalist “Russian Five” and Russian modernists like Stravinsky and Shostakovich. He was a prodigiously talented child who had a musical photographic memory akin to that of Mozart. He studied with Rimsky-Korsakov for several years and was also associated with nationalists like Balakirev and Borodin. Indeed his personal style reflected Romanticism far more than modernism and he famously said of Stravinsky, “no talent, just dissonance.”

Glazunov composed Élégie Op.17 for cello and piano in his early twenties. In 1884 he visited Western Europe for the first time and was introduced to the aged Franz Liszt in Weimar. The meeting had a profound impact upon Alexander, and several years later, upon learning of Liszt’s decease, Glazunov was moved to compose this elegy. The title page contains the dedication Une pensée à François Liszt—a thought to Franz Liszt.

Élégie Op.17 is a beautifully lyrical work in ternary form, opening in C major. A soaring melody line is complemented by flowing piano accompaniment. The effect is reminiscent of The Swan from “Carnival of the Animals” by Saint-Saëns. The central section, in the parallel minor, is tense and agitated. The stern, dramatic solo line is accompanied by repeated triplets that remind one of Schubert’s Die Erlkönig. As this section draws to a close, this “stern” melody transforms into a lyrical expression preparing for the satisfying return of the A section.

Sauer expertly transcribes this work. The key of C major is a half-step lower than the original D-flat major. He makes reasonable alterations for the few instances the original cello score called for triple stops. The most marked change from the original cello part comes at the end of the piece. Glazunov ends with a pianissimo high pitch held for five measures. Sauer breaks this pitch into three octaves, beginning on high c2 and ending on low CC. This transcription adds to our repertoire a profound expression of human emotion. At nearly nine minutes long, it is a substantial recital addition. It highlights both the lyrical qualities and the emotional depths of our instrument.

Reviewer: Paul Overly
Review Published January 31, 2019