Edward Downes: Reinhold Glière Symphony 3 'Ilya Muromets', BBC Philharmonic

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Reinhold Glière - Ilya Muromets: Symphony No. 3, Op. 42

English: Reinhold Glière, a Russian / Soviet c...
Reinhold Glière, a Russian / Soviet composer.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Conductor: Edward Downes
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

A magnificent, monumental, extravagant symphony by the Soviet composer Reinhold Moritzevich Glière (1875-1956), depicting the tale of the Slavic epic hero Ilya Muromets. Originally from Kiev, Glière studied composition with the Russian masters Sergei Taneyev, Anton Arensky and Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. Later, he taught the young Nikolai Myaskovsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Glière rose through the Soviet hierarchy, and in 1938, he was named "Artist of the People" and became Chairman of the Organization Committee of the Soviet Composers Association. He was awarded the Glinka and Stalin prizes multiple times over the course of his career.

Glière's third symphony, "Ilya Muromets" (dedicated to Alexander Glazunov), is a 90-minute long work of epic proportions. It was premiered in 1912 and won the composer a Glinka prize. Each of the four tableaux depicts an episode from the legend of Ilya Muromets, the greatest of the Russian bogatyrs (hero-knights).

The first movement opens with a slowly mounting introduction leading to a horn call, as the bogatyr springs to life. Ilya rides off in search of the mighty hero Svyatogor, who is renowned for his bravery. He finds Svyatogor, and together, they undertake a difficult adventure. Eventually, they reach a coffin, which the impulsive Svyatogor enters; the hero cannot find a way to escape, and dies. However, the great powers of Svyatogor are transferred to Ilya upon his death.

Bogatyrs (1898) by Viktor Vasnetsov. Bogatyrs ...
Bogatyrs (1898) by Viktor Vasnetsov. Bogatyrs (left to right): Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets, Alyosha Popovich. Oil on canvas 321*222 Russian Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the beautifully evocative second movement, Ilya galops through the forest at night toward
s Kiev. In these woods, however, lives the notorious bandit Solovey (Russian for "nightingale"). The outlaw hears Ilya approaching and sends his three stunningly beautiful daughters to tempt the bogatyr. At first, Ilya succumbs to the three alluring maidens and savours the riches and embraces they offer him. In the end, Ilya realizes the grave danger they really pose, and lets fly an arrow that wounds Solovey. He captures the famous bandit and carries him back to the palace of Prince Vladimir in Kiev.

The third tableau is set in this palace, where the prince's court is feasting. Ilya enters carrying the bound Solovey, whom he commands to whistle. The bandit's magic whistling causes the entire palace to sway and numerous bogatyrs to fall over. Ilya brings an end to this uproar by beheading Solovey. The court responds with raucous praise and celebration, as Vladimir rewards Ilya by making him a knight.

The fourth and final tableau depicts two epic battles, in which Ilya fights the Tartars and Batygha the Wicked. Miraculous wonders take place over the course of the bloody contest, and eventually, one by one, Ilya and his bogatyr companions are turned to stone. His companions and friends freeze in their tracks, never to move again. As Ilya himself begins to feel his muscles clench and strength flow away, he recalls all the adventures he had in the previous tableaux. The mighty hero is the last to become completely petrified. This cataclysmic battle marks the end of the age of Russian bogatyrs.

Iliya Muromets, Forensic facial reconstruction...
Iliya Muromets, Forensic facial reconstruction by S.A.Nikitin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)