Reinhold Glière is best remembered for his colorful ballets The Red Poppy and The Bronze Horseman, as well as the monumental "Il’ya Muromets" Symphony (No. 3). His first string quartet, however, represents a much earlier product from his student days. Composed in 1900, the year Glière graduated from the Moscow Conservatory, the quartet shows the young composer working firmly in the folk-inspired tradition of Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov (his composition teachers included Arensky and Ippolitov-Ivanov).
The opening movement, in a very compact and transparent sonata form, possesses an appealing naïveté thanks to the attractive, folk-inspired melodies featured throughout. There are also moments of pathos, especially in the development section, where the movement’s opening motive appears in the minor mode. After the gentle coda presents the main theme for the last time, we feel as if having just conversed with an old friend.
The ternary Scherzo which follows is a rhythmic delight, Dvorákian in spirit, with a central portion alternating bars of common time with measures in 6/4. The movement concludes with a return of the opening music, capped by a brilliant coda.
In the Theme and Variations, there is much to admire in Glière’s colorful writing for the strings. The theme, in A minor, presents two contrasting ideas before concluding with the first, a wistful melody based on a descending minor scale. In the virtuosic first variation, nervous tremolandos accompany a ghostly echo of the theme, which gradually builds before subsiding to a pianississimo. The sudden shock of the second variation’s fortissimo opening suggests a heroic adventure on horseback, while the ensuing Andante (variation 3), retaining the opening motive, treats the melodic variant imitatively. The last variation (Vivace scherzando) contrasts rising and falling scalar patterns, and leads without pause to the coda with its final, gentle statement of the theme.
The finale is another clearly constructed sonata form, wherein the opening music’s rhythmic brio contrasts nicely with the broad melodic gestures of the second theme. At the conclusion, Glière provides a suitably jubilant coda to round out the joyful proceedings.
Pianist Erik Entwistle is a Ph.D. Candidate in Musicology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is preparing a dissertation on "Martinu in Paris."