Albumblätter, 12 Pieces for Cello & Piano, Op.51
The reputation of Reinhold Gliere (sometimes spelled Glier 1875-1956) today rests primarily upon his symphonies, ballets and operas, however he was also a composer of superb chamber music. Gliere was born in Kiev where he began his first musical studies with the famous violin teacher Otakar Sevcik, among others. He then went to the Moscow Conservatory where he studied with Sergei Taneyev, Anton Arensky and Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. His superb compositional technique was quickly recognized by his teachers and he won several prizes for his early works. Gliere, himself, taught at the Moscow and Kiev conservatories for nearly 40 years. Among his many successful students were Khachaturian, Prokofiev and Miaskovsky.
The Albumblätter (Album Leaves) for cello and piano were composed in 1910 while Gliere was living in Berlin and this perhaps explains both the title and impetus for composing a set of 12 character pieces, in this instance, for cello and piano. The writing of sets of character pieces was a particularly German tradition, It was Robert Schumann who popularized the genre with his own Albumblätter for piano, Op.124. Subsequently, it became a format much beloved by German composers and audiences. The fact that there was no real tradition for this sort of composition in Russia makes it probable that the idea suggested itself to Gliere while in Germany and perhaps because of Schumann's work of this type.
In these 12 pieces, Gliere shows himself a master of melody, the sources of which are both Russian and Asiatic. He exploits the total tonal range and ability of the instrument. However, here, it is the singing nature of the cello which dominates the composer’s thoughts. While in the 19th century, it was not uncommon for a set of 12 character pieces to be performed together as half of or even an entire recital, nowadays, this practice has all but disappeared. So while it is certainly possible to play the entire set together, as they unquestionably would make up a fine recital, it is also possible to select four, five or six to make up a shorter work. And several could, by themselves, be used as fine encores. We have selected six soundbites to give an example.