Les Vendredis for String Quartet

Mitrofan Belaiev N. Rimsky-Korsakov, A. Glazunov &  A. Liadov

Works by Nikolai Artcibuschev, Felix Blumenfeld, Alexander Borodin, Alexander Glazunov, Alexander Kopylov, Antoly Liadov, Maximilian d'Osten-Sacken, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai Sokolov and Joseph Vitols

Soundbites from Les Vendredis Set No.1

Soundbites from Les Vendredis Set No.2

Preludio e Fuga--Glazunov


Les Vendredid Polka--Sokolov, Glazunov & Liadov















Les Vendredis!—–Fridays at the mansion of lumber millionaire, amateur violist and chamber music enthusiast Mitrofan Belaiev. Those Fridays have become legendary. They began simply as a group of amateurs with a passion for playing string quartets who gathered at Belaiev's. But soon these evenings were to become the social center of musical life in St. Petersburg for Belaiev was no ordinary enthusiast. As Belaiev approached 50, he decided to devote all of his time and energy and much of his money to the cause of Russian music. In 1885, he founded the publishing firm bearing his name not only in Petersburg but also in Leipzig (then the music-publishing capital of Europe) to insure that the works of the up and coming Russian composers he published would be given the widest exposure. Soon the amateurs of Belaiev’s quartet were receiving visits from the likes of Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Liadov, Glazunov and many others. And before long these erstwhile visitors became regulars. They were to be known as the ‘Belaiev Circle.’ Over the next 20 years, on many an occasion, each of these composers, most of them at one time or another students of Korsakov, would bring with them a piece composed for string quartet as an offering of appreciation for all of the support and hospitality Belaiev had given and continued to give them.


On any given Friday evening, shortly after eight o’clock, the members of the Belaiev Quartet (Belaiev and three other amateurs) would enter his drawing room followed soon after by guests and visitors. There was an abundance of comfortable chairs and sofas. The dining room would then begin to fill with guests, those who came early were the ones who enjoyed quartet music even when it was performed by amateurs. Glazunov, perhaps in deference to his friend and host, coined and often repeated the motto, “Only amateurs should be allowed to long as they know how.” After a while, the musicians and the guests would finish their tea and start wandering into the huge, brightly-lit rectangular music room, intimate yet almost the size of a formal chamber music hall. All around the room arm chairs, small sofas, love seats and even some giant and ornate Persian cushions were scattered rather than the usual rows of uncomfortable straight back concert seats. At the Fridays, no guest was forced to be a member of the audience. Those who wished to hear the music were afforded a comfortable vantage point from which to listen and see the musicians. Those who were not overly fond of music would remain in the dining room by the samovar drinking cup after cup of tea and exchanging the latest Petersburg gossip.


In the center of the room, placed upon a rich rosewood platform, there were four folding music stands and behind them chairs. At about half past eight, the Belaiev Quartet would take its place on the platform and perform a quartet by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven. After this something a little more modern such as a quartet by Schubert or Mendelssohn, or perhaps a work by a lesser-known but still played composer such as Onslow, Bruch, Raff or Dittersdorf might be played. Belaiev was quite fond of Onslow’s quartets which could often be found on the program. After this, a Russian work would be played, often times sight read from manuscript. On such occasions the players, those composers in the audience, along with other musicians who were present, would break into discussion between the movements, exchanging opinions or arguing about the relative merit of the music.


Often after completion of the third work, Belaiev would suddenly rush off to his study where a small group of composers could be found huddling around his writing desk. As he approached, he could often see that four or five of them are frantically writing down quartet parts on manuscript paper from a manuscript score. “Is it ready?” he would ask impatiently. “Please, give us a moment more Mitrofan Petrovich!” Rimsky-Korsakov would answer. A minute or two later, he is told that the new work is ready. Belaiev would then take the new work, with the ink still wet and rush back into the concert room to baptize this new creation with the others in tow behind him. On one occasion, the new work was a polka, a work of collaboration between Glazunov, Liadov and Sokolov, another promising student of Rimsky-Korsakov. As always, the  parts would then be placed on the music stands. Even those gossiping in the next room would hurry toward the music room when they heard that a new work was being premiered. The Belaievs play it well and the Polka with its prominent viola part is greatly praised. “What shall we call it then?” asks Belaiev to which the others answer “Les Vendredis Polka, we dedicate it to you Mitrofan Petrovich!” Though it must be classed as a salon piece, the Les Vendredis Polka is a marvelous trifle that never fails to please.


With the new work over, the Belaiev Quartet has concluded the evening’s program. Soon after, the guests would be summoned into the dinning room where a banquet table awaited them. The long table would groan from the sheer amount of food served by Belaiev’s gourmet chef and there was always plenty of champagne and other wine with which to wash it down. At the end, guests were given a hot wine drink to fortify them for the trip back to their homes. Those who have written about the Fridays have generally agreed that it is all but impossible to put into words an account which accurately captures the mood and charm of those wonderful nights and the fascination they held for those lucky enough to have attended.


Les Vendredis---16 works for string quartet---was published in 2 sets after Belaiev's death in 1903. These works are perhaps the best and most lasting tribute to that lost world of Fridays. They were selected by Rimsky-Korsakov along with Glazunov and Liadov from among dozens of pieces which were found with Belaiev’s papers. Some were written on the fly, right there on a Friday evening in Belaiev’s study, while he and his quartet were performing out front. Others were composed ahead of time and presented for a special occasions such as a birthday.


This wonderful collection of works is sure to please. The shorter works can be used as encores, while the longer works, such as those by Korsakov, Borodin and Artcibuschev can be programmed in concert where a full length quartet is not desired.


(A) Les Vendredis Set No.1


(B) Les Vendredis Set No.2


(C) Les Vendredis Set Nos. 1 & 2






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