|Mitrofan Belaiev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Liadov & Borodin|
A String Quartet by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Antoly Liadov,
Alexander Borodin and Alexander Glazunov
Lumber millionaire and amateur violist Mitrofan Belaiev's passion was chamber music. But Belaiev was no ordinary enthusiast. As he 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. His goal was to insure that the works of the up and coming Russian composers would be given the widest possible exposure. Among the beneficiaries of his largess were Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Liadov, Glazunov and many others. These composers and their students became known to posterity as the ‘Belaiev Circle.’
Each Friday, Belaiev held concerts followed by banquets at his St. Petersburg mansion. These soirees, known as Les Vendredis, became famous. (To learn more about them click here.) It was at one of these Friday soirees on Belaiev's birthday in 1886, that the four composers, in appreciation of all of his support, presented their patron with a string quartet which was not only dedicated to him but which also was based on a theme taken from his name: B (B flat in German), la (the French for A) and F. Together, they make the sounds of Belaiev's last name. It was a cooperative effort with each composer writing a movement. In each of the four movements, the B-la-F theme is used, but with such ingenuity that one never finds the work tedious.
The first movement, by Rimsky-Korsakov, begins with a Sostenuto assai introduction in which the viola, alone, first sings the publisher’s name. The main part is a lively Allegro. The second movement, Scherzo vivace, by Liadov shows an unforced sparkle. Again the viola is given the honor of introducing the first theme, B-La-F. In the trio, Liadov shows off his technique making a new and convincing theme from his note building blocks. The third movement, Serenata alla Spagnola, Allegretto, is by Borodin. It features a very original and ingenious treatment of the thematic material and sounds very Spanish indeed. A brief six measure pizzicato introduction precedes the theme which, of course, is introduced by the viola. The finale, Allegro con spirito, is by Glazunov, Belaiev’s favorite, and one can hear he worked hard to make it a real show piece.
This attractive and unique work should be welcome on music stands everywhere.