The virtues of triviality amid chaos and violence

Glow. © Charles Thibo

Dreaming… Do you occasionally m ake time to dream? To close your ideas, to let your thoughts wander, your mind drift, to forget about the world around you? I think this is important. It doesn’t have to be long, the conscious effort to this – that is what counts. Sometimes I just stop wherever I am, I look at the blue sky, the sun and an intense pleasure starts to glow from inside. 10, 20 seconds, a minute or two, whatever, that short moment is enough to fill me with happiness for a whole afternoon.

I feel something similar when I listen to Alexander Glazunov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B major, Op. 100. Luminescence, peace of mind, beauty, a celebration of life – that sums it up broadly. Glazunov wrote it in 1917 while teaching at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. 1917 is an important date in Russian history. It was the year of the Russian Revolution, the end of the Czar’s regency, the end of World War I for Russia after it concluded a separate peace treaty with the German Empire in Brest-Litovsk. Perhaps the composer felt that in such dark and difficult times, marked by chaos and violence, he would have to create himself his moments of joy and light.

The “Russian Brahms”

Piano Concerto No. 2, as many others composed by Glazunov, was soon forgotten and I would not have discovered it had I not at some point bought all the recordings by the Russian National Orchestra under José Sérébier. I truly like this short piece – barely 19 minutes long – for its clarity, its simplicity, for the very characteristics that in the eyes of his critics prevented his compositions to stand out: Easy to listen to, easy to forget. His defenders spoke a very different language and characterized him as the “Russian Brahms” and indeed the piano concerto begins with a reference to Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2.

The question is: Does triviality not have some virtues? Perhaps a “trivial” piece like Glazunov’s piano concerto encapsulates more truth than some sophisticated, brilliant, exuberant composition. Life is of a striking triviality most of the time, and if Glazunov simply want to write a piece of simple, nice music to brighten up his and his contemporaries’ dark days in 1917, if that was his ambition, I can find nothing wrong with that. Why reach for the stars, if the moon is good enough?

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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