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Anatol Liadov (1855-1914)

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Anatol Liadov was born in St. Petersberg on 11th May 1855 into a highly musical family. His grandfather had been a professional musician, three uncles were musicians, and his father was a conductor at the Maryinsky (now Kirov) Theatre. After initial musical studies with his father, Liadov joined Rimsky-Korsakov's composition class at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. It is suggested that he failed the class due to lack of application; be that as it may, his eventual success at the Conservatory was such that a year after completing his course he was appointed to the teaching staff as and soon became a full professor. Liadov's ability was recognized in the highest circles, and he was appointed to a Commission set up by the Imperial Geographical Society to research into the folk-songs of various regions.

Liadov's reputation for indolence -- he completed few large-scale works -- rests largely upon his involvement with Diaghilev's plans for a ballet based on the "Firebird" legend. The impresario originally commissioned a score from Liadov, but on the composer's failure to complete the work in time he placed the commission in the hands of another of Rimsky-Korsakov's pupils, a Stravinsky. It is true that Liadov composed slowly, but with great attention to detail. His slow and meticulous approach to his work, together with the immense amount of time taken up by his teaching and research, necessarily limited the number of works he was able to complete successfully. It is said too that as the years passed by and he failed to achieve the recognition granted to some of his contemporaries, Liadov became disillusioned and disinclined to compose. He died near Novgorod in 1914.

As in the case of Edvard Grieg, however, the fact that there are few large-scale works should not detract from our appreciation of the music Liadov did write. As a master of orchestral writing, Liadov is the equal of several brilliant compatriots. Before dismissing some of his effects and procedures as "derivative" the listener should note the early date of the composition of these pieces and not fall into the trap of labelling as cliches techniques which have since, in other hands, become such. In the [following] orchestra pieces we can hear a voice that is unmistakably Russian, highly evocative, and of a character which demands not analytical listening but an open-hearted response.

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