REVIEW , Reinhold GLIERE (1875-1956) Symphony no.3 in B minor Il’ya Muromets (1911),

Size does matter – and that’s especially the case in music. Just the sheer scale of some compositions can present challenges. Sometimes those challenges are not so much artistic as simply logistical. In the mid 19th century, Louis Moreau Gottschalk was famous for organising “monster” concerts of his own rambunctious scores through Central and South America and the Caribbean. “My orchestra consisted”, he wrote of one Havana event, “of six hundred and fifty performers, [in addition to] eighty-seven choristers, fifteen solo singers, fifty drums and eighty trumpets – that is to say, nearly nine hundred persons bellowing and blowing to see who could scream the loudest. The violins alone were seventy in number, counter-basso eleven, violoncellos eleven! You can judge of the effect…”
As Gottschalk clearly implies, he was composing scores that could be performed relatively easily by massed amateur and minimally rehearsed forces. As a result, it seems fair to assume that he would have been compelled to modify at least some of any higher artistic aspirations that he may have entertained. Thus, although Stokowski or perhaps even Toscanini – both noted explorers of forgotten byways of American musical history – might have been tempted, I’m not aware that it ever crossed the minds of the likes of Karajan, Abbado or Günter Wand to perform A night in the tropics, Á Montevideo or the Grande fantaisie triomphale sur l’hymne national brésilien.
When, however, Late-Romantic composers began to use sheer orchestral size as an entirely legitimate tool to help them express their personal Weltanschauung, the jumbo score – requiring, this time, accomplished performers rather than mere bellowers and blowers – acquired genuine artistic credibility. Il’ya Muromets is one of those great Late-Romantic orchestral leviathans. Like Strauss’s Alpine symphony or Mahler’s Symphony of a thousand, its epic scale and its practical requirements deter most orchestras from even attempting it. Whereas a quick trawl through YouTube will uncover plenty of orchestras from around the world perpetrating all sorts of entertainingly horrific massacres on familiar scores, I cannot locate a single one attempting even a portion of Il’ya.

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