Sergei Prokof'ev and Reinhold Glier

Reinhold Glier just had completed his studies and graduated from the Moscow conservatory with the highest award, a gold medal, when he was asked by his teacher Sergei Taneev in January 1902, to teach the 10-year old Sergei Prokofiev. A very beautiful description about this is found in the book: "Prokofiev his life and times" by Natalia Savkina. (Paganiniana Publications Inc., New Jersey, USA, 1984, ISBN 0-86622-021-6).

Sergei Prokof'ev

*  April 11, 1891 (April 23, 1891 new calendar) in Sontsovka

+ March 05, 1953 in Moscow

Sergei Prokof'ev

In December 1901, the family went to Moscow and to St. Petersburg again. At their friends' home in Moscow, the Prokofievs met a young musician Yu. N. Pomerantzev. He promised to arrange for them to be introduced to his teacher Taneev, who was "the very top professor in Moscow."

The professor lived in a modest apartment which a few years later he exchanged for another one just as modest. When numerous visitors, mostly budding composers and pupils, pestered him too much, he would hang a sign on the front door saying: "S. I. Taneev is ill and does not see anyone. The bell is not working." Those were his working hours. There was no such sign displayed on January 23; Sergei Ivanovich was waiting for little Seryozha.

The furniture was simple, even scant; the old grand piano was lighted by an oil lamp. Mariya Grigorievna became nervous:

"There was an air of something extraordinary, something unearthly about this room; the piles of music and books, the solitude, the silence and even the benign voice of the host overawed one, as if you were entering a temple."

Taneev received the boy cordially and treated him to chocolate. Here are several entries in his journal: "Around two o'clock, Yusha (Yu. N. Pomerantzev) came for dinner. He brought a ten-year-old boy with him-Seryozha Prokofiev, who is exceptionaliy gifted. He played his own compositions. He has an absolute pitch, a recognition of chords and intervals." February 3. "I went over to Yusha to tell him to send little Seryozha Prokofiev a message that I can take him to a rehearsal." February 4. "Today, the rehearsal of my symphony with the strings. I sat close to little Seryozha Prokofiev, explaining to him all the details of score notation." February 6. "A rehearsal of my symphony with the complete orchestra. Conussek Catoire, Yusha, the Sabaneyevs, little Prokofiev, Eigess, Goldenveiser were there." March 1. "At 1 o'clock, the rehearsal of the Litvinov concerto (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2, part one in the original Version); . . . From there, I went to Yusha's place, to test little Prokofiev on harmony."

Reinhold Glier Sergei Ivanovich recommended that a professional musician be hired to stay in Sontzovka during the summer as instructor to Seryozha. He found such an instructor, too - Reinhold Moritzevich Glier, a young composer who had just graduated from the conservatory with a gold medal.  

In June 1902 the whole family was preparing excitedly to meet the teacher. Glier had thick black hair, a moustache, a violin in his hands. He stooped a little, his face had a grave look, but the eyes, set wide apart under bushy eyebrows, were ready to smile at any moment. He managed to gain the boy's love, for even his slightly old-fashioned politeness could not conceal the fact that he was essentially kind, simple and hearty, just as was his music. The young instructor was a man of few words, but that was no obstacle to their friendship; whenever help or advice was needed, he revealed himself as a generous and magnanimous person.  

Glier participated in many of the boy's childish games, treating his as yet uncomplicated theatrical amusements very seriously; the next summer, during Glier's second stay, they worked together enthusiastically on the composition of Seryozha s third opera, "The Feast During the Plague". 

Explaining musical forms and harmony, Glier roused the interest and the curiosity of his pupil. The method of becoming familiar with the basics of instrumentation was "picturesque enough": "While we were practicing the piano in the morning, he would spot a passage or a melody characteristic of one instrument or another in a Beethoven sonata or some other piece, and then stop and tell me that, if that piece were orchestrated, this strong-sounding triad would be played by three trombones, this pastoral melody, by an oboe, and this melodious middle note should be given to a cello". What both the pupil and the teacher loved most was improvisation. Glier executed colorful virtuoso improvisations on folk-song themes, while Seryozha preferred themes of his own. 

Glier introduced a useful practice: an assignment, every month, to compose a short piano piece. The miniatures were called "songs" and usually were composed on the occasion of a major or minor holiday in the family, so many of them are dedicated to a person: "Dedicated to dear Papa by S. Prokofiev, 28.3. 1904," to "Aunt Tanechka", to "Godfather". He wrote twelve in a year, and from 1902 to 1906, there were 60. It was time to catalogue his own work...

A letter from Mariya Prokofieva to Sergei Tannev:

Most respected Sergei Ivanovich!

Recently, Reinhold Moritzevich has left our house, leaving the best memory behind him. He is irreplaceable as an instructor. He has so much tact and patience! With his knowledge and love of music, he could always get Seryozha interested and incline him to composition. Seryozha's summer compositions, written under Reinhold Moritzevich's supervision, are quite different. One can feel Seryozha has been set on the right track. For all this I must express my deepest gratitude to you, most respected Sergei Ivanovich. My husband and Seryozha join me. We all thank you very sincerely and with all our souls. This year, I shall try to make arrangements so that we can go to Moscow twice, as you have advised, a month before Christmas and a month after; meanwhile, we shall work on our own,
blindly groping. 

I wish you the best; and, with the fullest and deepest respect for you, 

sincerely yours
Mariya Prokofieva

September 11, 1902

Of course, she succeeded in arranging a trip to Moscow a month before Christmas. In November, Seryozha, now a year older, brought to Taneev seven songs and a symphony, the crown of his creative achievement in the first summer of studies with Glier. It was played in four hands, "he and I, Taneev doing humbly the left hand". Sergei Ivanovich praised the symphony, but remarked in his usual mocking tone, "Bravo, bravo! But the harmonization is still rather primitive. Mostly ... ha,ha .... the first and the fourth and the fifths steps!" The ambitious boy was deeply mortified and remembered the "ha,ha" for quite a long time. Prokofiev later
linked, at least in part, his subsequent love for experimentation and innovation in the field of harmonic language with that memorable visit to Taneev.

Autograph of a symphony made under instruction of Reinhold Glier. Dedicated (1945) "to Reinhold Moritzevitch on the wonderful day of his 70th birthday in memory of our first meeting in 1902".

Sergei Prokof'ev with Reinhold Glier (center) and Dmitry Kabalevsky (left) 1945 in Ivanov

last update: December 30, 2002