Glière’s Symphony No. 3, Ilya Muromets

Notes by TŌN flutist Denis Savelyev

The Story
Ilya Muromets is Glière’s most monumental orchestral composition. The basis of the story is the epic tale The Tale of the Bogatyr Ilya Muromets – A Peasant’s Son. Muromets is a famous folk hero of ancient Kievan Rus’, and is associated with an actual historical figure: the medieval warrior and monk Ilya Pechersky. Glière, who studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, taught at the Moscow Conservatory, Gnesin Institute and Kiev Conservatory, where his students included Sergei Prokofiev. His third symphony achieved huge popularity in Russia and around the world. A massive, multi-movement tone poem, the symphony is written in four tableaux (movements).

Wandering Pilgrims—Ilya Muromets and Svyatogor
Tableaux I begins with portentous and slow music representing the early childhood of Muromets, crippled and unable to walk since birth, until he is healed by some wandering pilgrims. The second section of this movement is about our hero meeting a new friend, Svyatogor, who teaches Ilya about wisdom. The music changes as Svyatogor dies, then Ilya then rides off on his horse to Kiev.

Solovey the Brigand
The second movement is about Ilya capturing the dreaded monster Solovey the Brigand, or Nightingale the Robber, who hides in the shelter of the mighty oaks of a threatening forest. Ilya shoots an arrow into Solovey’s eye, ties him to his horse, and rides to the court of Prince Vladimir in Kiev.

At the Court of Vladimir, the Mighty Sun
Tableaux III has an absolutely different, dancing feel. Ilya appears with Solovey still tied to his horse, but releases him upon arrival at court. All the guests fall to their knees with fear, but Ilya beheads the monster, demonstrating to Prince Vladimir that he is worthy to be a bogatyr, which is similar to a knight.

The Heroism and Petrification of Ilya Muromets
The final movement shows Ilya’s and his fellow bogatyrs’ battles against those who are trying to turn the country back to paganism. The last section of the movement depicts the defeat of Ilya and the bogatyrs. All of the bogatyrs are haughty over their victories in battle until a celestial army comes down to earth and defeats them. Ilya tries to run away and turns into stone. The music reaches its climax in minor chords, then slowly evaporates. The symphony is filled with emotion and contemplation, conveying a heroic and beautiful story.