Strongly rooted in the European romantic tradition (and notoriously dismissive of anything remotely musically progressive), the Russian composer Anatoly Liadov (1855-1914) could write both atmospherically and imaginatively. He was, however, plagued by career-long self-doubt and procrastination. His commission to write the music for Diaghilev’s new ballet The Firebird was famously withdrawn when, as the rehearsal dates approached, he admitted that he hadn’t even begun work on the score. Diaghilev turned, instead, to the relative newcomer, Igor Stravinsky – changing musical history forever!
The Musical Snuffbox, Op. 32, is one of his best known works and a superb example of a piano miniature – arguably what Liadov did best. An early 20th century edition of the music offers a delightful description on the subject matter of the piece, saying, “In the days of our great-grandparents when the taking of snuff was considered a refined habit, clever workmen exercised their ingenuity by combining snuffboxes and music boxes, thus making useful toys for grown-ups”. How times change! Marked Automaticamente the music most convincingly emulates the mechanical music box sound – both in the original piano version and in Liadov’s later superb orchestration.