Alexander Glazunov wrote the Chant du Ménestrel for Cello and Orchestra Op. 71 in 1900. This concert piece was very popular, especially in the first decade of the twentieth century. This rapid gain in popularity was partly due to the fact that Beatrice Harrison, the famous seventeen-year-old English cellist, performed the piece in 1907 at the Royal College of Music with Glazunov conducting.
The Chant du Ménestrel is short, only about four minutes in length, but it is packed with the emotional expression characteristic of the late Romantic era into which Glazunov's music falls. The Russian (and European) image of the minstrel, or "troubador" in other translations, is a fitting one for Romanticism as well, as in the early 1900s it represented those who freely performed and composed their own brand of music.
The main melody of the work is plaintive, almost elegiac in quality, appearing in the more tenor-like range of the cello. The cello sings out in full voice and the phrases are long and sorrowful. There are a few brief moments in which it sounds as if the cello line is somewhat improvisatory, which is a characteristic of the Romantic genre. Although Glazunov uses full orchestra in the accompaniment, the texture is never too full for the solo line, thanks to his great skills as an orchestrator. The string lines are rich and expressive. The winds have shorter, beautifully written solos that complement the melody in the most appropriate manner. The cello's melody in the middle section is less morose and more optimistic sounding. This contrasting period of emotional relief makes the subsequent return of the first melody seem even more sorrowful. The melody makes its return first in the winds, then is passed along to the cello to finish out the piece. The solo line ends on the minor third scale degree rather than on the tonic pitch, leaving the listener with the feeling that the overall melancholy of the piece is never quite resolved.