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ClassicsOnline Home » TCHEREPNIN, A.: Symphony No. 4 / Suite Op. 87 / Russian Dances
Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977)
Symphony No. 4, Op. 91
Romantic Overture, Op. 67
Suite, Op. 87
Russian Dances, Op. 50
The Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin was born in St. Petersburg in 1899, the only son of the conductor and composer Nikolay Tcherepnin, who directed the first season of Dyagilev's Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909. In 1918 Nikolay Tcherepnin was appointed director of the Conservatory in Tblisi, where his son was able to continue his musical studies. In 1921 the family finally left Russia, settling in Paris, the base from which Alexander Tcherepnin began to establish his international reputation as a pianist and composer, studying further with Paul Vidal and Isidor Philipp and enjoying subsequent success in a ballet score for Pavlova and a series of compositions that included a second piano concerto and the first of his four symphonies.
In 1934 Alexander Tcherepnin visited the Far East, teaching in China and Japan, while being influenced profoundly himself by the ideas that he met in those countries, already aware, as he was, of Russia's debt to the East. In Shanghai he met a young Chinese pianist, Lee Hsienming, who later became his wife. In Paris once more, Tcherepnin suffered various difficulties during the war, before returning to work in 1945 with a series of important compositions. In 1948 he moved with his family to America, where he and his wife joined the teaching staff of De Paul University in Chicago. From that time until the end of his life he divided his time between Europe and America, returning briefly to Russia at the invitation of the Soviet Government for a concert tour. He died in Paris in 1977.
Tcherepnin wrote his Fourth Symphony in response to a commission from Charles Munch, a friend of long standing who had conducted compositions by Tcherepnin in Paris in 1936, at the very outset of his career as a conductor. The suggestion of a new symphony was put to the composer in 1953, when he was staying with Munch at his home in Massachusetts. For various reasons the work of composition was delayed until 1957 and the score was completed by Christmas and delivered immediately to Munch, at his urgent request. Tcherepnin played the work through to him on the piano, surprising him with an ending marked ppppp, piano-pianissimo and explaining the inclusion of a medieval Russian Requiem chant as a cantus firmus in the polyphonic third movement. Munch, who had already paid an initial fee of $1000, now gave Tcherepnin a further cheque for $1,000, to his surprise, and a year later invited him to attend the world première in Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The work, using the characteristic harmonic and melodic idiom developed by the composer, was greeted warmly by audiences and critics. The concise first movement makes use of three thematic groups and is followed by a second movement in the sectional form of a waltz and a third that served also in the end as a Requiem for Munch, whose support and friendship had been of such value to the composer.
Tcherepnin wrote his Romantic Overture, Op. 67, in war-time Paris, when taxis and private cars were forbidden and there was a return to horse-drawn transport. This brought to the composer's mind his childhood in St. Petersburg, waiting at night for the safe return of his parents. He recalled too Gogol's novel Nevski Prospect, a story that deals with the pursuit of two young women by two young men. The Overture opens with an Allegro describing a horse-driven carriage passing along the streets of St. Petersburg, illustrated by the rhythmic trot of the horses and the driver¡¦s use of his stick. Violin phrases name the various streets. The central Andante is in romantic style, ending with the sound of street-vendors imitated by oboe and piccolo. The final section returns to the present. The Overture was first performed in Kansas City in October 1951.
Tcherepnin's Suite, Opus 87, was written in 1953 and dedicated to the Louisville Orchestra, which gave the first performance of the work in May the following year. The composer explained that the subject of the Suite is the Town, where human beings live side by side, each pursuing his own ambitions. The first movement, Idylle, depicts morning, the church bells ring and birds sing in one of the city parks, where lovers later walk, too timid to hold each other's hand, but happy together. The second movement, Conflicts, concerns itself with the strife caused by selfishness, envy and hatred. Nostalgia Tcherepnin explained as subjective, evoking his own feeling of loneliness when he arrived in a new town, travelling from the airport to some hotel room, but isolated among his fellow human beings. He ends the Suite with a Rondo that is equally subjective, representing his own feelings in any lively town, in Shanghai, Paris or Chicago. He expressed in the work his love of humanity.
The Russian Dances, Opus 50, are a much earlier work, written in 1933 and first performed in Omaha in February the following year. Scored for an orchestra that includes a varied percussion section, the Dances draw on Russian folk-music, thematic elements combined to form an uninterrupted melodic line, particularly in the first and fifth. The opening Allegro moderato uses three themes, with the second serving as a refrain to the first. The second dance uses a street-song (chastushka), completed by the Kamarinskaya, and proceeding to three further themes of a rustic character. The third dance uses a theme of irregular rhythm, developed by different groups of wind instruments, accompanied by plucked strings. A new lyrical melody, entrusted to unison strings, brings this to an end and leads to the conclusion of the movement. The final Allegro marciale starts with a wedding march, followed by three further songs, the march re-appearing to form a final uninterrupted crescendo.
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