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ClassicsOnline Home » GRECHANINOV: Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2
Alexander Tikhonovich Grechaninov (1864-1956)
Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 38
Piano Trio No. 2 in G Major, Op. 128
Alexander Tikhonovich Grechaninov was born in Moscow in
1856, the son of a tradesman of relatively limited education. He was a
chorister at his school in Moscow and began to learn the piano at the age of
fourteen. With the secret encouragement and help of his sister-in-law he was
able to develop his ability as a pianist sufficiently to allow admission in
1881 to the Moscow Conservatory, a step taken against the wishes of his father.
His later teachers there included Safonov for piano, Sergey Taneyev for
composition and Arensky for fugue, but above all he was able to widen his
experience of music. A quarrel with Arensky led him in 1890 to leave Moscow and
move to the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he entered the class of
Rimsky-Korsakov for composition and orchestration, continuing his studies until
1893. By this time he had already achieved some success as a composer and in
1894 with his String Quartet in G major, Opus 2, won the Chamber Music Prize
established by Belyayev, influential as a patron and in his activities as a
publisher. In later years he was awarded the same prize for his second and
third quartets, written during the early years of the 1914-18 war. In 1895
Rimsky-Korsakov conducted the first performance of Grechaninov's Symphony No. 1
in B minor, a work that was well received. Rimsky-Korsakov, however,
entertained some reservations about the work, and was reported by the diarist
Yastrebtsev as regretting that someone with a natural inclination to write like
Rubinstein should suddenly decide to compose like Borodin.
Having married in 1891, Grechaninov was able to support
himself and his wife at first by piano teaching in St. Petersburg, an activity
he continued on his return to Moscow in 1896, while working on his first opera,
Dobrinya Nikitich, finally completed in 1901 and staged at the Bolshoi two years
later with Shaliapin in the title-rôle. At the invitation of Stanislavsky he
had already written incidental music for Moscow Arts Theatre productions of
plays by Alexis Tolstoy and Ostrovsky, while pursuing interests in folk-music
of various kinds in the Music Section of the Moscow University Department of
Ethnography. His connection with the Gnesin Institute, which began in 1906, the
year in which he began work as a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, led to a
number of compositions of all kinds for children and work with children's
choirs, although he and his wife remained childless.
As a composer Grechaninov had by 1910 won sufficient
distinction to earn him an annual state pension of 2000 roubles, a stipend that
was withdrawn after the Revolution. Nevertheless his second opera, Sister
Beatrice, based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, was rejected by the
Imperial Theatre and withdrawn after a few performances by the Simin Opera
Company on the grounds of alleged blasphemy in the portrayal on the stage of
the Blessed Virgin. A religious man, his subsequent use of instruments in
church music made liturgical use in the Russian Orthodox Church impossible, and
his later church music, after he had left Russia, continued in the same way,
making use of the Latin liturgical texts of the Western Catholic Church, and,
in particular in his Missa Oecumenica of 1939, thematic material of Russian,
Gregorian and Hebrew origin. The Revolution of 1917 and the loss of his
pension, the disturbed state of Russia and the nature of the new social system
imposed on the country led him in 1922 to accept the chance of travel abroad,
to London and to Prague. Further travel outside Russia resulted in his settling
in 1925 in Paris, his home until 1939. In that year he moved to the United
States of America, a country he had already visited on a number of occasions,
settling in New York and taking out American citizenship in 1946. He died in
New York in 1956.
The first of the two Piano Trios of Grechaninov was written
in 1906 and dedicated to the composer's former teacher, Sergey Taneyev. The
first of the three movements is propelled forward by the passionate rhythmic
urgency of the opening theme, still present even at the appearance of a
secondary theme of greater tranquillity .The piano opens the A flat major slow
movement with chords of harmonic ambiguity, before the appearance of a lyrical
violin melody, echoed by the cello, and an excursion, by enharmonic means, into
the key of D flat. The music dies away to be replaced by the energetic motor
rhythms of the last movement, at first suggested hesitantly, before the
movement proceeds, its progress interrupted by lyrical episodes and leading to
a histrionic conclusion.
Grechaninov completed his Piano Trio No. 2 in G major, Op.
128, in 1930, and it was published in Leipzig seven years later under the
Belaieff (Belyayev) imprint. Again in three movements, the work opens
dramatically before the appearance of the vigorous principal theme, its
progress interrupted by two G minor chords and a silence followed by a lyrical
cello melody. The movement is harmonically adventurous, although the general
harmonic idiom remains relatively conservative. The excitement of the first
movement is replaced, in the tripartite central E flat major Intermezzo, by a
more graceful melody that soon emerges in more grandiose form, to be replaced
by a G minor central section of more marked rhythm. A repetition of the opening
section and a brief coda lead to an impetuous Finale that culminates in a
fugato, the fugal subject stated first by the piano, followed by cello and
violin. The movement ends with a forceful coda.
Daniela Ruso had her early training at the College of Music
in Bratislava, later continuing her studies at the conservatory in Leningrad.
She won distinction at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1969 and
has pursued an active career as a recitalist, soloist and chamber-music player.
She is a member of the ensemble Musa Antiqua.
A protégé of the distinguished Slovak violinist A. Mózi,
whom he succeeded as concertmaster of the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony
Orchestra, Viktor Šimcisko was born in 1946. His musical career has involved
him in both solo performance and chamber music, in his own country, Austria,
Hungary, Germany, Spain and Japan.
Juraj Alexander is principal cellist in the Slovak Chamber
Orchestra, with which he has toured in Europe, on the American continent and in
Japan. Born in 1944, he studied at the Conservatory and at the College of Music
and Drama in Bratislava, and now enjoys a career as a soloist and chamber music
player in a widely varied repertoire.
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GRECHANINOV: Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2