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ClassicsOnline Home » LYAPUNOV: 12 Etudes d'Execution Transcendante, Op. 11
Sergei Michailovich Liapunov (1859-1924)
12 Etudes d'exécution transcendante (1897-1905), Op. 11
By the end of the 19th century, Western European romanticism
developing and evolving rapidly, vanished in the works of Fauré, the symphonic
pieces of Dukas and the late compositions of Reger. In fact, the revolution
which Debussy started in the West at the beginning of the 20th century,
signified the end of a great historical movement and, at the same time, marked
the beginning of the new era producing the genius of Bartók, Shostakovich,
Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Messiaen.
Russian romanticism, existing alongside the mainstream of
Western music and having very specific national characteristics, was able to
bridge the turn of the century. Romantic tradition and ideals were so solid
that even the works of the pioneers of the "new music", such as
Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Stravinsky, were deeply rooted in the aesthetics of
romanticism. The smooth transitioF1 infused the "new music" with
forms and ideas of truly Russian nature. Russia held firm in the struggle
against new ideas, charged with energy in the effort to destroy the old world
of romanticism with its stereotyped forms, its old symbols, old ideas and
methods of composition.
Some composers, e.g. Medtner and Rachmaninov, did not accept
the creative ideas and methods of the new movement, remained faithful to the
"high and beautiful", while others, like Prokofiev and Stravinsky
moving in different directions, paid tribute to the newest trends of modern
It was the time of great names firmly connected with the
democratic tendencies of the period. There was an impressive number of
composers who kept alive and developed further the main Russian tradition, such
as Liadov, Arensky, Taneyev and, of course, "The Mighty Handful" led
by Balakirev. The powerful body of musical critics influenced greatly, in fact
formed Russian taste, music and musical education including such outstanding
musicians as Serov, Larosh and Stasov.
Sergei Michailovich Liapunov belonged to the leading
composers of that period. He was born on November 30th, 1859 (according to the
new calendar, November 18th, 1859). He studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory
with Pabst and Klindworth, composition with Sergei Taneyev. Two years after
graduation, he moved to St. Petersburg where he was close to the circle
"The Mighty Handful" under Balakirev. He became one of the first
teachers at the "Free Music School" and its director from 1908 to
1911. Between 1910 and 1918, Liapunov taught piano and composition at the St.
Petersburg Conservatory. His artistic and aesthetic ideals and convictions
prompted him to join a scientific expedition researching ancient Russian
folklore. He was an excellent virtuoso pianist and conductor. After the Great
October Revolution in 1917 Liapunov left Russia. He died in Paris on November
The name of Liapunov and his music, formerly well renowned
throughout the Russian musical world, is now forgotten, though it still appears
in music encyclopedias and reference works on musical history .His major
compositions were piano music, i.e. two piano concertos, the "Ukrainian
Rhapsody" for piano and orchestra, twelve "Transcendental
Studies", a sonata and various other solo pieces.
The cycle of twelve "Transcendental Studies",
written during the years 1897 to 1905 and dedicated to Franz Liszt, is one of
his best compositions. It follows traditional patterns established by Chopin
and Liszt during the 19th century and continued by Rachmaninov, Debussy and Scriabin
during the 20th century. The term "Study" becomes somewhat arbitrary,
possibly referring to a variety of sources; it is closely related to
"Prelude", and might also be called "Descriptive Mood" or
"Etude- Tableaux", titles used subsequently for the famous
compositions by Rachmaninov.
However, the title "Transcendental Studies" was
originated by Liapunov as a continuation of Liszt's cycle of the same name.
Apparently, Liszt planned to compose twenty-four studies in all keys but,
starting with C-major, moving downwards by the circle of fifths and including
parallel minor keys, he reached only as far as B-Minor. The concept was
eventually realised by Liapunov, who however did not refer to the actual origin
of his musical attempt for reasons of modesty. His twelve studies continue the
principle of the "circle of fifths" from F-sharp to E-Minor.
Liapunov's music, continuing the tradition of Russian piano
romanticism and Russian music at the turn of the century in general, adheres to
the aesthetic principles of European romanticism, of Schumann and Liszt. Two
idols of Liapunov, Balakirev and Liszt, influenced his music decisively, to the
extent of his creations becoming a symbol of the union of those two
inspirational sources: the West and Russia. Thus Stasov called him "Black
Balakirev", not only because of his physical resemblance, but also because
of the sombre quality of his early works due to the influence of his oldest
friend. Talking about Liszt, Balakirev is known to have said to Liapunov:
"Don't even try to escape his ever dominating influence". This is
hardly surprising, Balakirev's influence being most powerful at the time, while
Klindworth emphasised Liszt's pianistic inheritance simultaneously. Western in
its "grand style concertant" and in true keeping with western piano
romanticism, its classical clear forms, programme basis and subjects of it:
woods, water, wind. Yet it is Russian in its interest to the Orient, images of
Caucasus and Russian fairy tales, in use of the authentic melodies. And, at
last, Liapunov's personality equates that very Russian spirit, which pervades
his entire artistic work powerfully.
These two lines exist simultaneously. They do not resist or
oppose each other, but, on the contrary, are united by musical contemplation
and by the absence of active, heroical impulse. And at the end of the cycle
this successful union is proclaimed most convincingly in the splendid and
magnificent "Elegie", in which both themes merge within an apotheosis
symbolising the union between European and Russian artistic traditions.
As in many other instances, music considered secondary for a
certain period of time remains in the shadow of works of great and recognised
composers, buried in oblivion, but is eventually rediscovered and recognised in
its true and lasting artistic value.
Konstantin Scherbakov was born in 1963 in Barnaul, Siberia,
where he received his first piano instruction. In 1978 he began study with
Irina Naumova at the Gnesin School in Moscow and from 1981 to 1986 was a pupil
of Lev Naumov at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. He has won prizes at the
Montreal International Competition, the Busoni Piano Competition in Bolzano and
in 1983 won first prize at the Moscow Rachmaninov Competition. Other awards include
second prize in 1991 at the Concours Géza Anda in Zürich and the Géza Anda
Television Prize for his interpretation of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto.
In the same year he won second prize at the International Competition Premio
Valentino Bucchi in Rome, a competition dedicated to music of the twentieth
century. Konstantin Scherbakov has given concerts in over a hundred cities in
Russia and also has regular engagements in France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany
and Czecho-Slovakia. His recitals in Italy have included a cycle of Prokofiev
piano sonatas at a festival devoted to the work of that composer and a four
recital cycle of piano music by Rachmaninov. He has recorded extensively at
home and abroad and in addition to his concert activities is a member of the
teaching staff of Moscow Conservatory, where he is an assistant to Lev Naumov.
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