Sergei Taneyev

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Marianne
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Sergei Taneyev

Postby Marianne » Mon Mar 09, 2009 10:47 pm

Born November 25, 1856, Vladimir-na-Klyaz'me, Russia.
Died June 19, 1915, Dyud'kovo, near Moscow, Russia.

Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 12

Most concertgoers today draw a blank at the name Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev. The Chicago Symphony has played his music just once—and that was in 1917. Yet he was one of the most highly regarded musical figures of his time. He studied composition with Tchaikovsky and taught both Scriabin and Rachmaninov. He knew Tolstoy and Turgenev; was friendly with many composers, including Franck, Fauré, and Rimsky-Korsakov; and was an enthusiast of Prokofiev's first compositions. When Rimsky-Korsakov assigned the young Stravinsky to write a symphony, he told him to take a look at Taneyev's Fourth Symphony—the work we play this week—which recently had been published. Much later, Stravinsky said he highly valued Taneyev's treatise on harmony, "respected him as a composer . . . and admired him greatly as a pianist." Rachmaninov, whose music begins this week's program, called him "a master composer, the most erudite musician of his time, a person of rare individuality, originality, and character—a pinnacle of musical Moscow."

Taneyev, who devoted his life largely to music, was an unusual personality. Well into adulthood, he continued to live with his nanny. If he had serious romantic interests, we don't know of them. A passionate teetotaler and non-smoker, he made his friends smoke at the open kitchen window, in clear view of a warning he had posted about the dangers of the habit. For many years, he kept a diary in Esperanto, the universal language that was created around the same time he began writing music. (He also set Esperanto texts to music.) Just once, in 1895, Taneyev's life of nerdy un-eventfulness was interrupted by tabloid drama, when Tolstoy's wife Sofia became infatuated with him (Taneyev apparently was unaware of her feelings) and precipitated a household crisis, echoing the famous novelist's then recently published novella about marital relations, The Kreutzer Sonata.

Taneyev was drawn to music early on. He began piano lessons at the age of five. When he was just nine, he entered the newly opened Moscow Conservatory, where he studied composition with Tchaikovsky and piano with Nikolai Rubinstein, who predicted that he would become "an excellent pianist and a great composer." Time has tended to reverse Rubinstein's adjectives, for while Taneyev's music has fallen off concert programs, his reputation as a pianist remains untarnished. In 1875—Taneyev was just nineteen at the time—he gave the Russian premiere of Brahms's formidable First Piano Concerto, one of the supreme challenges in the repertory. That same year, he played the first Moscow performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1 (only two months after the world premiere in Boston). Tchaikovsky said he couldn't have been happier with his playing; after that, Taneyev gave the Russian premieres of all of Tchaikovsky's works for piano and orchestra, as well as his chamber music with piano. (After Tchaikovsky's death, Taneyev completed and premiered his third piano concerto.)

When Tchaikovsky resigned from the conservatory in 1878, Taneyev was persuaded to take his place teaching harmony and orchestration; after Rubinstein's death in 1881, he took over the piano class as well. Four years later, he reluctantly agreed to become director. Taneyev and Tchaikovsky remained close long after their student-teacher relationship came to an end, and Tchaikovsky always valued Taneyev's blunt opinions, even when they disparaged his own music. Tchaikovsky destroyed the score of his early opera Voyevoda because Taneyev didn't think it good enough, although he didn't back down when Taneyev famously dismissed Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony as ballet music—a comment that earned Taneyev a place in music histories even when his own music did not.

For many years, few people other than Tchaikovsky knew of Taneyev's ambitions as a composer; he wrote a symphony while he was still a student and was at work on a second when the conservatory job forced him temporarily to set it aside. Like Mahler, who was working on his first symphony in the late 1880s, Taneyev became a "summer composer," trying to write a full year's worth of music while he was on vacation. In 1887, he began his most ambitious work, the opera Oresteya, which took seven years to complete. Although it was warmly received at its premiere in 1895, it never earned a place in the repertory. The following year, Taneyev began what is now known as the fourth of his symphonies, although it was originally published as his first. "Taneieu [sic] has not been prolific as a composer," Felix Borowski wrote in the Chicago Symphony's program book in 1917, when the Orchestra played the overture to Taneyev's Oresteya. The overture, in fact, was composed separately from the opera—although based on its main themes—as a concert work; Tchaikovsky introduced it in 1889, six years before the premiere of the opera. In Chicago, it shared a program with works by Taneyev's teacher and student: Rachmaninov's Second Symphony and Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (with Jascha Heifetz as the soloist).

Tchaikovsky affectionately called Taneyev the "Russian Bach." Long partial to Bach's music, Taneyev eventually also discovered the Renaissance masters, whose music he studied carefully, in the process polishing his own skill at writing elaborate, perfectly executed counterpoint. That became his area of expertise—he eventually published a two-volume treatise on Imitative Counterpoint in Strict Style—as well as the hallmark of his own music. Rimsky-Korsakov recalled that Taneyev regularly warmed up for a new piece with page upon page of sketches. "He used to write fugues, canons, and various contrapuntal interlacings on the individual themes, phrases, and motives of the coming composition," he wrote. Only then, apparently, after nearly exhausting his material, did he actually begin to compose. Soviet critics later dubbed him the "Russian Brahms" in reference to the earnestness and rigor of his style; he was also second only to Brahms in his love of history and his genuine interest, unusual for the time, in the music of the past.

The C minor symphony performed this week is considered the finest of Taneyev's instrumental scores. The first movement is a large-scale essay in counterpoint. It is set in motion by a three-note figure based on the notorious tritone—here the interval from C to F-sharp—that was once known as the "devil in music"—a historical fact that was not lost on Taneyev. Taneyev makes much of the interval's dramatic potential, as well as the contrapuntal possibilities of each of his themes—the result, no doubt, of the kind of exercise routines that Rimsky-Korsakov described. The Adagio is broad and flowing—the opening theme, slowly unfolding in the violins, is one of his most memorable—but no less detailed. The scherzo, with its dancing oboe melody, brings back the opening three-note motif. The grand finale reintroduces even more music—the unassuming waltzlike second theme from the first movement here takes on heroic proportions. The magnificent approach to the final pages, signaled by a shift to a stately tempo, is particularly well gauged. The symphony as a whole suggests that, this neglected figure—the Russian Bach, the Russian Brahms—had a voice all his own.

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mikhailp
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Re: Sergei Taneyev

Postby mikhailp » Tue May 26, 2009 6:29 am

How insightful, thank you Marianne!
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Marianne
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Re: Sergei Taneyev

Postby Marianne » Tue May 26, 2009 1:05 pm

You are welcome!!! Glad to share... Let me post some pictures of Taneev, one of the closest friends of Rachmaninoff and one of his main teachers in composition:

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Leo Tolstoy and Taneev play chess

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Taneev in Tolstoy's house in Yasnaya Polyana

DavidAsai
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Re: Sergei Taneyev

Postby DavidAsai » Sun Sep 26, 2010 1:47 pm

Working on a symphony while he was still a student. Great stuff and a very interesting read.
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wwilson777
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Re: Sergei Taneyev

Postby wwilson777 » Tue Nov 02, 2010 3:32 pm

Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev began taking piano lessons at age five with a private teacher.
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jhoncamron799
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Re: Sergei Taneyev

Postby jhoncamron799 » Fri Dec 17, 2010 4:49 pm

Sergei Taneyev is one of the greatest Russian composers from the last half of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Marianne
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Re: Sergei Taneyev

Postby Marianne » Sat May 14, 2011 4:06 pm

The last three messages are spam :-(

70percentcocoa
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Re: Sergei Taneyev

Postby 70percentcocoa » Thu Aug 16, 2012 12:26 am

The good folks at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have asked us to correct the link which Marianne posted right at the end of her long post. I cannot do that (Marianne, you might?)
But in the meantime please note that you can find them at http://cso.org.
Their event calendar (which is what the original post may have referred to) is at http://cso.org/Calendar.


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