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8.223133 - TANEYEV, A. S.: Symphony No. 2 / Suite No. 2

Alexander Sergeyevich Taneyev (1850-1918)

Symphony No. 2 in B Flat Minor, Opus 21
Andante – Allegro
Adagio mosso
Finale: Allegro vivacissimo
Suite No. 2 in F Major, Opus 14
Theme with Variations
Menuetto: Tranquillo
Finale: Allegro con spirito

Alexander Sergeyevich Taneyev was the uncle of Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev, a musician whose activities are very much better known today through his association with Tchaikovsky, at first as a pupil and then as a friend and colleague, with Rakhmaninov and other Russian musicians in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Alexander Sergeyevich has fared worse at the hands of posterity. Six years older than his nephew, he was born in Petrograd in 1850 and after graduating from the University there pursued a career of considerable distinction in the government service, rising to the position of director of the Imperial Chancellery.

It was perhaps his very eminence that made him rather less popular with musicians such as Rimsky-Korsakov, from whom he had had lessons. Yastrebtsev, self-appointed Boswell to Rimsky-Korsakov, records their disapproval of Taneyev's arrogance to subordinates and his kind, courteous and ingratiating behaviour towards musicians willing to play his music. On the latter subject, commenting on the first of Taneyev's three symphonies, they damned the work with faint praise as not bad, adding that it bore traces of Glinka, Borodin and Tchaikovsky.

Alexander Sergeyevich had known Glinka, as well as Balakirev, the instigator of Russian musical nationalism, and Musorgsky. He had received musical training, having taken lessons from Reichel in Dresden, and from Petrov and Rimsky-Korsakov at home. His compositions were well enough received, although his one-act opera Cupid's Revenge, given a concert performance in Petrograd in 1899, was castigated by the critic Tcheshikin. A second opera, The Snowstorm, was performed in Petrograd in 1916, two years before the composer's death.

Other compositions by Alexander Sergeyevich include a symphonic tableau Alyosha Popovich, an Overture to Hamlet, three symphonies and two orchestral suites, two string quartets and a number of smaller pieces. It seems that he was in the habit of writing a bar or two in between appointments in his office, continuing a remarkably professional kind of amateurism as a composer, as other nationalist composers had done.

The Second Symphony was completed in 1902 and is a work of assured competence, fully imbued with the spirit of Russia, which it sets out to capture. The first movement opens with an air of melancholy, the music expanding lyrically into the rhythm of a folk-dance of a thoroughly Russian cast. The Scherzo and Trio were once cited as prime examples of Russian nationalism and these are followed by a slow movement in which serenity prevails over occasionally more turbulent elements. There is a predictably exuberant and triumphant finale, with intervening episodes of strongly romantic outline.

The Second Suite in F major is a slightly earlier work, written at the turn of the century. The first of the four movements is in the form of a Theme and Variations, the relatively staid melody treated with some freedom, if briefly, in each colourful variation, including a touch of the counterpoint for which his nephew was notorious. As in the Second Symphony Taneyev demonstrates his command of orchestration, both here and in the following movements, a stately and nostalgic Minuet, and a slow movement of lyrical intensity. The Suite ends with a bustling finale, a tauantelle that may remind us of many another ballet conclusion and of Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev's structures on Tchaikovsky, a composer who, in his view, was all too to incorporate elements of ballet into compositions of more serious pretentious.

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