About this Recording
8.223424 - STANCHINSKY: Piano Sonatas / Three Sketches

Alexei Vladimirovich Stanchinsky (1888-1914)

Alexei Vladimirovich Stanchinsky (1888-1914)


One of the forgotten multitude of Russians in the years before the Great War and the Bolshevist Revolution, Stanchinsky was born in Vladimir Government. He studied piano with Josef Lhévinne and, at the Moscow Conservatoire, with the Siloti disciple, Konstantin Igumnov. Composition lessons followed in 1904 (when he was sixteen) - with Zhilyayev and Taneyev (Tchaikovsky's distinguished pupil). In 1908, on the death of his father, he fell victim to a chronic hereditary mental illness of schizophrenic nature, dementia praecox. Confined to a clinic for a year, suffering from hallucinations and religious mania interspersed by moments of lucidity, he was finally discharged, declared incurably insane. His tragic end came in October 1914. Found dead by a stream on the Crimean estate of one of his friends, how he died is not known. Maybe he was trying to find his way home and lost his footing. Or maybe (the favoured theory) it was suicide. Buried in the birthplace of Glinka, "father of Russian music", he was twenty-six.


In fits of violent dislike, Stanchinsky destroyed (or tried to) many of his early pieces. Some were reconstructed by friends from memory. Others were saved from burning by Zhilyayev. His few later ones circulated in manuscript. By the time of his death, hailed by his teacher as a genius of unusually brilliant gift, the most talented of his contemporaries in the opinion of many critics, he had become a cult figure.


The only ones of his works to be printed during his brief life were his Eight Sketches, Op. 1, dedicated to his sister. The Moscow periodical Muzïka, reviewing them in 1915, opined: "By the word 'Sketches' is suggested something elusive, something merely sketched in and unfinished, fortuitous and casual. But these pieces of Stanchinsky are not accurately described, for they present us living thoughts and feelings - creative outbursts of the soul expressed in definite and strictly musical form. They do not in the least resemble an Opus 1, but seem rather to be the emanation of the vivid impressions of a profoundly experienced individual - the essence of a mature and universal comprehension".


In 1916 Medtner inscribed his Three Pieces Op. 31 (Improvisation, Funeral March, Fairy Tale) to Stanchinsky's memory, and in the November and December of that year in the Small Hall of the Petrograd Conservatoire, some of his music - sonatas, canons, a string sextet - was heard for the first time. Subsequently, under the editorship of Zhilyayev and Alexandrov, the majority of his piano works were published posthumously between 1926 and 1931. "There is no doubt," believed the critic Leonid Sabaneyev, "that in the premature death of Stanchinsky the world lost a greater composer than the one it knew only during his lifetime".


Stanchinsky conceived most of his music either before (1906-09) or after (1912-14) the period of his confinement. Contemporary with Scriabin's Fifth Sonata and Poème de l'extase, and Rachmaninov's Second Symphony, First Sonata and Isle of the Dead, the earlier works, Jennifer Spencer suggests (New Grove, 1980), take the guise of "short, impressionistic piano pieces, free in form, and using chromatic harmonies and brief snatches of melody, which conjure up a strange, twilit world of half-perceived images and dreamlike visions". Included among these are the Op. 1 Sketches, the E flat minor Sonata, and various studies, preludes and contrapuntal forays into canon and fugue. Contemporary with Scriabin's Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Sonatas and Vers la flamme, Rachmaninov's Bells and Second Sonata, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Prokofiev's first two piano concertos, a handful of aphorisms comprise the later ones. An experience without precedent at once personal and inquiring - epic, nervy, voluptuous, abrasive, bleak, visionary, sombre, cynical ... veiled by memories of Mussorgsky, of Scriabin, of the virtuoso Romantics of the European stage ... a compound of retrospective vocabulary and futuristic language - their spirit is extraordinary.


Stanchinsky wrote five piano sonatas: the form mattered to him and, like Medtner, he cultivated it with imagination and intensity. Of the three examples on this recording, the single-movement E flat minor (1906), emotionally of the same dark underworld as Berg's B minor and Janáček's IX 1905, takes a familiar framework (exposition [with a second subject group in G flat, the relative major], motivic development, recapitulation [with the second group now in the tonic minor], allegro coda) to channel passions and moods turbulently romantic. The so-called First Sonata in F (1911-12) is a leaner, sparser statement, more obviously (neo) classically inclined. Its slow movement, in B flat with expansively shifting tonal plains, is especially arresting for the rhythmic intricacy and invention of its melodic, ornamental and harmonic detail. Provocatively, the two-movement Second Sonata in G combines old-world Beethovenian baroque homage (a slow opening 6/16 "progressively tonal" Fuga) with new-age assault (a brilliant closing "toccata" in 11/8 - the "modo russico" of Mussorgsky's Pictures).


Highly-charged, like Scriabin's late morceaux and preludes or Prokofiev's 1915-17 Visions fugitives, the Sketches have more to do with concentration than miniaturisation. In them Stanchinsky plays liberally with ideas, textures and spacings, with the vertical and the linear, with monody and polyphony, with statement and implication. He ranges from grave pronouncement to puckish humour to note-whirling psychedelia. He explores the sonorous and the angular, the beautiful and the disturbing. He realises theoretical models in practice (most notably in No. 11 of the collection of Twelve, a striking demonstration of chromatic "symmetrical inversion"), and in Nos. 3 (5/8) of the Three, and 1 (5/4), 5 (11/8), 6 (17/8 opening), 7 (10/8) and 11 (7/4) of the Twelve - he shows us how naturally he can speak in irregular metric stresses (cf the 5/8 and 11/8 finales of the First and Second Sonatas).


© 1994 Ateş Orga

Cambridge, England


Daniel Blumenthal


From prize-winning performances at the Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians Competition, the Geneva International Competition, the Busoni International Competition and the competitions in Leeds and in Sydney, the American pianist Daniel Blumenthal has continued with a career that has taken him to four continents as a soloist and recitalist, in the former capacity with major orchestras in Europe and America. His extensive recordings include both solo performances and chamber music. For Marco Polo, he has recorded works by Felicien David, von Bülow, Debussy, Robert Fuchs and Bargiel.

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