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8.223491 - LYAPUNOV, S.M.: 12 Études d'exécution transcendante, Op. 11 (Scherbakov)

Sergei Michailovich Lyapunov (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 transition 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 music.

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 Lyapunov 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, Lyapunov 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 Lyapunov left Russia. He died in Paris on November 8th, 1924.

The name of Lyapunov 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 Lyapunov 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 Lyapunov, 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.

Lyapunov’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 Lyapunov, 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 Lyapunov: “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, Lyapunov’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

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