About this Recording
8.573561 - TANEYEV, S.I.: Piano Trio, Op. 22 / BORODIN, A.P.: Piano Trio (Delta Piano Trio)

Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev (1856–1915): Piano Trio in D major, Op. 22
Alexander Porfir’yevich Borodin (1833–1887): Piano Trio in D major, Op. posth.


Rimsky-Korsakov, survivor and musical executor of the band of Five Russian nationalist composers, seems to have entertained mixed feelings about Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev. In his published memoirs he has high praise for the younger composer as a wonderful musician and highly trained teacher and goes on to describe both his expertise in counterpoint and the dry, laboured character of his early compositions. He continues to explain how Taneyev in the 1890s changed his attitude to the nationalists, whom he had previously regarded as amateur, a view that Anton Rubinstein, with some justification, had unwisely expressed some thirty years before. There was a public quarrel with Balakirev during the rehearsal of a concert in Smolensk, but Taneyev came to respect the music left by Borodin and the work that Rimsky-Korsakov’s former pupil Glazunov had done in preparing it for publication. Mussorgsky, however, he could never accept. Rimsky-Korsakov adds a description of Taneyev’s technique of composition, particularly with reference to his new opera The Oresteia. In preparation Taneyev would treat thematic material with every device of counterpoint, realising its full possibilities, before tackling the work itself.

Some ambivalence in the attitude of Rimsky-Korsakov to Taneyev appears in the reminiscences of the composer by his faithful Boswell, Yastrebtsev. Whereas in his memoirs he had publicly expressed pleasure in The Oresteia, in private he found it lacking in inspiration. There seemed to be some suspicion that Taneyev had influenced Glazunov against Rimsky-Korsakov and a notion that he was arrogant to subordinates but unduly flattering towards anyone who would play his music. The suspicion, as so often with the nationalists, seems even then to have been that of the amateur for the professional, and Taneyev was highly professional. Nevertheless Rimsky-Korsakov was sufficiently impressed by Taneyev’s C minor Symphony [Naxos 8.572067], while criticism of its composer’s behaviour and compositions was largely kept within his family circle.

Taneyev was born in 1856, the son of a government official and nephew of Alexander Sergeyevich Taneyev, director of the Imperial Chancellery and, in private, a gifted composer and admirer of the nationalists. Sergey Ivanovich had piano lessons from the age of five and when he was ten became a pupil at the Moscow Conservatory, where his later teachers were Nikolay Rubinstein, the director of the Conservatory, and Tchaikovsky, with whom he remained on close terms until the latter’s sudden death in 1893. Taneyev distinguished himself in the first place as a pianist, making his début in 1875 with the D minor Piano Concerto of Brahms, following this with the first Moscow performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto at the end of the year, in which he had graduated from the Conservatory with the double distinction of a gold medal for both performance and composition. With Nikolay Rubinstein he had spent the summer abroad and in the following year toured Russia with the great violinist Leopold Auer. 1877 and 1878 he spent abroad, visiting Paris, where he met the Russian novelist Turgenev and leading French musicians, and giving concerts in the Baltic provinces. In 1878 Tchaikovsky, now in receipt of a pension from Nadezhda von Meck, resigned from the Conservatory and was succeeded by Taneyev as professor of harmony and orchestration, the latter at first demurring at the offer of composition classes. After the death of Nikolay Rubinstein and retirement of Liszt’s pupil Karl Klindworth in 1882 he became professor of piano at the Conservatory and professor of composition in succession to his former teacher Nikolay Gubert in 1883. Two years later he was persuaded to become director, a position he held for four years.

Released from the immediate pressure of administrative duties, Taneyev was able from 1889 to devote himself to writing and composition. He completed his opera The Oresteia in 1894, after some ten years’ work, but it was withdrawn from production when, in spite of a favourable reception by the public, the directorate insisted on cuts. The last of his four symphonies, published in 1901 as No. 1 [Naxos 8.570336], was well received, even if Rimsky-Korsakov and his friends found in it too much of their greatly admired Glazunov. The year 1906 brought the publication in Leipzig of the sixth of a series of numbered string quartets and three years later he published in Leipzig and Moscow his influential book on invertible counterpoint, the summary of his years as the most proficient teacher of his generation in Russia, who could count among his former pupils Scriabin, Glière and Rachmaninov. Tchaikovsky’s willingness to listen to his advice and criticism is testimony to Taneyev’s technical proficiency, his musicianship and his frankness. He died in the summer of 1915, after catching a chill at the funeral of Scriabin in April. Rachmaninov paid public tribute to his old teacher, declaring that he taught his pupils how to live, how to think, how to work and even how to speak, this last with clarity and precision.

Taneyev’s Piano Trio in D major, Op. 22, was written in 1908 and dedicated to his former pupil Grechaninov. It shows everywhere the expected technical competence of the composer and his subtle uses of counterpoint. The first movement opens with an emphatic motif that is to return later in the work, notably before the final moments. In sonata-allegro form, it is followed by a second movement of great variety, from the D minor opening and contrapuntal entries to a Tema con variazione and a series of episodes of varied tempo, key and mood, before the return of the Tempo del comincio. The F major Andante espressivo is a lyrical movement, ending with a violin cadenza that leads to the concluding Allegro con brio, its piano cadenza introducing a final Presto, growing in speed and intensity with its reminiscence of the first movement opening motif.

The second half of the nineteenth century brought with it a burgeoning of Russian culture, itself, whatever nationalist critics might have said, a result of that cross-fertilisation of ideas that had its origin in the reforms of Peter the Great. In music nationalism was represented by the Five, described by the polymath Stasov as the Mighty Handful, led by Balakirev, with Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. Except for the first, their self-appointed leader, the others were essentially amateur, at least in their musical origins. There was, after all, some justice in the criticism of amateurism levelled at them by Anton Rubinstein, founder of the first professional Russian music conservatory in St Petersburg. Cui held a position as a professor of military fortification; Mussorgsky was at first an army officer and later a civil servant; Rimsky-Korsakov started his career as a naval officer; Borodin was a distinguished analytical chemist.

The illegitimate son of a Georgian prince, Borodin was given the name of one of his father’s serfs. Prince Gedianov, anxious to secure the future of his mistress, found a husband for her, an elderly retired army doctor, outlived by Gedianov, who died in 1843. Borodin’s mother was left well enough off to allow her son an education, training as a doctor, followed by a successful profession as a chemist. Music was always a strong interest, but in a busy life there was not always the time needed to accomplish the musical ambitions that Borodin entertained, so that at the lime of his death in 1887 he had not finished his opera Prince Igor, a work finally shaped by Rimsky-Korsakov and the young Glazunov. Borodin’s musical interests were stimulated by his meeting in 1859 with Mussorgsky, who had resigned his commission in order to devote more of his lime to music, and still further by a period spent in Germany and other countries in Western Europe, where he had opportunity to enjoy wider musical experience. It was in Heidelberg in 1861 that he met his future wife, a gifted pianist. On his return in 1862 to St Petersburg, where he assumed his expected position at the Academy of Physicians, lecturing in organic chemistry, he met Balakirev, who exercised a strong influence on him and convinced him of his musical vocation and of the form it should take as a fellow-disciple of Glinka. As a young man he had had a strong interest in chamber music, whether as a player—he was a cellist—or as a listener. His first attempt at composing a work of his own began in 1850, when he started consideration of the Piano Trio in D major, three movements of which he completed in 1860, during the course of a scientific and cultural tour of Western Europe. A fourth movement, if ever written, is now lost, and the surviving movements were published in 1950. The composition was written before Borodin’s meeting with Balakirev and, presumably, about the time of his first meeting with Mussorgsky.

The Piano Trio, a work for which Glinka provided a precedent in Russian music, opens with an Allegro con brio, a sonata-allegro movement, in which the cello is initially entrusted with the first subject, as it is with later thematic material. The second movement, a Romance, starts with an extended melody for the piano, followed by the violin and cello. The last surviving movement, a Tempo di menuetto, has the élan of a contemporary St Petersburg ball-room, its progress interrupted by a contrasting trio section, ending a group of movements that testify to Borodin’s early ability to write music in the Western musical language then familiar to him.

Keith Anderson

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