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GP766 - STANCHINSKY, A.V.: Piano Works (Complete), Vol. 1 (Solovieva)
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ALEXEY STANCHINSKY (1888–1914)
COMPLETE PIANO WORKS • 1

Alexey Vladimirovich Stanchinsky was born 9 March (21 March in the new style) 1888 in the village of Obolsunovo (Vladimir province) into the family of a chemical engineer. Alexey spent his childhood in the ancient cities of Vladimir, Tver, Pskov, and Revel where his father was assigned as a factory inspector. The first person to begin learning music in the family was Alexey’s sister, Lydiya. Alexey’s talent for music manifested early on. By the age of five or six, he was already taking the first steps to composing by spending a lot of time at the piano.

In 1899, Stanchinsky’s father bought the estate of Logachyovo (Smolensk province), two kilometres from the estate of Novospasskoe (Mikhail Glinka’s birthplace), formerly owned by Glinka’s sister. At Logachyovo, Stanchinsky wrote most of his works. In 1902, Alexey began taking piano lessons with Alexander Borkus, and later from Josef Lhévinne, Konstantin Eiges, and Konstantin Igumnov. His first teacher of music theory and composition was Alexander Gretchaninov who worked with him for two years, and, in 1905, took him to Sergey Taneyev who appreciated Alexey’s talent and recommended that he continue his studies in harmony and composition with Nikolay Zhilyayev.

In 1907, Stanchinsky graduated from preparatory school in Smolensk and entered the Moscow Conservatory in Igumnov’s piano class. His studies in composition and instrumentation continued with Zhilyayev, and Stanchinsky began studies in counterpoint and form with Taneyev (who only took the most talented students free of charge). Taneyev played a crucial role in the development of Stanchinsky’s talent. While studying at the Conservatory, Stanchinsky met Alexander Scriabin. Stanchinsky was fond of Scriabin’s music, however, as Boris Asafiev noted, he was able to ‘navigate through Scriabin’s influence without being contaminated with imitation’.

In January 1910, Stanchinsky’s father suddenly died. After some time, Alexey learned that his beloved Elena Bai (the daughter of the estate manager) was expecting his child. His mother was against marriage and Elena Bai left Logachyovo. These turmoils led to Alexey becoming seriously ill in the summer of 1910, and he was treated in neurological clinics for several months. Following his sickness, he left the Conservatory, but at the end of 1910, he returned to creative work resuming lessons with Taneyev and Zhilyayev. In March 1914, Stanchinsky performed in a concert of young pianists playing a programme of his own works. Critics singled him out as ‘the most talented and original composer’. In the following summer, for the first time, he was able to affectionately see his son Andrei, who was four years old. Stanchinsky made plans for a life with Elena and Andrei, to return to the Conservatory, and to continue composing music. But his life was tragically cut short.

The circumstances of his death were outlined in publications by Valentin Matveyev, who, in the 1950s, met with the event’s participants. According to Elena Bai, Alexey was to come see her on 22 September 1914. Vera Glinka (the daughter of Mikhail Glinka’s cousin) reported that Stanchinsky’s mother was against the meeting and did not allow Alexey to leave, but Stanchinsky disobeyed her and took off into the night. His sister, Lydiya, wrote, ‘Alexey was found the next day dead on the riverbank’, 16 kilometres from Logachyovo, ‘in wet clothes. According to our mother, the medic who arrived at the scene noted the cause of death was heart paralysis.’ Apparently, Stanchinsky had to cross the river, and since September was cold, his weak heart could not stand it. According to the record in the church register, the death date is 23 September (6 October, in the new style), 1914.

Stanchinsky’s piano music is an unparalleled phenomenon. His talent is vivid and melodic in nature, and it connects the musicality of the Baroque and Romanticism, and uniqueness of Russian folk music. The melodies of Stanchinsky are characterised by a special sinuous quality, which relates it to ancient Russian church music.

The boldness of his imagination and perfection in the use of contrapuntal techniques makes it possible to rank Stanchinsky among the composers who paved the way for creating the polyphonic style of the 20th century. Stanchinsky anticipated such phenomena as the rhythmic intonation of Stravinsky and Prokofiev, the modal structure and polyphony of Shostakovich, the harmonic concept of Hindemith, and the new diatonic scale and neofolkloric tendencies.

The fact that Stanchinsky’s works have not been given an adequate position in contemporary concert life is due to technical difficulty as well as the history of publication.

During Stanchinsky’s lifetime, only four ‘Sketches’ were published. Most of his works were released in small editions in the 1920s; Zhilyayev was the editor. At the end of 1937, Zhilyayev was arrested in connection with Tukhachevsky’s case (charged with conspiracy against Stalin) and executed shortly thereafter. It became impossible to distribute the scores with the name Zhilyayev on the title pages. Stanchinsky’s music was hidden for decades, until the new publications in the 1960s. By this time, the works of Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich had received worldwide acclaim, and the music of Stanchinsky was subject to comparison with the well-known works of his contemporaries instead of objective analysis.

The first volume of the complete collection of Stanchinsky’s piano works includes all published works written before 1910. Apart from the Sonata in E flat minor opening the programme, all the pieces are in chronological order (according to the dates). Stanchinsky’s préludes are presented amidst his other works instead of the cycles compiled by Zhilyayev for the first editions.

The Sonata in E flat minor is striking in its scale and technical complexity. The philosophical depth and emotional range of the content are revealed in a contrasting composition which resembles that of a poem or a ballad. The dramatic self-absorption, the exhilaration, the passionate drive inherent in the primary theme is contrasted with the pure images of the romantic secondary theme, which in the process of development is dramatised, merging in a thrilling element.

Stanchinsky’s melodic gift is apparent in his early works: his melodies are intonationally expressive, melodious. It is inherent in Songs Without Words written on the assignment of Gretchaninov, who asked for examples of binary and ternary forms. The third song was composed in a forest and jotted down on a slip of paper. The song’s theme also distinguishes the piece Les Larmes (‘Tears’), where feelings are conveyed in a sensitive and psychologically nuanced manner.

Nocturne and Humoresque are of great interest from the point of view of musical language and genre interpretation. In Humoresque, there is no light humour or jokes, the composer violates the genre characteristics and shows an intense clash of lyrico-dramatic sentiments on one side and demonically fantastic imagery on the other. Stanchinsky’s Nocturne is not an elegiac work—the middle of the piece is rapid, emotionally charged.

The two mazurkas are completely different in nature. The Mazurka in D flat major has a dance quality, with a more lyrical, song-like middle part, while the Mazurka in G sharp minor is intimate, as if in ‘a recollection of mazurkas’.

Stanchinsky’s Études are virtuoso pieces characterised by textured sophistication, the assertiveness of movement, and expressive content. The genre characteristics of the Étude in F minor / A flat major bring it closer to a song, and its form combines the features of a complex ternary, rondo and ostinato motif variations which sound almost unaltered, in a new variation of harmony and mode. The Étude in G minor can be called an étude-poem—it expresses tumultuous sentiments, dramatic forcefulness. Scriabin noted that this Étude has a ‘chivalrous spirit of a ballad’. In the Étude in B major, nocturne-like features are manifested—harmonious figurations over a wide range and expressive melody in the upper register. Everything is original here: ‘stereophonic’ texture with a delicate elaboration of figure lines, the distinctiveness of polymetric organisation, tonal ‘fluidity’ which includes a variation of major and minor diatonic scale as well as a chromatic major-minor system.

The early Préludes of 1907 (in C sharp minor; in C minor; in A flat major / F minor; in D major; and in E flat minor), embody characteristics of youthful lyrics—excited, heartfelt, and passionate. These préludes share common compositional patterns—a ternary form with a contrasting midpoint, intense dynamics towards the end, and a sudden calmness. Prélude in E flat minor is a masterpiece where the succinctness of the sorrowful rhetoric is taken to its limit. One can hear the deep mourning and hidden grieving, a confession of the suffering soul of the Russian people.

Prélude in the Lydian Mode conveys the development of a profound feeling: from calmly contemplative through to a collision that is unexpectedly passionate and impulsive, to violently explosive (in culmination) and gradually soothing (in the coda). The Prelude in E major ‘Mixolydian’ creates an Old Russian archaic style of music. The linearity of the texture is expressed in the combination of three independent layers: a long-lasting basic tone, an archaic theme, and zigzag figurations.

The next step in the development of the prélude genre was the creation of the Prélude in B flat minor and the Prelude in B minor. They have pre-emptive features of Stanchinsky’s sketches—freedom of an overarching composition, spontaneous expression of feelings, powerful energy of the rhythm, the rigidity of harmonic writing, originality of textural decisions, and uniqueness of the tonal organisation. Old Russian rituals and imagery of Russian nature in the winter were undoubtedly a source of inspiration for the creation of these préludes. Stanchinsky wrote about the creation of this Prélude in a letter to his mother from Logachyovo: ‘I was riding Jack in full dash. There was a terrible blizzard, and the whirlwind was blowing in my face. The snow was blinding in the twilight, and I kept racing. At home, inspiration came to me, and I composed a prelude.’

From 1911 to 1914 Stanchinsky experimented with polyphonic forms by creating his own genre: canon-prélude. Among his early polyphonic works, there is the Canon in B minor and Prélude and Fugue. The originality of these compositions is in the peculiarities of thematic, harmonic, and rhythmic language. Prélude and Fugue is a kind of ‘homage’ to J.S. Bach. Here, Stanchinsky follows strict structural laws of polyphonic forms, but uses an unusual thematic material (melodic-intonational, rhythmic, harmonic).

The pianist Olga Solovieva said, ‘Stanchinsky’s music is like an exposed nerve, all at the limit of the senses. It talks about the innermost feelings, about what is in the soul. The music is very sincere, understandable to everyone, and it will always live’.

Igor Prokhorov and Christopher Hepburn
English translation: Anna Morton and Christopher Hepburn

The writers gratefully acknowledge the following individuals whose research and publications were consulted for these notes: Irina Lopatina, Valentina Loginova, Valentin Matveyev, Nadezhda Deverilina, and unpublished memoirs by Lydiya Perlova (née Stanchinskaya).


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