GEORGY CATOIRE (1861 - 1926)
The Russian composer Georgy L’vovich Catoire (or sometimes ‘Katuar’) is primarily remembered in his homeland not for his original works, but for his rôle as a music theorist and teacher. Like many of his more famous countrymen—Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and others—Catoire received only patchy musical training, and meanwhile completed a Mathematics degree at Moscow University in 1884. But no less a figure than Tchaikovsky encouraged him to pursue a musical career, remarking that Catoire was ‘gifted with a powerful creative talent… I persuaded him to take up his studies seriously.’
Catoire had learned the piano with Karl Klindworth, a pupil of Liszt and an ardent Wagnerian, who was responsible for preparing the piano scores of the Ring. Klindworth ignited in Catoire a similar passion for Wagner’s music—but this was a deeply unpopular view to hold in a Russia which was just beginning to assert its own, distinctly anti-German, cultural identity. Whilst the newly-founded conservatoires in St Petersburg and Moscow (both established in the 1860s) were encouraging the study of Western European music, the composers of the ‘Mighty Handful’ were adamant that a new, truly Russian musical style must be developed.
Catoire spent several months in 1885 in Berlin, attempting to further his studies; but when he was unable to find suitable teachers, he sought out Russian musicians instead, eventually finding allies in Anton Arensky and Alexander Taneyev. (Arensky, in particular, was more sympathetic to Catoire’s interest in Wagner.) He composed steadily, if not prolifically, over the course of the next thirty years: his oeuvre includes solo piano works, a small body of chamber music, a Symphony in C minor and a symphonic poem, a cantata based on Lermontov’s Rusalka, and a Piano Concerto. He was appointed Professor of Music Theory and Composition at the Moscow Conservatoire in 1917, and held this position until his death nine years later. Catoire was greatly respected as a teacher—Kabalevsky was probably his most famous pupil—and also devoted much of his time during these last years to the writings of two large theoretical texts which drew on Western European music analysis and presented the techniques in a pedagogical format, to be used to teach composition and musical construction to students. Most Russian music theory books still owe a debt to Catoire’s writing.
As a Wagnerian, Catoire’s music is rich with chromatic harmonies and sweeping melodies—and his piano writing seems to owe much to Arensky (who taught Rachmaninov) and Chopin. In later years, he also became interested in the music of the French Impressionists, and several of the pieces on this disc seem to bear traces of Debussyan harmonies and colours.