Alexander Tikhonovich Grechaninov (1864-1956)
Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 38
Piano Trio No. 2 in G Major, Op. 128
Alexander Tikhonovich Grechaninov was born in Moscow in1856, the son of a tradesman of relatively limited education. He was achorister at his school in Moscow and began to learn the piano at the age offourteen. With the secret encouragement and help of his sister-in-law he wasable to develop his ability as a pianist sufficiently to allow admission in1881 to the Moscow Conservatory, a step taken against the wishes of his father.
His later teachers there included Safonov for piano, Sergey Taneyev forcomposition and Arensky for fugue, but above all he was able to widen hisexperience of music. A quarrel with Arensky led him in 1890 to leave Moscow andmove to the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he entered the class ofRimsky-Korsakov for composition and orchestration, continuing his studies until1893. By this time he had already achieved some success as a composer and in1894 with his String Quartet in G major, Opus 2, won the Chamber Music Prizeestablished by Belyayev, influential as a patron and in his activities as apublisher. In later years he was awarded the same prize for his second andthird quartets, written during the early years of the 1914-18 war. In 1895Rimsky-Korsakov conducted the first performance of Grechaninov's Symphony No. 1in B minor, a work that was well received. Rimsky-Korsakov, however,entertained some reservations about the work, and was reported by the diaristYastrebtsev as regretting that someone with a natural inclination to write likeRubinstein should suddenly decide to compose like Borodin.
Having married in 1891, Grechaninov was able to supporthimself and his wife at first by piano teaching in St. Petersburg, an activityhe continued on his return to Moscow in 1896, while working on his first opera,Dobrinya Nikitich, finally completed in 1901 and staged at the Bolshoi two yearslater with Shaliapin in the title-rôle. At the invitation of Stanislavsky hehad already written incidental music for Moscow Arts Theatre productions ofplays by Alexis Tolstoy and Ostrovsky, while pursuing interests in folk-musicof various kinds in the Music Section of the Moscow University Department ofEthnography. His connection with the Gnesin Institute, which began in 1906, theyear in which he began work as a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, led to anumber of compositions of all kinds for children and work with children'schoirs, although he and his wife remained childless.
As a composer Grechaninov had by 1910 won sufficientdistinction to earn him an annual state pension of 2000 roubles, a stipend thatwas withdrawn after the Revolution. Nevertheless his second opera, SisterBeatrice, based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, was rejected by theImperial Theatre and withdrawn after a few performances by the Simin OperaCompany on the grounds of alleged blasphemy in the portrayal on the stage ofthe Blessed Virgin. A religious man, his subsequent use of instruments inchurch music made liturgical use in the Russian Orthodox Church impossible, andhis later church music, after he had left Russia, continued in the same way,making use of the Latin liturgical texts of the Western Catholic Church, and,in particular in his Missa Oecumenica of 1939, thematic material of Russian,Gregorian and Hebrew origin. The Revolution of 1917 and the loss of hispension, the disturbed state of Russia and the nature of the new social systemimposed on the country led him in 1922 to accept the chance of travel abroad,to London and to Prague. Further travel outside Russia resulted in his settlingin 1925 in Paris, his home until 1939. In that year he moved to the UnitedStates of America, a country he had already visited on a number of occasions,settling in New York and taking out American citizenship in 1946. He died inNew York in 1956.
The first of the two Piano Trios of Grechaninov was writtenin 1906 and dedicated to the composer's former teacher, Sergey Taneyev. Thefirst of the three movements is propelled forward by the passionate rhythmicurgency of the opening theme, still present even at the appearance of asecondary theme of greater tranquillity .The piano opens the A flat major slowmovement with chords of harmonic ambiguity, before the appearance of a lyricalviolin melody, echoed by the cello, and an excursion, by enharmonic means, intothe key of D flat. The music dies away to be replaced by the energetic motorrhythms of the last movement, at first suggested hesitantly, before themovement proceeds, its progress interrupted by lyrical episodes and leading toa histrionic conclusion.
Grechaninov completed his Piano Trio No. 2 in G major, Op.
128, in 1930, and it was published in Leipzig seven years later under theBelaieff (Belyayev) imprint. Again in three movements, the work opensdramatically before the appearance of the vigorous principal theme, itsprogress interrupted by two G minor chords and a silence followed by a lyricalcello melody. The movement is harmonically adventurous, although the generalharmonic idiom remains relatively conservative. The excitement of the firstmovement is replaced, in the tripartite central E flat major Intermezzo, by amore graceful melody that soon emerges in more grandiose form, to be replacedby a G minor central section of more marked rhythm. A repetition of the openingsection and a brief coda lead to an impetuous Finale that culminates in afugato, the fugal subject stated first by the piano, followed by cello andviolin. The movement ends with a forceful coda.
Daniela Ruso had her early training at the College of Musicin Bratislava, later continuing her studies at the conservatory in Leningrad.
She won distinction at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1969 andhas pursued an active career as a recitalist, soloist and chamber-music player.
She is a member of the ensemble Musa Antiqua.
A protégé of the distinguished Slovak violinist A. Mózi,whom he succeeded as concertmaster of the Czecho-Slovak Radio SymphonyOrchestra, Viktor Šimcisko was born in 1946. His musical career has involvedhim in both solo performance and chamber music, in his own country, Austria,Hungary, Germany, Spain and Japan.
Juraj Alexander is principal cellist in the Slovak ChamberOrchestra, with which he has toured in Europe, on the American continent and inJapan. Born in 1944, he studied at the Conservatory and at the College of Musicand Drama in Bratislava, and now enjoys a career as a soloist and chamber musicplayer in a widely varied repertoire.