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STANCHINSKY: Piano Sonatas

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Alexei Vladimirovich Stanchinsky (1888-1914)


One of the forgotten multitude of Russians in the yearsbefore the Great War and the Bolshevist Revolution, Stanchinsky was born inVladimir Government. He studied piano with Josef Lhévinne and, at the MoscowConservatoire, with the Siloti disciple, Konstantin Igumnov. Compositionlessons followed in 1904 (when he was sixteen) - with Zhilyayev and Taneyev(Tchaikovsky's distinguished pupil). In 1908, on the death of his father, hefell victim to a chronic hereditary mental illness of schizophrenic nature, dementiapraecox. Confined to a clinic for a year, suffering from hallucinations andreligious mania interspersed by moments of lucidity, he was finally discharged,declared incurably insane. His tragic end came in October 1914. Found dead by astream on the Crimean estate of one of his friends, how he died is not known.

Maybe he was trying to find his way home and lost his footing. Or maybe (thefavoured theory) it was suicide. Buried in the birthplace of Glinka,"father of Russian music", he was twenty-six.


In fits of violent dislike, Stanchinsky destroyed (or triedto) many of his early pieces. Some were reconstructed by friends from memory.

Others were saved from burning by Zhilyayev. His few later ones circulated inmanuscript. By the time of his death, hailed by his teacher as a genius ofunusually brilliant gift, the most talented of his contemporaries in theopinion of many critics, he had become a cult figure.


The only ones of his works to be printed during his brieflife were his Eight Sketches, Op. 1, dedicated to his sister. The Moscowperiodical Muzïka, reviewing them in 1915, opined: "By the word'Sketches' is suggested something elusive, something merely sketched in andunfinished, fortuitous and casual. But these pieces of Stanchinsky are notaccurately described, for they present us living thoughts and feelings -creative outbursts of the soul expressed in definite and strictly musical form.

They do not in the least resemble an Opus 1, but seem rather to be theemanation of the vivid impressions of a profoundly experienced individual - theessence of a mature and universal comprehension".


In 1916 Medtner inscribed his Three Pieces Op. 31(Improvisation, Funeral March, Fairy Tale) to Stanchinsky's memory, and inthe November and December of that year in the Small Hall of the PetrogradConservatoire, some of his music - sonatas, canons, a string sextet - was heardfor the first time. Subsequently, under the editorship of Zhilyayev andAlexandrov, the majority of his piano works were published posthumously between1926 and 1931. "There is no doubt," believed the critic LeonidSabaneyev, "that in the premature death of Stanchinsky the world lost agreater composer than the one it knew only during his lifetime".


Stanchinsky conceived most of his music either before(1906-09) or after (1912-14) the period of his confinement. Contemporary withScriabin's Fifth Sonata and Poème de l'extase, and Rachmaninov's SecondSymphony, First Sonata and Isle of the Dead, the earlier works,Jennifer Spencer suggests (New Grove, 1980), take the guise of"short, impressionistic piano pieces, free in form, and using chromaticharmonies and brief snatches of melody, which conjure up a strange, twilitworld of half-perceived images and dreamlike visions". Included amongthese are the Op. 1 Sketches, the E flat minor Sonata, andvarious studies, preludes and contrapuntal forays into canon and fugue.

Contemporary with Scriabin's Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Sonatas and Versla flamme, Rachmaninov's Bells and Second Sonata, Stravinsky'sRite of Spring and Prokofiev's first two piano concertos, a handful ofaphorisms comprise the later ones. An experience without precedent at oncepersonal and inquiring - epic, nervy, voluptuous, abrasive, bleak, visionary,sombre, cynical ... veiled by memories of Mussorgsky, of Scriabin, of thevirtuoso Romantics of the European stage ... a compound of retrospectivevocabulary and futuristic language - their spirit is extraordinary.


Stanchinsky wrote five piano sonatas: the form mattered tohim and, like Medtner, he cultivated it with imagination and intensity. Of thethree examples on this recording, the single-movement E flat minor (1906),emotionally of the same dark underworld as Berg's B minor and Janáček's IX 1905,takes a familiar framework (exposition [with a second subject group in G flat,the relative major], motivic development, recapitulation [with the second groupnow in the tonic minor], allegro coda) to channel passions and moodsturbulently romantic. The so-called First Sonata in F (1911-12) is aleaner, sparser statement, more obviously (neo) classically inclined. Its slowmovement, in B flat with expansively shifting tonal plains, is especiallyarresting for the rhythmic intricacy and invention of its melodic, ornamentaland harmonic detail. Provocatively, the two-movement Second Sonata in Gcombines old-world Beethovenian baroque homage (a slow opening 6/16"progressively tonal" Fuga) with new-age assault (a brilliant closing"toccata" in 11/8 - the "modo russico" of Mussorgsky's Pictures).


Highly-charged, like Scriabin's late morceaux andpreludes or Prokofiev's 1915-17 Visions fugitives, the Sketches havemore to do with concentration than miniaturisation. In them Stanchinsky playsliberally with ideas, textures and spacings, with the vertical and the linear,with monody and polyphony, with statement and implication. He ranges from gravepronouncement to puckish humour to note-whirling psychedelia. He explores thesonorous and the angular, the beautiful and the disturbing. He realisestheoretical models in practice (most notably in No. 11 of the collection ofTwelve, a striking demonstration of chromatic "symmetrical inversion"),and in Nos. 3 (5/8) of the Three, and 1 (5/4), 5 (11/8), 6 (17/8 opening), 7(10/8) and 11 (7/4) of the Twelve - he shows us how naturally he can speak inirregular metric stresses (cf the 5/8 and 11/8 finales of the First and SecondSonatas).


© 1994 Ateş Orga

Cambridge, England


Daniel Blumenthal


From prize-winning performances at the Queen Elizabeth ofthe Belgians Competition, the Geneva International Competition, the BusoniInternational Competition and the competitions in Leeds and in Sydney, theAmerican pianist Daniel Blumenthal has continued with a career that has takenhim to four continents as a soloist and recitalist, in the former capacity withmajor orchestras in Europe and America. His extensive recordings include bothsolo performances and chamber music. For Marco Polo, he has recorded works byFelicien David, von Bülow, Debussy, Robert Fuchs and Bargiel.

Item number 8223424
Barcode 730099342421
Release date 03/06/2000
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Disc: 1
Twelve Sketches
1 Moderato
2 Allegro
3 Adagio
4 Presto
5 Fuga - Lento espressivo
6 Presto
7 Allegro moderato
8 Allegretto
9 Presto tempestoso
10 Moderato
11 Presto
12 Vivace
13 Lento cantibile
14 Allegro
15 Andante epico
16 Adagio teneramente
17 Molto vivace
18 Largamente
19 Con moto
20 Allegro con spirito
21 Presto assai
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