A Trio that Builds a Bridge into Modernity

Golden fall 3
Contrasts. © Charles Thibo

Alexander Grechaninov’s quartets have already been praised on this blog just like his liturgical music. He is one of the great composer’s of Russia at the turn of the century, at the dawn of modernity. Here is a curious piece: his Piano Trio No. 2 in G Major, op. 128. The opus number points to the fact that Grechaninov wrote it late in his career, in 1930 more precisely, while he stayed in Paris where he had emigrated to after the Bolshevik Revolution. It’s language is characterized by modal instability, the composers oscillates between D major and G major and an E-flat major and G minor respectively. But what is even more striking is the fast-paced tempo, the restless mood of the three movements. Quite special and very striking.

Grechaninov is best known for his liturgical music, but obviously the Soviet Union had no use for such music. After he had moved to Paris, his career did not necessarily suffer. Though he had to make a living as a pianist and lived in rather modest conditions, he continued to compose. In 1940 he settled in New York and took American citizenship in 1946. Unfortunately he wasn’t inspired to write another trio. Had he written all he had to say in this genre?

In his autobiography, the composer writes “Some Russian writers complain that they cannot continue their creative work away from their native soil. I never experienced this difficulty. Quite to the contrary: I worked productively abroad, and my compositions of this period are imbued with the Russian folk spirit to an even greater degree than the music I wrote in Russia.” Interestingly he doesn’t even mention his second trio in this document.

The trio then. After repeated listening, it is still the overall tempo of the piece that impresses me, emphasized by the counter-intuitive dialogue between the strings and the piano. I actually know no other trio like that. The first movement – allegro. Grechaninov is in a hurry, partly apprehensive, partly excited. Is it the tension that marked some of his time in exile? He health was poor, his financial situation unstable, and he must have witnessed with growing horror the evolution of his native country under Stalin. The second movement begins with a gentle murmur, a king of prayer, introspective at the beginning, more forceful in its later development, gradually taking up the mood of the first movement. The finale has decidedly optimistic mood, with radical tempo breaks. Fascinating!

Alexander Grechaninov’s Piano Trio in G Major has been recorded by the Moscow Rachmaninov Trio.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.

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