Trying to Escape Convention and Banality

Tanayev Sym3-1
Orchestral or chamber music? © Charles Thibo

“It does seem to me, though, that if you insist, with relentless consistency, in sticking to the same compositional techniques when writing symphonies, string quartets, and operas, the results will hardly be as successful. However, I truly do not know. All I know is that you have a great talent, a lot of intelligence, and a whole sea of hatred for everything that is conventional, banal, and to be had cheaply, and that as a result of this we must sooner or later expect to see rich fruits.” Thus the master spoke. Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote on April 14, 1884, in a letter to Sergei Taneyev, his former pupil, what he thought of Taneyev’s latest work, a cantata. Taneyev was fascinated by counterpoint technique and naturally applied it to his multiple choral works.

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Musical austerity derived from Bach’s logic

Taneyev Trio B minor_final
Morning aesthetics. © Charles Thibo

A disturbing first movement, a gentle second movement – and the rest will remain a mystery for us for ever. The composer did not finish the work, he set it aside and two years later he was dead. Sergei Taneyev worked in November and December 1913 on the first two parts of his String Trio in B minor. It was one of his last compositions and the last piece of chamber music, his preferred genre, the one in which he excelled. Taneyev was a conservative man in questions of music aesthetics. He found endless opportunities for creativity in contrapuntal* technique, and chamber music gave him the means to express this.

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An intellectual follows in Tchaikovsky’s footsteps

Taneyev suite concert
Natural harmony. © Charles Thibo

Two weeks ago, I presented Luciano Berio’s “Petite Suite”, an interesting piano piece blending different traditions, Baroque and the music of the early 20th century popular in Paris. If you did not like Berio’s suite, you may like this one better. It has a much more classical ring, it was composed for a symphonic orchestra, written by a student of Pyotr Tchaikovsky some 40 years before Berio presented his “Petite Suite” to the public.

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