[dead] Composer of the Week - Anton Arensky (2011)
Anton Stepanovich Arensky (1861-1906)
He was described by Tchaikovsky as a man of remarkable gifts. The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said of him: "among the new composers he is the best: he is simple and melodious". Anton Arensky was born 150 years ago, yet despite the rather caustic remarks by his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov prophesying that Arensky would soon be forgotten, Arensky is in fact a significant composer within the Russian musical landscape. Donald Macleod in conversation with Gerard McBurney, an expert on Russian music, journeys through the murky picture that is Arensky's life and music. He was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, and then went on to be a protégé of Tchaikovsky. This swapping of allegiances between the nationalist composers in favour of the westernizers, led to much conflict during Arensky's career. His orchestral works have faded into obscurity, yet it is his chamber music such as the first piano trio, or his works for two pianos, that have remained firmly within the repertoire. His most significant impact would come as the teacher of both Rachmaninov and Scriabin, although he would often argue with many of his pupils, and his lifestyle of heavy drinking and gambling would bring his life to an early end aged only 44.
Episode 1 (8th August 2011)
In the first episode surveying the life and music of Anton Arensky, Donald Macleod and Russian music expert Gerard McBurney, focus upon the composer's early years. Arensky was born in Nizhy-Novgorod. His musical talents were soon recognised, and his family moved to St Petersburg. He went on to study at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, with Rimsky-Korsakov as one of his teachers. His tutor was so pleased with Arensky's talents, that he allowed his pupil to aid him in the preparation of one of his own operas. Arensky would go on to be awarded the Gold Medal at his graduation.
During his study at the Conservatoire, Arensky composed a number of works including his Piano Concerto, which demonstrates and interest in the music of Chopin and Liszt. The piano would remain a firm favourite for Arensky in his later compositions. Another work Arensky started to compose during his student days was his first Symphony. This work was a favourite of Tchaikovksy, who lobbied on Arensky's behalf for more performances.
Valse (Suite no. 1, Op.15) [Daniel Blumenthal (piano), Robert Groslot (piano)]
Never Have I Told Thee My Love, Op.6 No.4 [Alfred Orda (baritone), Josephine Lee (piano)]
Piano Concerto in F minor [Stephen Coombs (piano), BBC Scottish SO, Jerzy Maksymiuk (conductor)]
Song of the Street Singer (Rafael, Op.37) [Daniil Shtoda (tenor), Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Constantine Orbelian (conductor)]
Scherzo and Finale (Symphony no. 1) [Russian State SO, Valeri Polyansky]
Episode 2 (9th August 2011)
Arensky graduated with the Gold Medal from the St Petersburg Conservatoire, and at this young age, he was soon to find himself offered a teaching post at the Moscow Conservatoire. This move marked a significant shift in Arensky's musical interests, from the nationalist school of composers like Rimsky-Korsakov, to people like Tchaikovsky. As a teacher in Moscow, his students included Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Gliere and Medtner. Arensky's second Suite for two pianos, in particular the movement Le Savant, is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of academic writing which is likely to be the composer sending himself up.
It was in Moscow that Tchaikovsky would start to have a greater influence upon Arensky's career. Arensky composed an orchestral work Marguerite Gautier, which he dedicated to his mentor, but Tchaikovsky thought the choice of subject was unworthy: the adventures of a prostitute. Arensky didn't fully turn his back on Rimsky-Korsakov, and his Variations on a Russian theme is based on a folk song compiled by his former teacher.
Early on in Arensky's time in Moscow, he forms a romantic attachment and proposes to the girl. However, Arensky ever the butterfly tries to escape from this marriage, until composers such as Tchaikovsky and Taneyev step in and force Arensky to do the right thing. During the programme there is an excerpt of Taneyev playing one of Arensky's piano works, in a recording made in 1892.
Petite ballade (Two Pieces, Op 12) [Nancy Green (cello), Frederick Moyer (piano)]
Variations on a Russian Theme (Suite No 1 in G minor, Op 7) [Russian Federation State Symphony Orchestra, Yevgeni Svetlanov (conductor)]
Suite No 2 (Silhouettes), Op 23 [Stephen Coombs and Ian Munro (pianos)]
Anchar (The Upas Tree/Tree of Poison), Op 14 [Houston Chamber Choir, Robert Simpson]
Marguerite Gautier, Op 9 [Russian Federation State Symphony Orchestra, Yevgeni Svetlanov (conductor)]
Episode 3 (10th August 2011)
A Dream on the Volga, an opera by Arensky, moved the older composer Tchaikovsky to tears. After its premiere, Tchaikovsky was keen to promote this work to others, in the hope of more performances. Arensky was also active within choral circles as well, including being appointed to the Synodal School of Church Music in Moscow. As the conductor of the Russian Choral Society, it fell to Arensky to compose for the 10th anniversary of the coronation of Tsar Alexander III. Arensky's response was a Cantata, borrowing themes from Boris Godunov.
Arensky was by now addicted to gambling and drink, which often affected his teaching at the Moscow Conservatoire. This didn't help matters when one of his students was to be the rather difficult Scriabin. Pupil and teacher did not hit it off, and made it hell for one another during classes. Teaching, and royal commissions aside, Arensky still found time to compose chamber music. One work he composed during this period would go on to be one of his most famous works, the first Piano Trio. There is also an excerpt within the programme of Arensky performing this work himself, in a recording from 1894.
A Dream, Op 17 No 3 [Vassily Savenko (bass-baritone), Alexander Blok (piano)]
Overture: A Dream on the Volga. Op 16 [National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Theodore Kuchar (conductor)]
Cantata on the 10th Anniversary of the Coronation, Op 26 [Tatiana Sharova (soprano), Andrew Baturkin (baritone), Russian State Symphonic Capella, and SO, Valeri Polyansky (conductor)]
Piano Trio No 1 in D minor, Op 32 [Beaux Arts Trio]
Episode 4 (11th August 2011)
During the 1890's, Arensky composed his second opera Raphael. This was a commission to mark the opening of the Tretyakov Gallery, and was based on the life of the Florentine Renaissance artist Raphael. Tchaikovksy spent much time and effort trying to promote this work, but died before its premiere. This was a terrible shock to Arensky, and his second String Quartet, unusually scored for violin, viola and two cellos, was dedicated to the memory of his greatest supporter.
Arensky's own lifestyle was catching up with him, for his drinking and gambling had resulted in his inability to be promoted to Professor at the Moscow Conservatoire. Arensky resigned in high dudgeon, but not before obtaining a new position at the Imperial Chapel, taking over the reigns of Director from Balakirev. An example of his choral writing is the beautiful set of three vocal quartets for choir and solo cello.
The programme finishes with Arensky's second symphony, which some believe forms a synthesis between the opposing musical schools in Russia: the Moscow and St Petersburg groups. This work also displays the influence of Liszt upon Arensky, as explained by guest Gerard McBurney.
Serenade in G, Op 30 No 2 [Itzhak Perlman (violin), Samuel Sanders (piano)]
Moderato (String Quartet no 2, Op 35) [Arienski Ensemble]
Raphael's Aria (Raphael, Op 37 [Marina Domashenko (mezzo-soprano), Philharmonia of Russia, Constantine Orbelian (conductor)]
Three Vocal Quartets, Op 57 [Dmitri Miller (cello), Russian State Symphonic Cappella, Valeri Polyansky (conductor)]
Symphony No 2, Op 22 [Russian Federation State Symphony Orchestra, Evgeny Svetlanov (conductor)]
Episode 5 (12th August 2011)
Arensky was now back in St Petersburg, as the Director of the Imperial Chapel Choir. One work he composed during this period, was his cantata The Fountain of Bakhchisaray. Zerema's aria from this work would go on to be a popular work for Arensky. However, during his tenure as Director, Arensky spent much time on vacation to southern resorts, usually for his health. He would soon resign from this position, and was awarded a very healthy pension.
Having now returned from Moscow, Arensky was certainly in ho hurry to reacquaint himself with his former teacher Rimsky-Korsakov. One friendship he did maintain for many years, was with the virtuoso pianist Siloti. Arensky would often feature himself on tour as a pianist with Siloti, and this also led to a number of compositions by Arensky for two pianos, including his fourth Suite.
At the age of 44, Arensky died of tuberculosis. The music of Rubenstein, Liszt and Chopin had fed straight into the music of Arensky, and he was the bridge between these older composers, and his own students especially Rachmaninov and Scriabin. His orchestral work a Fantasy on Russian Folksongs, not only demonstrates his lifelong interest in the piano, but also his international outlook and approach to composition.
Now the Last of Many Days, Op 71 No 1 [Vassily Savenko (bass-baritone), Alexander Blok (piano)]
Zerema's Aria (The Fountain of Bakhchisaray) [Irina Arkhipova (mezzo), USSR Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, Aleksandr Melik-Pashayev (conductor)]
Introduction to Nal and Damayanti, Op 47 [BBC Philharmonic, Vassily Sinaisky (conductor)]
Suite No 4, Op 62 [Stephen Coombs and Ian Munro (pianos)]
The Day Had Ended, Op 49 No 1 [Paata Burchuladze (bass), Ludmilla Ivanova (piano)]
Fantasia on Russian Folk Songs, Op 48 [Konstantin Scherbakov (piano), Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Dmitry Yablonsky (conductor)]