Music of the Repressed Russian Avant-Garde, 1900-1929

By Larry Sitsky | Go to book overview

23
Aleksandr N. Tcherepnine: Suave Internationalist

Aleksandr Nikolaevich Tcherepnine (Tcherepnin, Tscherepnin, Cherepnin) was born on January 8, 1899 in St. Petersburg and died in Paris on September 29, 1977. Tcherepnine's inclusion in this book is somewhat marginal: he spent most of his life outside of Russia, and his style barely qualifies him to be labelled as an avantgarde musician. Son of the well-known composer Nikolai Tcherepnine, he showed a precocious interest in music, in an already musical household. He studied at first with his parents, then with A. K. Liadov, revealing unusual creative gifts. By his mid-teens he had already produced a large body of works, including an opera at the age of twelve, and fourteen piano sonatas by the age of nineteen. Prokofiev studied conducting with Tcherepnine's father, and was often present at the house, playing his latest works; this left a big impression on the budding composer. Belyaev (Beliaeff) published works by Tcherepnine written while he was still in his boyhood. The young composer had decided very early not to follow in his father's rather conservative footsteps, but to cast his lot with the trend of new music. Upon completion of his studies at the age of nineteen he became director of the Tiflis Opera.

The 1917 revolution found Tcherepnine's family unsympathetic to the new regime, and although Aleksandr had already begun studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, they fled out of Russia proper, moving to Tbilisi (Tiflis), where his father became director of the Conservatoire. This was yet another early influence on him, as were his assimilation of Georgian folk music and his studies with the composer Thomas de Hartmann. Eventually, the civil war reached Georgia, and the family moved again, finding their way to Paris via Constantinople and Marseilles. In Paris, Tcherpenine's musical life began a new and successful phase. He continued his studies at the Paris Conservatoire, to consolidate his technique and to understand more about the French tradition; he worked with Paul Vidal (composition) and Isidor Philipp (piano). For a time he lived in comparative obscurity, but composed all the while. Philipp began to take note of his gifted pupil, and propagandized his music. Upon Tcherepnine's graduation from the Conservatoire, he was able to launch himself on a career as composer and pianist, thanks to backing by influential musicians of the period. He had by now managed to shed the claustrophobic attitudes of many of his Russian colleagues. The music acquired a freshness and naiveté characteristic of the new compositional schools in France. He was young enough not to have lived through the transitional agony of modern music, accepting the new as natural. No doubt the contact with Prokofiev

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