Academic journal article Notes

Nikolai Tcherepnin: Piano Music

Academic journal article Notes

Nikolai Tcherepnin: Piano Music

Article excerpt

David Witten. Nikolai Tcherepnin: Piano Music. Toccata Classics TOCC0117 (2011), CD.

Nikolai Tcherepnin (1873-1945) was a Russian-born composer and conductor who studied with Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, taught Prokofiev, and began a musical dynasty of sorts carried on by his son Alexander and grandson Ivan. Tcherepnin composed in a wide variety of forms, including symphonic works, ballet, opera, chamber music, songs, and both sacred and secular choral works, but his works are not widely available on sound recordings. This compact disc offers the first recordings of these works for piano, played by David Witten, Coordinator of Keyboard Studies in the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University. The Three Pieces, op. 24, were most likely composed in the 1890s-Witten argues for this in his liner notes, stating it was the period when Tcherepnin was "most intensively engaged with the piano"-and they sound instantly familiar in a way that much late romantic piano music often does. It is tempting to play "name that influence" while listening to these works, but it is to be expected that Tcherepnin's works would reflect the cultural and musical milieu in which he composed. Witten writes that the second piece, Étude in C-minor, "pays homage" to Chopin's "Revolutionary" Etude op. 10, no. 12, but the two works seem to only share a title and a key. Witten shares that for a time Tcherepnin's friends teasingly called him "Debussy Ravelovich," a nickname supported by the hints of French impressionism in the meditative Idylle, the third piece. The 14 Sketches on Pictures from the Russian Alphabet, op. 38, composed in 1908, were inspired by artist Alexander Benois' illustrated children's book, Alphabet Book in Pictures, published in 1903. The booklet includes color reproductions in miniature of the illustrations along with English translations of Tcherepnin's descriptive sentences for each image, as well as Witten's commentary for each piece. The pieces vary stylistically to match the images, ranging from the bucolic strains depicting children playing on the lawn of a summer home in "Dacha" to the sinister Phrygian mode antics of the witch luring Hansel and Gretel to her gingerbread house in "Sweets." In regards to "Stars," which depicts learned men explaining the movement of the stars to a group of nobles, Witten remarks it is "worth noting that this music preceded the film score of Star Wars by nearly 70 years," drawing attention to what is indeed an irresistible foreshadowing of John Williams's main theme. …

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