Vladimir V. Shcherbachev: Old Wine in New Vessels
Vladimir Vladimirovich Shcherbachev was born in Warsaw on January 12, 1887 and died in Leningrad, March 5, 1952. This well-known Soviet composer and teacher studied with A. K. Liadov and M. O. Shteinberg. Although he was born in Warsaw and completed his secondary education there, he entered the Petrograd Conservatoire in 1908, when A. K. Glazunov was the director, and the young composer was greatly influenced by those first class musical minds, descendants of N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov's educational vision, who were on the staff. He graduated in 1914, completing the theoretical side of his studies in 1912 and only began intensive and specialized work as a composer after that (as was the custom), in Shteinberg's class. Simultaneously, he attended four years of lectures at the St. Petersburg University, in the Faculties of Law and History/Philology.
The name Shcherbachev was not unknown in musical circles in Russia. Already in the 1870s there was a composer by that name, a certain N. V. Shcherbachev (Vladimir's uncle), composer of many miniatures for piano which are now mostly forgotten, although, in its day, a piece called "Feeries et Pantomimes" was widely performed. It is still worth an occasional revival, as are some of his other pieces such as "Choeur danse" (Op.8, No.10) and in particular "Clair de lune" (Op.25, No.3). Here is a work by a composer nine years younger than Debussy, with extensive use of whole-tone scales and some quite advanced harmonic procedures. There was also A. V. Shcherbachev (Vladimir's second cousin), composer of a recently revived ballet, "Evnika," with T. P. Karsavina in the lead role. A. V. Shcherbachev, despite study with some of the best teachers of his time -- Liadov, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Blumenfeld -- remained a civil servant; music was for him a dilettantish occupation.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Shcherbachev's first undertakings -- the orchestral works "Skazka" and "Shestvie" ( 1913), the Symphony No.1, and the Piano Sonata No.1 -- were all written in the traditions of the "New Russian School." The new school was still a hotbed of compositional practice by rules, with creativity taught via theoretical, strict means. Shcherbachev was to rebel against this school quite soon, both as composer, and eventually, as a teacher himself. By all accounts, the atmosphere at the Conservatoire was stultifyingly academic and resistant to any outside influence -- quite ironic, really, for a nationalist movement that itself was once revolutionary.
The First Symphony by the young composer understandably owes a great deal to the tradition from whence it sprang: we find a reliance on Tchaikovskian sequences,