Alexander Tcherepnin (intro)

Hailed as a ‘musical citizen of the world’,[1] the Russian composer, pianist and conductor Alexander Tcherepnin, was born in 1899, and received an eclectic musical education.[2] He was the last in a tradition of Russian composer-pianists to survive well into the twentieth century; the successor of Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Prokofiev and Medtner. He lived through turbulent times and had to frequently adapt himself to the cultural and social change. Throughout his career Tcherepnin displayed a particular self-sufficiency that is rare to find in the twentieth century. At the same time, the competing narratives of exile are never too far from the surface of both his music and his writing. While not repudiating the Russian musical traditions, he opened himself to influence from other cultures. Perhaps in our attempt to understand Tcherepnin’s multiple identities and his relationship with Russia, we might want to consider him as a ‘Russian by blood or culture’[3]; loosely applied and understood this categorization provides us with musical coordinates from which we can understand his later relationships with other cultures.

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[1] Willi Reich, Alexander Tcherepnin (Bonn: M.P. Belaieff, 1970), 105. Benjamin Folkman has gathered together most of the important sources in one book, entitled “Alexander Tcherepnin: A Compendium”. This source remains unpublished but is available for consultation at the PSS. The compendium includes a translation of Willi Reich’s 1961 monograph on the composer, extensive supplementary biographical and analytical materials as well as extracts from the composer’s published and unpublished writings. Although this volume is an invaluable source for anyone approaching the composer’s life and times for the first time, I have chosen to consult the primary sources directly for this research.

[2] He was a born into a family of musical pedigree: his father was Nicolai Tcherepnin, the Russian composer, conductor and teacher and his mother was the pianist Marie Benois Tcherepnin (the daughter of the painter Albert Benois and the pianist Maria Kind Benois).

[3] Marina Frolova-Walker, “A Ukrainian Tune in Medieval France: Perceptions of Nationalism and Local Color in Russian Opera 115- 131, 19th Century Music, vol. 35, no. 2. Frolova-Walker applies six categories in reference to opera, drawing her examples from Russian repertoire. The categorisation, loosely applied in this context, can nonetheless be helpful in illuminating aspects of Tcherepnin’s musical identity.

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