Alexander Tcherepnin on his musical style(s)

In a letter to Nicolas Slonimsky,[1] the composer describes what he calls his “periods of development” as follows:  from childhood until his departure from Russia – instinctive composing (most characteristic and well-known works are the Bagatelles); 1918-1920 – engrossment in pianism (characteristic works include the first piano concerto and the Arabesques); 1921 – 1930 – polyphony, counterpoint as well as the ‘nine-step scale’[2] (characteristic works include Inventions; Violin and Cello Sonatas, second quartet, Quintet, Symphony, Sobeide’s Wedding); 1930-33 – increasing use of rhythmic principle, firm and soft intervals[3], Eurasianism (most characteristic works include Concertino, third piano concerto);  1933-1941 – folklore ‘healing’ influences (typical works include Russian Dances, Trepak,  Chinese Etudes, Georgian Suite and the Legend of Razin); 1941 – 1944 – Sturm und Drang – blending of styles, the “search of unoriginal instead of original which was caused by writing so much conventional Gebrauchsmusik”; 1954 up till now – the seeking of pure creation and broad form. In an earlier unpublished archival analysis[4], Tcherepnin lists his own compositional devices and methods with approximate annual milestones that enable us to chart the development of his processes in more detail: (1) linear polyphony (2) synthetic scales [both from 1920 onwards] (3) sound conception c. 1927 (4) ‘prose’ meter c. 1931 (5) Improvisation c. 1940 (6) patterns – early forties and fifties (7) East and West  from c. 1927 onwards.


[1] Written in 1967 for Slonimsky’s article on Tcherepnin which appeared in Tempo, 87 (1968-1969), 16 entitled ‘Alexander Tcherepnin, Septuagenarian’.

[2] Tcherepnin characterizes the nine step scale as consisting of “three joined tetra chords: it can be transposed three times (each time by a half tone); the fourth transposition will repeat the exact pitch sounds of the fundamental scale.” [The entire explanation of this approach, including his definition of hard and soft intervals, exists in manuscript. See, PSS 76 (NY)]

[3] These are identified in his explanation as ‘hard and soft’ intervals. Tcherepnin identifies hard intervals or chords as those that “exclude thirds and sixths”; “harmony in hard intervals is limited to four parts”. On the other hand, harmony in soft intervals is built on thirds.

[4] PSS W20, Diagram W19.

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