String Quintet No.2 in C major Op.16

Composer: Sergei Taneyev (b. 1856 - d. 1915)
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Composer: Sergei Taneyev (b. 1856 - d. 1915)

Performance date: 07/07/2018

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1856 - 1915

Duration: 00:27:44

Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Dudok Quartet Amsterdam Judith van Driel [violin], Marleen Wester [violin], Marie-Louise de Jong [viola], David Faber [cello]) - [quartet]

Dudok Quartet Amsterdam

Judith van Driel, Marleen Wester [violins]

Marie-Louise de Jong [viola]

David Faber [cello]

with Nils Mönkemeyer [viola]

Sergey Taneyev [1856-1915]

String Quintet No.2 in C major Op.16

1. Allegro sostenuto

2. Andagio Espressivo

3. Allegretto

4. Finale. Vivace e con fuoco

Taneyev and his music are not well known today, but during his lifetime he was a major figure in Russian music. By the age of ten, he was enrolled as a student of Piano in the Moscow Conservatoire.  Taneyev became Tchaikovsky’s favourite pupil and they remained close friends until Tchaikovsky’s death in 1893. In 1878 Tchaikovsky decided to retire from the Conservatoire and Taneyev was persuaded to take his place and by the age of twenty-nine he was the Director. 

Taneyev became an expert on polyphony and the music of Palestrina and he started to write a book on counterpoint. Although he was Director for only a few years, he continued to teach at the Conservatoire.. He entirely severed his ties it in 1905 as he objected to its attempts to punish students for their participation in the 1905 uprising. Taneyev died in 1915 after catching a cold while attending the funeral of Scriabin who had been one of his students.

Taneyev’s undoubted scholarship meant that his opinions on music were widely respected.  On the surface, he appears to be ultra-conservative musically although he supported the young Prokofiev in his struggles with the Conservatoire in 1914.  He made no attempt to hide his contempt for the five nationalist composers who dominated Russian music at the time (Borodin, Mussorgsky etc.). His bluntness spared no one. Taneyev was as harsh a critic of his own compositions as he was of others. Much of his work was destroyed or never published. His most important large scale work was a trilogy of operas based on the Oresteia which took him many years to complete. Once he had done so, he turned to chamber music.

His private life is slightly mysterious. He never married and, as far as is known, had no children. Although blunt to the point of rudeness, he clearly had considerable charm and was widely liked. Regarded by many as handsome, the Countess Tolstoy fell passionately for him. Taneyev did not reciprocate and the Countess was tortured for eight years by unrequited passion. The Count, the well-known novelist, who was fairly promiscuous himself, was furious.

His Second String Quintet has been called monumental. Magnificent is a better description. The fifth instrument is a second viola. This can cause difficulties by clogging up the middle two octaves.  Other (very eminent) composers have had difficulty balancing instruments and textures for this combination. Not so Taneyev. Throughout the quintet, there is a fantastic variety of textures and instrumental combinations. When he wants clarity or even purity, he knows how to get it. There are clogged, creamy and rugged chords. The rhythms are swaggering and robust. The musical textures bear some similarities with Janacek but on a much grander scale.

Completed in 1905, the style of the work is late romantic. At times, the music indulges in a late romantic swoon, but these are kept firmly under control. The structure is orthodox. The first movement is in sonata form. There is a haunting main theme and the development is very rigorous. Both the first two movements are wonderfully intense. The third movement is lighter and more whimsical while the finale is a jovial playful romp. The music sounds distinctly Russian as it hurtles towards a triumphant conclusion. This superb sumptuous music richly deserves to be much better known.

David Winter