Sergei “Golubchik” Taneyev, “the most cultured musician of his time”

Tchaikovsky called him “Golubchik” (“Little Pigeon”); Rachmaninoff named him “the most cultured musician of his time.”

Steven Isserlis wrote of him:

Taneyev the composer is impossible to categorise. It is true that his music is full of challenging harmonies, learned fugues and complex textures. Even more striking, though – and the reason that performing his music has become something of a mission for many musicians, including the ones taking part in this festival – is his wild dramatic flair, his crazy humour, and the samovar-like warmth of his musical heart.

It is music like no other. Quite why it has never become more widely known is a mystery. Perhaps that was down to Taneyev himself – he was certainly no self-publicist. He spent most of his time at his house in the country, being looked after by his former nanny, and had a placard permanently nailed to the door: “Sergei Ivanovich is out.”

Of String Quintet No. 1, Opus 14 (1900-01), critic Wilhelm Altmann, “one of the most respected chamber music critics of all time,” wrote

The first movement, Allegro con spirito, almost symphonic in tone, is filled with spirited and appealing melodies. The middle movement is a highly effective Vivace con fuoco. It features a very energetic main theme, while the equally spirited second theme is, both in its rhythm and melody, of Slavic origins. The huge finale, Tema con variazione, consists of the andantino theme and nine extensive variations. It is an excellent example of Taneyev’s extraordinary technique and art.

With thanks, once again, to David Nice, for the introduction to this composer and String Quintet.


6 thoughts on “Sergei “Golubchik” Taneyev, “the most cultured musician of his time”

  1. nycbeartop

    Susan it is always such a treat to read your posts. I once visited Saint Petersburg and stayed in the hotel Moscova. Across the street was a large cemetery where many great Russian composers are buried.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      How nice! This led me to look up where Taneyev is buried, which turns out to have been in Moscow. Along the way, I ran across this bit of backstory on Taneyev that I think you might enjoy: “Sofia {wife of Leo] developed an attraction to the composer which embarrassed her children and made Tolstoy jealous. Sofia’s and Taneyev’s mutual infatuation later became the basis for Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata.”

      1. David Nice

        I think, says teacher officiousy, that we did cover that in class…;pay attention at the back! But glad you love what you’ve heard of Taneyev. Listening to so much Russian chamber music, mostly for the second time, made me see how rich his music is. It doesn’t yield up all its secrets on a first hearing.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          David: If you mean the Tolstoy vignette, you did, indeed, and I am remiss in not giving credit where it’s due! And agree 100% that Taneyev is a gift that yields more on each listen. I never would have found his work on my own, so thank you so much!

  2. shoreacres

    For me, the best part of the post is the note that “He… had a placard permanently nailed to the door: ‘Sergei Ivanovich is out.'” Of course that reminded me of the old joke about the sign on the door of the music shop: “Bach Soon. Offenbach sooner.”

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Delighted you picked up on that–quite a character he must have been. And I love the old joke–new to me, actually–absolutely perfect.

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