Gretchaninoff, Alexander (Tikhonovich)

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Gretchaninoff, Alexander (Tikhonovich)

Gretchaninoff, Alexander (Tikhonovich), Russian-born American composer; b. Moscow, Oct. 25, 1864; d. N.Y., Jan. 3, 1956. He studied at the Moscow Cons. (1881-91) with Safonov (piano) and Arensky (composition), then studied composition at the St. Petersburg Cons, as a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov (1891-1903). He was a prof. of composition at the Moscow Inst. from 1891 to 1922; then lived in Paris. He visited the U.S., where he appeared with considerable success as a guest conductor of his own works (1929-31); went to the U.S. again in 1939, settling in N.Y. He became a naturalized American citizen on July 25, 1946. He continued to compose until the end of his long life. A concert of his works was presented in his presence on the occasion of his 90th birthday at Town Hall in N.Y. (Oct. 25, 1954). Gretchaninoff’s music is rooted in the Russian national tradition; influences of both Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov are in evidence in his early works; toward 1910 he attempted to inject some impressionistic elements into his vocal compositions, but without signal success. His masterly sacred works are of historical importance, for he introduced a reform into Russian church singing by using nationally colored melodic patterns; in several of his masses, he employed instrumental accompaniment contrary to the prescriptions of the Russian Orthodox faith, a circumstance that precluded the use of these works in Russian churches. His Missa oecumenica represents a further expansion toward ecclesiastical universality; in this work, he makes use of elements pertaining to other religious music, including non-Christian. His instrumental works are competently written, but show less originality. His early Lullaby (1887) and the song Over the Steppes long retained their popularity, and were publ. in numerous arrangements. After the Revolution, Gretchaninov wrote a new Russian national anthem, Hymn of Free Russia (sung in N.Y. at a concert for the benefit of Siberian exiles, May 22, 1917), but it was never adopted by any political Russian faction. He publ. a book of reminiscences as My Life (Paris, in Russian, 1934; Eng. tr., 1951, with a complete catalogue of works as well as additions and an introduction by N. Slonimsky).


DRAMATIC Opera: Dobrinya Nikititch (Moscow, Oct. 27, 1903); Sister Beatrice (Moscow, Oct. 25, 1912; suppressed after 3 perfs. as being irreverent); The Dream of a Little Christmas Tree, children’s opera (1911); The Cat, the Fox, and the Rooster, children’s opera (1919); The Castle Mouse, children’s opera (1921); Marriage, comic opera after Gogol (1945-46; Tanglewood, Aug. 1, 1948). Ballet : Idylle forestiere (N.Y., 1925). ORCH .: Concert Overture in D minor (1892; St. Petersburg, March 1893); Elegy in Memory of Tchaikovsky (1893; St. Petersburg, Dec. 31, 1898, Rimsky-Korsakov conducting); 5 syms: No. 1 (1893; St. Petersburg, Jan. 26, 1895), No. 2 (1909; Moscow, March 14, 1909), No. 3 (1920-23; Kiev, May 29, 1924), No. 4 (1923-24; N.Y., April 9, 1942), and No. 5 (1936; Philadelphia, April 5, 1939); Poeme elegiacjue (Boston, March 29, 1946); Festival Overture (Indianapolis, Nov. 15, 1946); Poeme lyrique (1948). OTHER : Incidental music for Ostrovsky’s Snegoruchka (Moscow, Nov. 6, 1900); Tolstoy’s Tsar Feodor (Moscow, Oct. 26, 1898) and Death of Ivan the Terrible (1899). CHAMBER : 4 string quartets; 2 trios; Violin Sonata; Cello Sonata; 2 clarinet sonatas; 2 Miniatures for Saxophone and Piano. Piano : 2 sonatas (n.d., 1944); Petits tableaux musicaux (1947); other works. VOCAL : Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Moscow, Oct. 19, 1898); Laudate Deum (Moscow, Nov. 24, 1915); Liturgia domestica (Moscow, March 30, 1918); Missa oecumenica for Soli, Chorus, and Orch. (Boston, Feb. 25, 1944); 84 choruses; 14 vocal quartets; 8 duets; 258 songs.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Gretchaninoff, Alexander (Tikhonovich)

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