Tcherepnin, Alexander

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Tcherepnin, Alexander

Tcherepnin, Alexander (Nikolaievich), distinguished Russian-born American pianist, conductor, and composer, son of Nikolai (Nikolaievich) Tcherepnin and father of Serge (Alexandrovich) Tcherepnin and Ivan (Alexandrovich) Tcherepnin; b. St. Petersburg, Jan. 20, 1899; d. Paris, Sept. 29, 1977. He studied piano as a child with his mother, and was encouraged by his father in his first steps in composition, although he did not take formal lessons with him. He composed a short comic opera when he was 12, and a ballet when he was 13, and then produced a number of piano works, composing 14 sonatas before he was 19. In 1917 he entered the Petrograd Cons., where he studied theory with Sokolov, and piano with Kobiliansky, but remained there only one school year. He then joined his parents in a difficult journey to Tiflis during the Civil War, where he took lessons in composition with Thomas de Hartmann. In 1921 the family went to Paris, where he continued his studies, taking lessons in piano with Philipp and in composition with Vidal. In 1922 he played a concert of his own music in London; in 1923 he was commissioned by Anna Pavlova to write a ballet, Ajanta’s Frescoes, which she produced in London with her troupe. Tcherepnin progressed rapidly in his career as a pianist and a composer; he played in Germany and Austria; made his first American tour in 1926. Between 1934 and 1937 he made two journeys to the Far East; gave concerts in China and Japan; numerous Chinese and Japanese composers studied with him; he organized a publishing enterprise in Tokyo for the publication of serious works by young Japanese and Chinese composers. He married a Chinese pianist, Lee Hsien-Ming. Despite his wide travels, he maintained his principal residence in Paris, and remained there during World War II. He resumed his concert career in 1947; toured the U.S. in 1948. In 1949 he and his wife joined the faculty of De Paul Univ. in Chicago, and taught there for 15 years. In the meantime, his music became well known; he appeared as a soloist in his piano concertos with orchs. in the U.S. and Europe. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1958. In 1967 he made his first visit to Russia after nearly a half century abroad. He was elected a member of the National Inst. of Arts and Letters in 1974. In his early works, he followed the traditions of Russian Romantic music; characteristically, his Piano Sonata No. 13, which he wrote as a youth, is entitled Sonatine romantique. But as he progressed in his career, he evolved a musical language all his own; he derived his melodic patterns from a symmetrically formed scale of 9 degrees, subdivided into 3 equal sections (e.g. C, D, E-flat, E, F-sharp, G, G-sharp, A-sharp, B, C); the harmonic idiom follows a similar intertonal formation; his consistent use of such thematic groupings anticipated the serial method of composition. Furthermore, he developed a type of rhythmic polyphony, based on thematic rhythmic units, which he termed “interpunctus.” However, he did not limit himself to these melodic and rhythmic constructions; he also explored the latent resources of folk music, both oriental and European; he was particularly sensitive to the melorhythms of Russian national songs. A composer of remarkable inventive power, he understood the necessity of creating a communicative musical language, and was primarly concerned with enhancing the lyric and dramatic qualities of his music. At the same time, he showed great interest in new musical resources, including electronic sound.


dramatic: Opera: Ol-Ol (1925; Weimar, Jan. 31, 1928; rev. 1930); Die Hochzeit der Sobeide (1930; Vienna, March 17, 1933); The Farmer and the Nymph (Aspen, Colo., Aug. 13, 1952). Ballet: Ajanta’s Frescoes (London, Sept. 10, 1923); Training (Vienna, June 19, 1935); Der fahrende Schüler mit dem Teufelsbannen (1937; score lost during World War II; reconstructed, 1965); Trepak (Richmond, Va., Oct. 10, 1938); La Légende de Razine (1941); Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Paris, Oct. 14, 1945); L’Homme à la peau de léopard (Monte Carlo, May 5, 1946; in collaboration with A. Honegger and T. Harsányi); La Colline des fantômes (1946); Jardin persan (1946); Nuit kurde (Paris, 1946); La Femme et son ombre (Paris, June 14, 1948); Aux temps des tortores (Buenos Aires, 1949); Le gouffre (1953). ORCH.: 6 piano concertos: No. 1 (1919-20; Monte Carlo, 1923), No. 2 (1923; Paris, Jan. 26, 1924), No. 3 (1931-32; Paris, Feb. 5, 1933), No. 4 (1947; retitled Fantasia), No. 5 (Berlin, Oct. 13, 1963), and No. 6 (1965; Lucerne, Sept. 5, 1972); Overture (1921); Rhapsodie géorgienne for Cello and Orch. (1922); Concerto da camera for Flute, Violin, and Chamber Orch. (1924); 4 syms.: No. 1 (Paris, Oct. 29, 1927), No. 2 (1947-51; Chicago, March 20, 1952), No. 3 (1952; Indianapolis, Jan. 15, 1955), and No. 4 (1957; Boston, Dec. 5, 1958); Mystère for Cello and Chamber Orch. (Monte Carlo, Dec. 8, 1926); Magna mater (1926-27; Munich, Oct. 30, 1930); Concertino for Violin, Cello, Piano, and Strings (1931); Russian Dances (Omaha, Feb. 15, 1934); Suite géorgienne for Piano and Strings (1938; Paris, April 17, 1940); Evocation (1948); Harmonica Concerto (1953; Venice, Sept. 11, 1956); Suite (1953; Louisville, May 1, 1954); Divertimento (Chicago, Nov. 14, 1957); Symphony-Prayer (1959; Chicago, Aug. 19, 1960); Serenade for Strings (1964); Russian Sketches (1971); Musica sacra for Strings (Lourdes, April 28, 1973). CHAMBER: Ode for Cello and Piano (1919); 2 string quartets (1922, 1926); Violin Sonata (1922); 3 cello sonatas (1924, 1925, 1926); Piano Trio (1925); Piano Quintet (1927); Elegy for Violin and Piano (1927); Le Violoncelle bien temperé, 12 preludes for Cello with Piano, 2 with Drum (Berlin, March 23, 1927); Mouvement perpétuel for Violin and Piano (1935); Kettledrum Sonatina (1939); Sonatine sportive for Bassoon or Saxophone and Piano (1939); Andante for Tuba and Piano (1939): Trio for Flutes (1939); Quartet for Flutes (1939); Marche for 3 Trumpets (1939); Suite for Cello (1946); Sonata da chiesa for Viola da Gamba and Organ (1966); Quintet for 2 Trumpets, Horn, Trombone, and Tuba (1972); Woodwind Quintet (1976); Duo for 2 Flutes (1977). KEYBOARD: Piano: 10 bagatelles (1913-18); Scherzo (1917); Sonatine romantique (1918); 2 sonatas (1918, 1961); Feuilles libres (1920-24); Toccata (1921); 5 arabesques (1921); 9 inventions (1921); 2 novelettes (1922); 4 préludes nostalgiques (1922); 6 études de travail (1923); Message (1926); Entretiens (1930); Études de piano sur la gamme pentatonique (1935); Autour des montagnes russes (1937); Badinage (1942); Le Monde en vitrine (1946); 12 Preludes (1952); 8 Pieces (1954). Harpsichord: Suite (1966). VOCAL: Cantatas: Vivre d’amour (1942); Pan Kéou (Paris, Oct. 9, 1945); Le Jeu de la Nativité (Paris, Dec. 30, 1945); Les Douze for Narrator, Strings, Harp, Piano, and Percussion (Paris, Nov. 9, 1947); Vom Spass und Ernst, folksong cantata for Voice and Strings (1964); The Story of Ivan the Fool, with Narrator (London, Dec. 24, 1968); Baptism Cantata for Chorus and Orch. (1972). Other: Lost Flute, 7 songs on poems translated from the Chinese, for Narrator and Piano (1954); several albums of songs to poems in Russian, French, and Chinese.


W. Reich, A. Tscherepnine (Bonn, 1959; 2nd ed., rev, 1970); C.-J. Chang, A. T, His Influence on Modern Chinese Music (diss., Columbia Univ. Teachers Coll., 1983); E. Arias, A. T: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1988).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire