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Anton Arensky

Anton Arensky (1861-1906)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, op. 32 (1894)
I. Allegro moderato -- II. Scherzo (Allegro molto) -- III. Elegia (Adagio) -- IV. Finale (Allegro non troppo)

Russian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher Anton Arensky is of the generation between Rimsky-Korsakov (his teacher) and Rachmaninoff and Scriabin (his students). Nurtured by his parents who were both amateur musicians, by the time he was nine Arensky was already composing songs and piano pieces. He began studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1879, and upon being graduated with the Gold Medal in 1882 he immediately joined the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory, a marked distinction for a 21 year old. In Moscow he received friendly encouragment from Piotr Tchaikovsky, whose own international musical style had the greatest impact on Arensky's development as a composer, and, incidentally, whose brother Modest provided the libretto for one of Arensky's three operas. Arensky resigned his professorship in 1895 to return to St. Petersburg as director of the Imperial Chapel until 1901. The last five years of his life were spent composing and touring as a successful concert pianist and conductor, but Arensky had the reputation as an overactive drinker and gambler, and these addictions greatly undermined his health. He died from tuberculosis in a Finnish sanitorium a few months before his 45th birthday.

Not long after Arensky's passing, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote in his memoirs that Arensky would be "soon forgotten" because he found the style of his former student to be too derivative of Rimsky himself and of Tchaikovsky (the latter influence is much greater than the former). Nonetheless, Arensky's works are now becoming more familiar as new recordings of his works are made available, and his Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 32, has retained its place in the repertoire and remains his most frequently performed extended composition. According to allmusic.com, this Trio has been released on at least 33 recordings, compared with only four released of Rimsky-Korsakov's Piano Trio. (In fairness, it should be mentioned that Rimsky-Korsakov's Trio was completed after his death by his son-in-law, composer Maximilian Steinberg, but even his most popular chamber work, the 1876 Quintet for piano, flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon, has only 12 recordings listed.)

Arensky's Piano Trio No. 1 was written in memory of cellist Karl Davidov, who had been director of the St. Petersburg conservatory while Arensky was a student there. The cello is featured prominently, no doubt in honor of Davidov, but it has been suggested perhaps also as a tribute to Arensky's father who likewise played the cello. Apparently using Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, op. 49, as a model, Arensky's Trio demonstrates his lyrical gifts as well as his deftness in organizing convincing musical discourse.

  • Arensky's Piano Trio on YouTube

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