String Quartet No.1 in b flat minor, Op.4
"Taneyev's String Quartet No.1 was published in 1892. After a short Andante espressivo introduction, which appears in a slightly altered form in the coda, the main section of the first movement, Allegro, begins. The main theme is impressive but the second theme, given out by the viola, is even more so. The development is cleverly done. The second movement, Largo, has for its main theme a quiet, serious melody which as time goes on becomes quite expressive. A Presto, which is a scherzo, comes next with a highly effective main subject, particularly noteworthy for the fine accompaniment. An extra movement, a tonally rich Intermezzo, is placed before the finale. There is much careful ornamentation, including cadenza for both the first violin and viola. A playful Vivace e giocoso closes out the work. It is the brightest of the five movements but also reveals Taneyev's tremendous command of technique."--Wilhelm Altmann in his Handbook for String Quartet Players.
Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915) is one of the greatest Russian composers from the last half of the 19th and early 20th centuries and probably, from this group, the one whose music is the least known in the West. Taneyev came from an aristocratic family that patronized the arts and when Sergei's talent became apparent, his father sent him to the newly opened Moscow Conservatory at the age of 10. His main teachers there were Nicolai Rubinstein for piano and Tchaikovsky for composition. Although he became a brilliant pianist, Taneyev opted for a career as a composer and teacher and soon became a professor at the Conservatory. His fame both as a teacher and as a composer quickly spread. Among his many students were Gliere, Rachmaninov, Gretchaninov, Scriabin and Medtner. In Russian concert halls, one always finds a bust of Taneyev alongside those of Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Sadly, the fame of this outstanding composer has not spread beyond his homeland.
Influenced by Tchaikovsky, Taneyev preferred to write "pure" music rather than Russian-sounding or so-called "nationalistic" music based on Russian folk melodies. As such, he remained outside of the famous Nationalist School headed by Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and his music sounds markedly different from that of Rimsky and his famous students such as Borodin and Glazunov.
This is a very fine work, deserving of concert performance and the attention of amateurs.