String Quartet No.3 in d minor, Op.7
Taneyev's Third Quartet, dedicated to Rachmaninov, is unusual for two reason. First, it is only in two movements, and second, the final movement consists of a theme and set of eight variations and a coda.
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.
Taneyev originally composed what became String Quartet No.3 in 1886. In its revised version it was published around 1899. The opening movement, Allegro, is in the minor and begins in a subdued somewhat sad fashion with a theme dominated by its rhythm. The development is highly dramatic, almost violent in its power. The huge second movement, is of considerable length. It begins with a naive, pastoral theme in the major. In the eight variations that follow, Taneyev explores various moods, tempi and unusual effects. Most of the variations remain in the major, but only toward the end does he return to the darker minor. (Our soundbite presents the theme and three of the eight variations)
This was Taneyev's most popular quartet in his own lifetime and it still receives performances in Russia. Out of print or difficult to obtain, we are pleased to reintroduce it.