A more—in my opinion—off the beaten path piece by possibly an off the beaten path composer, this work is just kind of interested all around. This week, I have 'Le Destin,' Three Symphonic Fragments on a Ballad by Edgar Allan Poe, op. 59 by Nikolai Tcherepnin.
You can check out this piece in three movements here.
A Brief Overview of Tcherepnin
Tcherepnin is actually three people if one is not specific about their nouns: Nikolai Tcherepnin (1873 – 1945), Alexander Tcherepnin (1899 – 1977), and Ivan Tcherepnin (1943 – 1998). Obviously, I am looking at the eldest of the group.
Admittedly, I do not know a whole lot about this guy, but that is simply because I learned about him a few weeks ago while forcing my way through the Grawemeyer Award recipient playlist, which is grandson, Ivan, won in 1996. Nikolai had some significant contributions to western music over the years, including conducting and having his ballet, Le Pavillon d'Armide, performed in the inaugural season of Ballets Russes, taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory where he got on the bad side of Alexander Glazunov for interest in modernistic experimentation, and had many works dedicated to him, including Prokofiev's first piano concerto. According to his bio from the Tcherepnin Society, his success as a composer was greatly overshadowed by Igor Stravinsky, who had come into the fold of Ballets Russes a few years later.
Like many across the world, WWI and WW2 obliterated much of a national support for Tcherepnin's music. He did follow into the company of Serge Koussevitzky at the Boston Symphony, and his completion of the Mussorgsky opera, Sorochinsky Fair, was added to the repertoire of the Metropolitan Opera, but he was never quite able to get back to his pre-Stravinsky success and seemed mostly doomed to fade into obscurity.
His music in general is remarkably French—not Russian—another aspect that seems to have played as a disadvantage. While many of his works are quite compelling, masterful compositions by themselves, it seems that his uprooted national identity, "confused" compositional voice, and duel career as a composer and conductor seemed to dilute his notoriety in the contemporary world. His catalogue on a whole is pretty neat, and quite refreshing in contrast to the limited examples of early 20th century Russian Primitivism or French Impressionism that academia is able to provide.
A bit about the piece
'Le Destin,' Three Symphonic Fragments on a Ballad by Edgar Allan Poe is based on Poe's writing, The Mask of the Red Death. As the title suggests, there are three fragments, each based on a different part of the story. The work was popularized by Serge Koussevitsky during his summer tours with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Though it seems to be a heavy criticism of his music, this piece is a mix of Russian and French aesthetics, drawing on the characteristics of primitivism and impressionism, veiled with a glimmering sheet of symbolism. While the titles provide the most explicit indication of a program, the exact story captured in the notes is more up to interpretation than I would have thought, which is a positive in my book!
While it seems unlikely this piece will be programmed by any ensemble in the near future (at least in this country), I highly recommend giving it a few listens to indulge in this refreshing mixture of textbook styles. It really is a wonder in form and orchestration from beginning to end and does not disappoint!