Arensky, A.

ARENSKY — Trio No. 1 in D Minor for Violin, Cello, and Piano, Opus 32

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Though the name Anton Stepanovich Aren­sky (1861 – 1906) is not very well known today, he was an inte­gral part of the Russ­ian musi­cal world of his day. He stud­ied com­po­si­tion with Rimsky-Korsakov at the Saint Peters­burg Con­ser­va­tory and, imme­di­ately upon grad­u­a­tion (with a gold medal), joined the fac­ulty of the Moscow Con­ser­va­tory, where his pupils included such famous future com­posers as Alexan­der Scri­abin, Rein­hold Glière, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The undis­ci­plined Scri­abin incurred Arensky’s wrath on a num­ber of occa­sions and finally walked out of his com­po­si­tion class with­out pass­ing the final exam. Rach­mani­noff, on the other hand, did so well he was allowed to grad­u­ate a year early, and it was to Aren­sky that he ded­i­cated his Opus 3 piano pieces, Morceaux de fan­tasie, which include his most famous work, the Pre­lude in C-sharp minor.

Tchaikovsky admired Arensky’s music, writ­ing to a friend in 1890 that the com­poser was “a man of remark­able gifts, but mor­bidly ner­vous and lack­ing in firm­ness — alto­gether a strange man.” On more than one occa­sion Tchaikovsky let the younger com­poser know what he thought of a piece of music, even if he had not been asked. In the autumn of 1885 he wrote Aren­sky, “Par­don me if I force my advice upon you. I have heard that 5/4 time appears twice in your new Suite. It seems to me that the mania for 5/4 time threat­ens to become a habit with you. I like it well enough if it is indis­pens­able to the musi­cal idea, [but in this instance] your basso osti­nato should be writ­ten in ¾ or 6/4 time, but not in 5/4.”

The fol­low­ing year Tchaikovsky wrote to Rimsky-Korsakov, ask­ing that com­poser to replace one of Tchaikovsky’s own pieces in an upcom­ing con­certo with a work of Arensky’s. “I have a favor to ask,” Tchaikovsky wrote. “Aren­sky is now quite recov­ered, though I find him some­what depressed and agi­tated. I like him so much and wish you would some­times take an inter­est in him, for, as regards music, he ven­er­ates you more than any­one else. He needs stir­ring up; and such an impulse given my you would count for so much with him, because he loves and respects you.”

All his life Aren­sky was some­thing of a loner. He had prob­lems with alco­hol and gam­bling, and these even­tu­ally caused a per­ma­nent break with Rimsky-Korsakov. His health under­mined by his way of life, Aren­sky died of tuber­cu­lo­sis. On learn­ing of his death, Rimsky-Korsakov remarked, “The man burned him­self out, but he did not lack talent.”

Arensky’s Trio No. I for Vio­lin, Cello, and Piano is one of his most suc­cess­ful works. It was awarded the Glinka Prize (500 rubles) and was writ­ten in mem­ory of the great vir­tu­oso cel­list Karl Davi­dov. The Trio is in four move­ments — none of which are in the 5/4 time Tchaikovsky warned against overus­ing. The first move­ment, Alle­gro mod­er­ato, opens with a lyric theme admirably suited for the vio­lin and cello, a good exam­ple of Arensky’s abil­ity to com­pose won­der­ful melodies and which made his numer­ous songs so appeal­ing. The remark­able, imp­ish sec­ond move­ment is a scherzo. Its play­ful, puck-like open­ing and clos­ing, with its stac­cato and pizzi­cato tex­ture, is a splen­did con­trast to the movement’s more lyric cen­tral sec­tion, which seems almost like an affec­tion­ate par­ody of a pop­u­lar waltz tune. The pen­sive, melan­cholic third move­ment is labeled Ele­gia. A dra­matic alle­gro finale in ¾ time brings the Trio to a sat­is­fy­ing end,

This arti­cle appeared orig­i­nally in the pro­gram book of the San Fran­cisco Sym­phony and is used here with per­mis­sion.