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Arensky, Anton (1861-1906)

Anton Arensky

born: 12 July 1861
died: 25 February 1906
country: Russia

Anton Stepanovich Arensky was a brief but brilliant meteor over the musical world of pre-revolutionary Russia. Although he died at the early age of forty-five he composed, in a career that spanned barely twenty-five years, three operas, a ballet, several orchestral works (including a piano concerto, a violin concerto and two symphonies), chamber music, many songs, and a large body of choral work, in addition to an extensive, though now sadly neglected, catalogue of works for his own instrument, the piano. He never married and, for the most part, the details of his personal life are unrecorded, yet he moved in the highest musical circles and was accorded many honours in his lifetime.

Arensky was born in Novgorod on 12 July 1861 and became one of the most successful composers and pianists in nineteenth-century Russia. Initially taught by his mother, an amateur pianist, and encouraged by his father, a doctor and keen cellist, he entered the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1879.

His composition teacher at the Conservatory was Rimsky-Korsakov who must have been impressed by the young Arensky as he entrusted his student with a share of preparing his vocal score of The Snow Maiden. In later years he revised his opinion of Arensky’s talent, and unfortunately it is Rimsky-Korsakov’s cold pronouncement in his memoirs My Musical Life that ‘he will soon be forgotten’ which has lent ammunition to Arensky’s detractors. In fact Arensky was enormously successful and respected in his lifetime and it was probably this very success which soured relations with his former teacher.

Nineteenth-century musical Russia was full of cliques and intrigues. In 1883 Balakirev took over the immensely important and well-paid post of Director of the Imperial Chapel, and Rimsky-Korsakov became his assistant. Meanwhile the young Arensky, having graduated with the Gold Medal for composition from St Petersburg Conservatory, was appointed Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint at the Moscow Conservatory. All might have been well had not Rimsky-Korsakov later fallen out with Balakirev. Rimsky-Korsakov became so unhappy at the Imperial Chapel that in November 1893 he resigned his position. The stress of working with the overbearing Balakirev had made him depressed and ill; also his daughter had died only a few months before, and this period marked one of the lowest points in the composer’s life. The following year, however, Balakirev retired as Director and on his recommendation Arensky was offered the post. It is from this point that Rimsky-Korsakov seems to have decided that Arensky was second-rate!

Whilst a Professor at the Moscow Conservatory Arensky won many friends and admirers, notably Tchaikovsky and Taneyev. Among his pupils were Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Glière and Gretchaninov. As a composer he had a steady stream of successes, most notably his first opera Son na Volge (A Dream on the Volga). His appointment as Director of the Imperial Chapel lent him prestige, and on his retirement in 1901 he was given a special pension of 6000 roubles a year. The rest of his life was spent composing and giving concerts; he was successful as both a pianist and a conductor. For most of his life he had been a heavy drinker and gambler. Finally, in February 1906, with his health undermined, he contracted tuberculosis and died at Terioki in Finland.

from notes by Stephen Coombs © 1994

Albums

Arensky & Bortkiewicz: Piano Concertos
CDA66624
Arensky & Taneyev: Piano Quintets
Studio Master: CDA67965Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Arensky & Taneyev: Violin Concertos
CDA67642
Arensky: Piano Music
CDH55311Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Arensky: Piano Trios
Studio Master: CDA68015Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Arensky: String Quartet; Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence
CDH55426Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Arensky: Suites for Two Pianos
CDA66755
Bartlett & Robertson – Selected recordings, 1927-1947
APR6012for the price of 1 — Download only
Bortkiewicz & Arensky: Piano Concertos
CDA66624
English Poets, Russian Romances
CDA67274Please, someone, buy me …
Russian Images, Vol. 1
CDA67105
Russian Images, Vol. 2
CDA67205
Taneyev & Arensky: Piano Quintets
Studio Master: CDA67965Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Taneyev & Arensky: Violin Concertos
CDA67642
Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence; Arensky: String Quartet
CDH55426Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Complete works available for download

Davno l' pod volshebnye zvuki 'Was it so long ago to enchanting strains', Op 49 No 5Vassily Savenko (bass), Alexander Blok (piano)
Fantasia on Russian Folksongs, Op 48Stephen Coombs (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Jerzy Maksymiuk (conductor)
Osen 'Autumn', Op 27 No 2Vassily Savenko (bass), Alexander Blok (piano)
Piano Concerto in F minor, Op 2Stephen Coombs (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Jerzy Maksymiuk (conductor)
Piano Quintet in D major, Op 51Piers Lane (piano), Goldner String Quartet
Piano Trio No 1 in D minor, Op 32Leonore Piano Trio
Piano Trio No 2 in F minor, Op 73Leonore Piano Trio
Quatre Études, Op 41Stephen Coombs (piano)
Quatre morceaux, Op 25Stephen Coombs (piano)
Six Caprices, Op 43Stephen Coombs (piano)
Six Pièces, Op 53Stephen Coombs (piano)
Snovideniye 'A dream', Op 17 No 3Vassily Savenko (bass), Alexander Blok (piano)
String Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op 35The Raphael Ensemble
Suite for two pianos No 1, Op 15Stephen Coombs (piano), Ian Munro (piano)
Suite for two pianos No 2 'Silhouettes', Op 23Stephen Coombs (piano), Ian Munro (piano)
Suite for two pianos No 3 'Variations', Op 33Stephen Coombs (piano), Ian Munro (piano)
Suite for two pianos No 4, Op 62Stephen Coombs (piano), Ian Munro (piano)
V al'bome 'In an album', Op 49 No 4Vassily Savenko (bass), Alexander Blok (piano)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 54Ilya Gringolts (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov (conductor)
Vospominaniye 'Recollection' 'Suite', Op 71Vassily Savenko (bass), Alexander Blok (piano)
Ya lask tvoikh strashus' 'I fear thy kisses'Vassily Savenko (bass), Alexander Blok (piano)
Ya videl smert' 'I have seen death', Op 27 No 6Vassily Savenko (bass), Alexander Blok (piano)

Alphabetical listing of all musical works

24 Characteristic Pieces, Op 36 (Arensky)
Davno l' pod volshebnye zvuki 'Was it so long ago to enchanting strains', Op 49 No 5 (Arensky)
Drug s drugom sosny obnyalis' 'We paused amid the pines that stood'  
Fantasia on Russian Folksongs, Op 48 (Arensky)
I dolgo myi, sklonivshi vzor 'We paused beside the pools that lie'  
Iz divnykh dney 'Now the last day of many years'  
Kak tikho vsyo! 'How calm it was!'  
Nad morem spal sosnovy les 'We wander'd to the pine forest'  
Osen 'Autumn', Op 27 No 2 (Arensky)
Piano Concerto in F minor, Op 2 (Arensky)
Piano Quintet in D major, Op 51 (Arensky)
Piano Trio No 1 in D minor, Op 32 (Arensky)
Piano Trio No 2 in F minor, Op 73 (Arensky)
Près de la mer 'Six Esquisses', Op 52 (Arensky)
Quatre Études, Op 41 (Arensky)
Quatre morceaux, Op 25 (Arensky)
Six Caprices, Op 43 (Arensky)
Six Pièces, Op 53 (Arensky)
Snovideniye 'A dream', Op 17 No 3 (Arensky)
String Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op 35 (Arensky)
Suite for two pianos No 1, Op 15 (Arensky)
Suite for two pianos No 2 'Silhouettes', Op 23 (Arensky)
Suite for two pianos No 3 'Variations', Op 33 (Arensky)
Suite for two pianos No 4, Op 62 (Arensky)
V al'bome 'In an album', Op 49 No 4 (Arensky)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 54 (Arensky)
Vospominaniye 'Recollection' 'Suite', Op 71 (Arensky)
Ya lask tvoikh strashus' 'I fear thy kisses' (Arensky)
Ya videl smert' 'I have seen death', Op 27 No 6 (Arensky)
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