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Alexander Gretchaninoff Biography

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Alexander Tikhonovich Gretchaninov (????????? ????????? ??????????) (October 25 N.S. 1864 Moscow, – January 3, 1956 New York) was a conservative Russian Romantic composer.

Although there is some disagreement as to the transliteration from the cyrillic as to the first part of Gretchaninov's surname (i.e "Gretch" or Grech) nearly all of the authoritative sources agree that the last part of his name should be transliterated as "ov" and not "off" (See: Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, The Oxford Companion to Music, The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey or Chamber Music and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.)

Gretchaninov started his musical studies rather late because his father, a businessman, had expected the boy to take over the family firm. Gretchaninov himself related that he did not see a piano until he was 14 and began his studies at the Moscow Conservatory in 1881 against his parents' wishes and without their knowledge. His main teachers there were Sergei Taneyev and Anton Arensky. In the late 1880s, after a quarrel with Arensky, he moved to St. Petersburg where he studied composition and orchestration with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov until 1893. Korsakov immediately recognized Gretchaninov's extraordinary musical imagination and talent, giving him much extra time as well as considerable financial help, which allowed the young man, whose parents were not supporting him, to survive. Out of this came an important friendship, which only ended in 1908 with Rimsky's death. As such, it is not surprising that Rimsky's influence can be heard in Gretchaninov’s early works, such as his String Quartet No.1, a prize-winning compositon.

Around 1896, Gretchaninov returned to Moscow and was involved with writing for the theater, the opera, and the Russian Orthodox Church. His works, especially those for voice, achieved considerable success within Russia, while his instrumental works enjoyed even wider acclaim. By 1910, he was considered a composer of such distinction that the Tsar had awarded him an annual pension. Though he remained in Russia for several years after the Revolution, ultimately, he chose to emigrate, first to France in 1925 and then to the U.S. in 1939 where he remained for the rest of his life and eventually became an American citizen.

He wrote five symphonies, the first premiered by Rimsky-Korsakov; four string quartets, the first two of which won important prizes, two piano trios, sonatas for violin, cello, clarinet, piano and balalaika, several operas, song cycle "Les Fleurs du Mal", op. 48 (setting lyrics by Baudelaire) and much other music. Like Vladimir Rebikoff, his position in the history of Russian music was mainly transitional, his earlier music belonging firmly in that earlier Romantic tradition while his later work is influenced by some of the streams that also affected Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev.
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