Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Arensky - Fantasia On Russian Folk Songs For Piano And Orchestra

Anton Arensky (1861 - 1906) was a Russian composer, pianist and teacher. Arensky as a child was musically precocious and had composed many songs and pieces for the piano by the age of nine.  He studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov. After his graduation he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory where one of his students was Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Arensky is best known for his chamber music, especially the Piano Trio in D minor, but he composed music in many other forms. His Fantasia On Russian Folk Songs For Piano And Orchestra is based on two songs from a collection of Russian folk songs compiled by the ethno-musicologist Ivan Ryabinin.  The first theme is in E minor. Tchaikovsky's music was a large influence on Arensky as his treatment of the first theme is rhapsodic. The second theme is like a march, and while it too is in a minor key, it is of a different character than the first.

After the second theme is played through, the first them returns and is varied. The gradually lightens in texture and grows quiet. The piano by itself utters the first theme one more time, and the piece ends quietly with the piano and a pizzicato chord by the low strings.

Arensky was somewhat of an enigmatic man. He never married, had few friends and struggled with alcoholism most of his life. He was also a compulsive gambler. He died of tuberculosis when he was 44 years old.

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