Alexander Tikhonovich Grechaninov (1864-1956)
Alexander Grechaninov was born in a provincial town of Kaluga to a merchant-class family. His parents were naturally musical but without any musical education. Grachaninov began his formal studies relatively late and according to his own admission never seen a real piano until the age of fourteen. He enrolled into Moscow Conservatory against his father’s wishes. His teachers there, among others included Arensky and Taneyev. After a falling out with Arensky, Grechaninov left Moscow for Saint Petersburg where he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov. Under Rimsky-Korsakov’s guidance Grechaninov composed many of his early songs that eventually brought him popularity and still remain best-known of his compositions.
In 1903 his first opera Dobrïnya Nikitich, based on a medieval Russian legend, had a successful premier at the Bolshoi Theater with the great bass Feodor Chaliapin in the title role. The opera was firmly based in the tradition of the Mighty Five, yet in 1903 was viewed as a bit old-fashioned. Grechaninov was a religious man and composed music for the Orthodox Church, including the music for the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and various holidays. These works are still performed widely and are considered to be some of the gems of the Russian choral repertoire. He even attempted, though unsuccessfully, to introduce instruments into the service of the Orthodox Church. He composed Liturgia Domestica that called for a full orchestra, but due to the canonical restrictions it was only performed in concert and never in the context of an actual liturgical service.
Grechaninov at first welcomed the February Revolution of 1917 with great excitement, and even composed The Anthem for the Free Russia to the poetry of Balmont. Yet the Bolshevik Revolution brought him much disappointment and hardship. Unlike many of his contemporaries—Rachmaninoff, Medtner, Prokofiev, he remained in Russia for several years. In 1925, however, Grechaninov, then already a sixty-year-old man left the Soviet Union and settled in Paris. At the outset of the WWII he moved to New York City. In 1954 a concert honoring his 90th birthday was given at the New York Town Hall. He died two years later.
Stylistically, Grechaninov is indebted to Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Though he delved for a while into modernism in the vein of Debussy, he soon returned to a more conservative style. Most of the songs still in the repertoire today were composed by Grechaninov during the earlier part of his career and are firmly in the style of the late Nineteenth-Century Russian music.