Nikolai Karlovich Medtner (1879-1951)
Medtner’s ancestors came from Germany and Scandinavia and by the time of Nikolai’s birth the family has been established in Russia for generations. It was a family with strong musical traditions. His mother was a pianist and his cousin A. F. Gedike was the founder of Russian organ school and the author of a popular instruction manual for young pianists. Medtner enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory at the age of thirteen and graduated in 1900 with gold medal in piano performance. His composition teachers included Arensky, Taneyev and Kashkin. After graduation Medtner embarked upon a promising career as a concert pianist yet soon decided to dedicate most of his creative energy to composition. His music, that was firmly rooted in the romantic tradition, was well received in his homeland and he was twice awarded the coveted Glinka Prize in Composition in 1909 and then again in 1916.
Medtner deeply detested the Bolshevik regime and he left Russia in 1921 along with his wife Anna Bratenskaya (herself an accomplished violinist). The family settled at first in Berlin and then Paris. Medtner did not find artistic recognition in either European capital where modernism was all the rage. With the help of his life-long friend and benefactor Sergey Rachmaninoff Medtner undertook concert tours of the United States and Canada. In England his music was particularly well received and the Medtners finally settled in London in 1935. They survived the World War Two at the Warwickshire home of the pianist Edna Iles.
Late in life Medtner received support from an unlikely sponsor—the Maharajah of Mysore, who in 1946 funded the Medtner Society that supported his gramophone recordings for the EMI. These historic recordings include the three piano concerti, numerous chamber pieces and songs. The song recordings featured Tatiana Makushina, Oda Slobodskaya, Margaret Ritchie and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
Medtner was a true romantic in the age of the avant-garde. He was profoundly distressed by modernism which he viewed as degradation and destruction of all music. His frustration was expressed in a 1935 publication The Muse and the Fashion. In it he vigorously defended his conservative aesthetics and decried the modernism as an aberration destructive to the connection between the artist and his soul. Medtner was the last of the romantic composer-pianists in the vein of Rachmaninoff and Liszt and held steady to the traditions of Russian composition school of the Nineteenth Century well into the Twentieth.