Anton Arensky: Trio in D minor for violin, cello, and piano (op. 32)

I. Allegro moderato
II. Scherzo: Allegro molto-Meno Mosso-Allegro molto
III. Elegia: Adagio
IV: Finale: Allegro non troppo

Accounts of Arensky are of a juxtaposed nature. On the personal level, he was described by Tchaikovsky as incredibly nervous, and he was never known to have a romantic attachment. He was considered “the most delicate person by nature”. As a teacher, his harmony class was regarded as great, but his class on fugue unstructured and a bore! His students included Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Medtner. He had a positive influence on Rachmaninoff , but he did not get on well with Scriabin (in one outburst he once told Scriabin “You are conceited and arrogant”).

In Russia at this time there were two schools of musical thought: the Moscow school, aligned to European music (e.g., Tchaikovsky, Arensky), and the St. Petersburg School, promoting a distinct Russian Flavour (the Russian Five – Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Cui, and Borodin). Tchaikovsky would drop his own works out of concert programs to fit in works by Arensky. Rimsky Korsakov was critical of Arensky’s Music (even though Arensky was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov). Stravinsky, a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov in the St Petersburg “camp” recalls how, during a performance of Arensky’s opera Dream on the Volga, Rimsky Korsakov’s “exclamation to me that ‘the noble bass
clarinet should not be put to such ignominious use’ must have been overheard several rows in front of us, and later, of course, throughout the whole theatre.’”.
Stravinsky had a certain respect for Arensky: “Arensky had been friendly, interested, and helpful to me, however, and in spite of Rimsky. I always liked him and at least one of his works – the famous piano trio. He meant something to me also by the mere fact of his being a direct personal link with Tchaikovsky.” Scriabin, putting personal differences aside, also respected Arensky’s music: including it in his carefully selected teaching repertoire.

The piano Trio was written in memory of the cellist Davidov. The obvious reference to this is the subtitle of the third movement (Elegy), and is also alluded to in the dreamy sections toward the end of the first and last movements. David Denton suggests the rhapsodic theme of the first movement represents “the outgoing Davidov”, while the second movement recalls fond memories.

© Greg Smith, 2009