Taneev, Sergei Ivanovich

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Taneev, Sergei Ivanovich


Born Nov. 13, (25), 1856, in Vladimir; died June 6 (19), 1915, in Diud’kovo, in what is now Zvenigorod Raion, Moscow Oblast; buried in Moscow. Russian composer, pianist, teacher, scholar, and public figure.

Taneev began his musical studies at a very early age. In 1866 he enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory, where he graduated with a gold medal in 1875. He was most influenced by his piano classes with N. G. Rubinstein and the instrumentation and composition classes given by P. I. Tchaikovsky. Taneev began concertizing and gave the first performances of the majority of Tchaikovsky’s piano works. He also appeared with the violinist L. S. Auer and participated in performances of his own chamber pieces in Russia, Germany, and Bohemia.

In 1878, Taneev joined the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory, where he taught piano and special topics in music theory. He became a professor at the conservatory in 1881 and served as director from 1885 to 1889. His students included S. V. Rachmaninoff, A. N. Scriabin, and N. K. Metner and such leading Soviet figures in music as Z. P. Paliashvili, R. M. Glière, S. N. Vasilenko, A. N. Aleksandrov, A. B. Gol’denveizer, K. N. Igumnov, G. E. Konius, and B. L. Iavorskii. As director, Taneev played a significant role in improving the professional musical education offered. A man of forthright convictions, he came to the defense of the striking students in 1905. As a result of a conflict with the reactionary board of directors, he left his post as professor but remained at the center of musical life in Moscow. Taneev was one of the founders of and an active figure in the People’s Conservatory (1906) and a scholarly music society that became the Library of Music Theory in 1908, and he was a member of many concert organizations and groups. He also served with the Moscow Commission on Musical Ethnography. In the 1880’s he transcribed many Caucasian and Ukrainian folk songs and conducted research in Northern Caucasian folklore. His works on polyphony are of prime importance.

Taneev’s legacy of compositions spans many genres. His works show a disposition toward moral-philosophical problems, as seen, for example, in his only opera, Oresteia (1895, Marinskii Theater, St. Petersburg), which in its three divisions (Agamemnon, Choëphorai, and Eumenides) treats Aeschylus’ trilogy Oresteia as the natural victory of the forces of reason and light. The tendency is also evident in his two cantatas, John of Damascus (1884; words by A. K. Tolstoy, dedicated to the memory of N. G. Rubinstein) and At the Reading of the Psalm (1915; words by A. S. Khomiakov). The former is one of the composer’s most moving and lyrical works. Of his four symphonies, the last, composed in 1898, has particular merit. Through his use of polyphony, Taneev’s choral pieces marked a new direction in the development of Russian music. Many of his choral works and romances were written to texts by Ia. P. Polonskii and K. D. Bal’mont. His most important compositions were his chamber works, including the string quartets, particularly No. 5 (1903) and No. 6 (1905); trios, including the piano trio (1903); and quintets, especially the piano quintet (1911).

Taneev’s works exhibit an organic synthesis of the classical traditions of Western Europe and Russia—the influence of Tchaikovsky is most clearly seen—with the new developments characteristic of the 20th century, for example, the use of polyphony as a method of development. Taneev’s music eschews open emotionalism for profundity, a seriousness of feeling, and masterful technique. It is inseparable from ethical problems, thereby exhibiting one of the fundamental traditions of Russian culture. Taneev’s artistic principles have been fruitfully developed by Soviet composers.


Podvizhnoi kontrapunkt strogogo pis’ma. Moscow, 1959.
Uchenie o kanone. Moscow, 1929.


Pamiati S. I. Taneeva, 1856–1946. Edited by V. Protopopov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947. (Collection of articles and materials.)
Bernandt, G. B. S. I. Taneev. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.
P. I. Chaikovskii, S. I. Taneev: Pis’ma. Moscow, 1951.
S. I. Taneev: Materialy i dokumenty, vol. 1: Perepiska i vospominaniia. Moscow, 1952.
S. I. Taneev: Iz. nauchno-pedagogicheskogo naslediia. Moscow, 1967.
Korabel’nikova, L. S. I. Taneev v Moskovskoi Konservatorii. Moscow, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.