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Past Exhibition of the Month - December 2016

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Vladimir Ivanovich Rebikov.  Postcard photograph published by Breitkopf & Härtel, London, c.1910.

Vladimir Ivanovich Rebikov. Postcard photograph published by Breitkopf & Härtel, London, c.1910.

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REBIKOV, Vladimir Ivanovich (b.Krasnoyarsk, 31 May 1866; d.Yalta, 4 Aug 1920)


Long known (and remembered, if at all) as a composer of piano miniatures and teaching pieces, Rebikov has in recent years begun to attract more serious attention as an innovator and experimentalist.  The 150th anniversary of his birth this year gives us the opportunity to show some of the Museum's holdings of his music.

After one year's theory study at the Moscow Conservatory (with Nikolay Klenovsky, a pupil of Tchaikovsky), he read Philology at the University before proceeding to Berlin and Vienna to work with private teachers on piano, composition and orchestration.  His first printed piano piece, a Berceuse, appeared in a periodical in 1889.

During the 1890s he taught and conducted in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, and Kishinev (where he founded a branch of the Society of Russian Composers and a music school) and paid further visits to Berlin, Vienna and Munich, where his friendships with a number of distinguished artists and writers were to be an important formative influence.

An opera, Into the Storm, had been performed in Odessa in 1894.  On returning to Moscow, where he was to be based for eighteen years, he found employment in critical journalism and undertook a succession of concert tours as pianist, playing throughout Russia and in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Leipzig and Florence.  On 17 October 1903 Into the Storm was given a new production by M. E. Medvedyev's company at Moscow's Aquarium Theatre in a double bill with a new 'fairy play' (Rebikov himself called it a 'musical-psychological drama') The Christmas Tree.  To a libretto by S. I. Plaksin after Hans Christian Andersen and Dostoyevsky, this had a considerable popular success and its waltz has remained his best-known work.

Rebikov's attractive early works were in the style of Tchaikovsky.  However serious study of Wagner, Mussorgsky and Dargomizhsky and the contemporary influences mentioned above led him in the 1890s to a highly individual language of ideas and harmonic expansion.  A striving for artistic synthesis found him coupling music with mime (Mélomimiques, Op.11, 15, 17), rhythmic recitation (Mélodéclamations, Op.32) and tableaux (Méloplastiques, 1910), while his harmonic range - modal, whole-tone and chromatic - featured chords formed from multiple seconds, fourths and augmented triads, even tone clusters.  A yet more original manifesto published in 1900 stated 'Music is a language of feelings, and feelings have neither form, nor laws, nor rules', and advocated complete freedom from traditional principles.  Though there is a clear link with the late works of his near contemporary Scriabin, Rebikov's innovations seem to lead even more directly to Stravinsky and Prokofiev.  Yet curiously for a follower of Wagner, he himself remained basically a miniaturist.  His ten operas, two ballets and handful of orchestral works are all small in scale, and it was left to his followers to build on his foundation.

  1. "We, descendants and recorders of events, must pay due homage to this martyr of musical history; Rebikov was right in many things, and in many repects he was a true pioneer, the true father of modernity, the sire of mighty sons of modern music, and as such he is deservedly entitled, not only to recognition but to profound regard.  Musical practice and life are pitiless, and without remorse or conscience forget the intermediate and the initial, remembering only the fulfilment and the culmination. . . . But musical history is juster and more grateful.  It cherishes the memory not only of those who have reached the peaks, but even of those modest toilers and workers who, though unaware of it themselves, have helped others to climb the summits and made their glory possible.  To these intermediate, historically important personages belongs Rebikov."
  2. (Leonid Sabaneyev: Modern Russian Composers, 1927.)

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

Early 20th century English editions. London & Brighton, [c.1915].

Quatre Morceaux, Op.6. Moscow, [1894-5]. Rêveries d'Automne, Op.8. Moscow, [1897]. [Around the World], Op.9. Moscow, [1896].

Mélomimiques, Op.11. Moscow, [1900].  This number - Genius and Death - made the strongest in this ground-breaking series.

L'Arbre de Noël. [The Christmas Tree: fairy play]. Moscow, [1903].  First performed Moscow, 17 October 1903.

Ésclavage et Liberté, Op.22. Moscow, [1903]. Chansons du coeur, Op.24. Moscow, [1903]. Aspirer et Atteindre, Op.25. Moscow, [1903].

Tristesse. Etude musical-psychologique. Moscow, [1903].

Dans leur pays, Op.27. Moscow, [1904]. Feuilles D'automne, Op.29. Moscow, [1904]. Parmi eux, Op.35. Moscow, [1906].

Schneewitchen. [Snow-White. Ballet]. Moscow, [1908]. First performed in Tlibisi, 1907. Cover design by Rudolf Adamek.

Méloplastiques. Moscow, [1910]. Album de Pièces Faciles. Moscow, [1909].  The pieces were composed in Vienna in 1906. Fleurs d'automne. Moscow, [1910].

A travers les pays slaves. Moscow, [1911]. Rêves de bonheur. Moscow, [1913]. Dans la forêt, Op.46. Moscow, [1913].  The cover design was commissioned by Rebikov from the Czech symbolist artist Rudolf Adamek (1882-1953).  The fantastic images refer to various Rebikov works and show a mermaid, Lucifer, Pan, The Princess and the Frog-King, a witch, Snow-White and The Christmas Tree.