Alexander Tcherepnin

Alexander Tcherepnin

[chuh-rep-nin; Russ. chyi-ryip-nyeen]
Alexander Nikolayevich Tcherepnin (born January 21, 1899; died September 29, 1977) was a Russian-born composer and pianist. His father, Nikolay Tcherepnin, (pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) and his son, Ivan Tcherepnin, (a member of the Harvard University faculty) were also composers. His son, Serge, was involved in the roots of electronic music and instruments. His mother was a member of the artistic Benois family, a niece of Alexandre Benois.


He was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and played the piano and composed prolifically from a very early age. He was stilumated in this activity by the atmosphere at home, which was a meeting place for many well-known musicians and artists of the day. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the family fled St. Petersburg and settled for some time in Tbilisi. There he continued his studies at the conservatory, gave concerts as both pianist and conductor and wrote music for the Kamerny Theater (Palmer 1980, 18:637).

Because of the increasingly hostile political environment the Tcherepnins were forced to leave Russia permanently in 1921. They settled in Paris, where Alexander completed his studies with Vidal and Isidor Philipp and became associated with a group of composers that included Martinů, Mihalovici and Conrad Beck. From Paris he launched an international career as a pianist and composer. He visited the United States in 1926 and the Far East between 1934 and 1937. He promoted composers in Japan (Akira Ifukube, Bunya Koh, and others) and China, even founding his own publishing house in Tokyo for the purpose. He married a Chinese pianist, Lee Hsien Ming, while in China (Palmer 1980, 18:637).

During World War II, he lived in France. The war stopped their musical activities. The immediate postwar period brought a resurgence of creative energies, however; the result was a number of important works. In 1948, he went to the United States, settling in Chicago in 1950 and in 1958 acquiring United States citizenship. He and his wife taught at DePaul University in Chicago, where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered his second symphony with Rafael Kubelík conducting. His students there included Phillip Ramey, Robert Muczynski, Gloria Coates, and John Downey. In 1964 he moved to New York and divided his time between the United States and Europe. He died in Paris in 1977 (Palmer, 18:637).

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra has recorded his first-ever complete symphony cycle.

Style and techniques

His early works were fairly original and some of his pieces have enduring popularity. His output includes three operas, four symphonies, six piano concertos, works for ballet, choral music, and a large amount of solo piano music. His first symphony (1927) is remarkable for including the first symphonic movement ever written completely for unpitched percussion (Benjamin Folkman, cited in Wender 1999, 6). One of two symphonies left incomplete at his death would have been for percussion alone (Arias 2001). Tcherepnin invented his own harmonic language by combining minor and major hexachords, pentatonic scales, old Russian modal tunes, and Georgian harmonies. The most famous of his invented scales has nine notes and consists of three conjunct semitone-tone-semitone tetrachords. This came to be known as the "Tcherepnin scale" (Slonimsky 1968, 19–20).


  • Arias, Enrique Alberto. 1982–83. "Alexander Tcherepnin’s Thoughts on Music". Perspectives of New Music 21:138–43.
  • Arias, Enrique Alberto. 1986. "The Symphonies of Alexander Tcherepnin". Tempo, new series, no.158:23–31.
  • Arias, Enrique Alberto. 1989. Alexander Tcherepnin: A Bio-Bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313253188
  • Arias, Enrique Alberto. 2001. "Tcherepnin, Alexander (Nikolayevich)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
  • Palmer, Christopher. 1980. "Tcherepnin, Alexander (Nikolayevich)". New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie. London: Macmillian
  • Slonimsky, Nicolas. 1968. "Alexander Tcherepnin Septuagenarian". Tempo, new series, no. 87 (Winter): 16-23.
  • Tcherepnin, Alexander. 1979. "A Short Autobiography". Tempo, no.130:12–18.
  • Wender, Julius. 1999. Notes for, Alexander Tcherepnin: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2, Piano Concerto No. 5. Noriko Ogawa, piano, with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lan Shui. BIS-CD-1017. Åkersberga, Sweden: BIS Records AB. .

External links

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