Tikhon Nikolaevich Khrennikov
Tikhon Nikolaevich Khrennikov was born on June 10th 1913 in the ancient Russian city of Yelets. Nikolay Ivanovich, his father, had been a clerk working for local merchants; Varvara Vasilievna, his mother, had been a housewife. Tikhon was the youngest child in a large family with nine elder siblings. The family lived in harmony and their modest income was always spent to cover kids’s education expenses. Elder brothers graduated from Moscow University. One of the brothers, Gleb, had a lovely singing voice – a lyrical tenor. He studied at Moscow Conservatoire and Moscow University and was expected to become a brilliant vocalist, but then the First World War broke out and Gleb volunteered. He fell in action in 1918.
Music was always a part of the Khrennikov family. Everybody played guitar or mandolin. Besides, Tikhon sang in the church choir. He started to play the piano at the age of nine. Two years later the boy became an apprentice of V.Agarkov - a musician, a composer and a gifted and fastidious music teacher, who had moved to Yelets from Moscow. Mr. Agarkov had been an apprentice of Konstantin Igumnov - head of Moscow Conservatoire and creator of one of the largest piano schools in Russia. Tikhon took a great interest in these studies. Agarkov left Yelets soon, but the acquaintance with the next teacher - Anna Fedorovna Vargunina - became crucial for the young musician.
The boy started to compose music quite soon after he had learned to play the piano. He composed his first opus – a piano etude - when he was thirteen. Tikhon came to Moscow in winter 1927-1928 to show his compositions to Mikhail Gnesin. The famous master took a liking to the talented boy and Tikhon returned home with a huge pile of printed music. A year later he finished 9 classes at school and entered Gnesin’s college. Nikolay Khrennikov gave his son two important advices before sending him to Moscow. The first one was: live your own life and let others do the same. The second was: never feel upset over your failures and do not be pleased with your success too much. Tikhon Khrennikov always followed these 2 principles. It seems that father’s instructions indeed formed the composer’s style of dealing with people and allowed him to earn love of those who surrounded him. During his college years Tikhon studied piano with E.Gelman and composition with Mikhail Gnesin. Besides, his polyphonic studies with G.Litinsky became an important step on his way to professionalism. Before graduation Khrennikov started to compose his First Piano Concerto working with great certainty and ease.
After graduating from Gnesin’s college in 1932 Khrennikov entered the second year of Moscow Conservatoire at the class of V.Shebalin. Great Henry Neuhaus, his piano teacher, sympathized with young musician. Tikhon also got acquainted with Leopold Godovsky who praised and supported him. By the end of the third grade Khrennikov had finished his piano concert and played it at an examination. The same year he was offered a job in the Moscow Children’s Theatre run by Natalia Sats who afterwards became his close friend for a long time. She asked Khrennikov to compose a sound track for “Mick” - the antifascist play written by Nikolay Shestakov. This music got a fair amount of praise at the opening night.
The first public concert took place in 1933 in Voronezh where he had been invited by the famous conductor N.Anossov. Thus Tikhon Khrennikov learned what success was; but the same year 1933 brought him tragedy besides fame: this was the year his father died. Khrennikov presented his First Symphony as a graduation work. He started to compose it during his fourth year of study. The symphony was performed in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatoire in 1935 and had a great success. Tikhon performed his concert together with A.Melik-Pashaev at the 2nd International Festival of Music and Theatre in Leningrad in 1933. It was his first international performance. Tikhon Khrennikov’s First Symphony was then included in Leopold Stokovsky’s repertoire and was performed in the USA where it gained a lot of praise. Eugene Ormandi also included it in his repertoire.
Upon graduating from Moscow Conservatoire Tikhon Khrennikov continued to attend Shebalin’s class. Soon after opening night of the symphony the composer got a call from Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko who then asked him to write a contemporary opera for his theatre. It was a great honor for the young musician. They met for a dinner, discussed the matter and agreed to work on a plot for the future piece together. Khrennikov was happy to get acquainted with the famous theatre director and to accept such an honorable offer. After a while they chose a novel Solitude written by Nikolay Virta. A well-known playwriter A.M.Fayko wrote the libretto for the opera. The work went on rather slowly. In the meantime Khrennikov (who got a nickname “Moscow Shostakovich” after the premiere of his symphony) received a new order from Vakhtangov theatre – to write music for the play Much Ado About Nothing. The performance starring such famous actors as R.Simonov, C.Mansurova and D.Dorliak was premiered in autumn of 1936 with a tremendous success.
The same year Tikhon Nikolaevich married Klara Arnoldovna Vaks, a journalist, head of press-centre in the Union of Composers. They first met at the dancing party through Aram Khachaturyan who was a close friend of the Khrennikov family for his whole life. 1937 was a year of both professional success and personal drama for the composer. Two of his brothers – Nikolay and Boris – were arrested in Elets. Tikhon feverishly sought ways to save them, wrote to everybody in charge – and the miracle happened! He managed to arrange an open trial for Nikolay in Elets with a good lawyer from Moscow. A famous attorney Braudo laid bare all fake charges, and Nikolay was released from custody in court. However, Boris was judged by an ominous court of three and vanished in GULAG. Khrennikov finished his opera In the Storm in 1939. The opening night went off with great success. The same year Stalin, Molotov and Voroshilov attended the performance, which was a sign of the highest recognition.
After that Khrennikov composed music for one of the first Soviet movie musicals A Pig-tender and a Herdsman which was released soon after the World War II had begun. This bright musical has welcomed the peaceful life for millions - a life worth to return to through all hardships and challenges of war. During the war Khrennikov, like most composers, was mainly concentrating on patriotic and military songs. The most beloved were Everybody for Fatherland, There Is a Little Town in the North, and The Parting. The last one inspired a creation of a short film titled Come Back as a Victor. Khrennikov also created his own “military” symphony. He had started to compose it before the war and later decided to leave its first part as it was. That’s why the other parts written after 22nd of June 1941 sounded like the war itself breaking the peaceful lives of people.
Natasha, the daughter of Tikhon and Klara Khrennikov, was born in the year 1941 and was named after the main character of In the Storm opera. The family was evacuated to Sverdlovsk together with the Red Army Theatre. Alexei Popov, the director of the theatre, offered Khrennikov to be in charge of the music department and to compose a sound track for the play A Long Time Ago by A.Gladkov about the war with France in 1812. This optimistic music of Khrennikov continues to comfort hearts and souls of millions even nowadays. 1941-1945 years were very productive for the composer. Apart from many songs and the symphony he created music for the movie musical 6 p.m. After the War. Khrennikov visited front-line forces several times, performing concerts for soldiers. In May 1945 he entered Berlin together with Chuikov’s army and took part in the famous radio broadcasting at the half-destroyed German radio station, sending songs of victory throughout the world from the very heart of ruined fascism. Khrennikov was singing his most popular songs – Parting, March of Gunners and others – accompanying himself on the piano.
After the war Tikhon Khrennikov became intensly involved in public activity never failing his artistic work. In 1948 Stalin decided to appoint the composer the Union of Composers Secretary General. Khrennikov remained in this position for 43 years, until the collapse of USSR in 1991. He skillfully managed to combine these duties with the joy of creation. Furthermore the composer was a member of the Supreme Soviet, a candidate to the Central Committee of Communist Party, vice-chairman of Lenin and State Prizes Committee, president of the Music department in All-Union Society of Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries, President of the Music department in the Soviet Association of Friendship and Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries. Moreover in the years of Perestroika the composers voted for Khrennikov to be their leader twice of their own free will – in 1986 and 1991.
At the First Congress of the Soviet composers which took place soon after Khrennikov had been elected a chairman, he had to read a speech written for this event in the Central Committee of the Communist Party that started a campaign against formalism in the Soviet music. Avant-garde tendencies, retreat from melodic music basis and western decadence were subjected to criticism in this speech. Several famous composers were mentioned – Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturyan. However, no repressive measures followed. The composers mentioned in Khrennikov’s speech continued to obtain honorary titles and prizes. Dmitry Shostakovich was awarded with the title of People’s Artist of Russian Federation in 1948 and two Stalin Prizes in 1950 and 1952. Sergey Prokofiev received Stalin Prize in 1951 and Lenin Prize in 1957 (posthumously). Their music was performed very widely while Khachaturyan and Muradeli remain Tikhon’s close friends. Khrennikov had used all his power to save his colleagues from repressions all these years. The Composers Union never wrote a single negative characteristic about its members thus preventing them from getting arrested. Moreover in 1958 Khrennikov convinced Chruschev to cancel the 1948 Resolution of Central Committee and recognize it as a fault! This alone was a unique event as the Soviet Communist Party almost never took any blame.
However Khrennikov found himself a “forbidden” composer. His opera Frol Skobeev was criticized and forbidden in 1950. But Khrennikov refused to give up. He appealed to Stalin directly and was granted a permission. The opera was slightly changed and given a new name – No One’s Son-in-law. It was performed in USSR and abroad and got wide recognition. Premiere of new opera The Mother based on Maxim Gorky famous novel took place in 1957. However, the fifties turned out to be the least productive years in the composer’s life. The heavy burden of Composers Union leadership led to nervous exhaustion and illness. The treatment wasn’t working and even when he was resting in Barvikha Party health centre, he couldn’t sleep for several weeks. Klara, his wife, literally saved him when she organized his escape from this closed secure hospital. The composer got back to work only at the end of fifties. In 1959 he finished his First Violin Concerto. Famous Leonid Kogan edited the violin part of this opus and became its first performer. The next piece was a violoncello concerto which was finished in 1964. Khrennikov dedicated it to his friend Mstislav Rostropovich who performed it at the opening night and then went on playing it at first-rate concert stages all over the world. After the concert in Carnegie Hall he sent Khrennikov a triumphant telegram.
In the beginning of the sixties Tikhon Khrennikov got the professor position at Moscow Conservatoire almost against his will as he had so much on his plate with the artistic, public and administrative activities that he couldn’t even think of taking up teaching. However a talented fourth grade student Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov whose teacher had left the Conservatoire convinced the rector that only Khrennikov could be the best tutor for him. Ovchinnikov’s persistence almost bordering on impudence led to Khrennikov teaching at the principal world music college for more than 40 years. The seventies were the most creative years for the composer. He wrote his Second Piano Concerto, Second Violin Concerto and Third Symphony. At that time Khrennikov started to work in the ballet genre. At the request of Bolshoy Theatre he composed the ballet Love For Love using his music for Much Ado About Nothing. Well-known tunes formed a basis for choreographic monologues, adagios and duets. He also composed a lot of new music fragments for this ballet. New pieces written by the mature maestro bore the same qualities as his early works: purity and freshness of emotions, warm humor and slyness and lyrical emotions, an integral part of all Khrennikov’s music. Since January 30, 1976 Love For Love had (choreographer Vera Boccadoro) remained on the repertoire for almost twenty years. Such famous dancers as Nina Timofeeva, Yuri Vladimirov, Alexander Godunov, Liudmilla Semenyaka, Nadezhda Pavlova, Andris Liepa, Marina Leonova danced various parties in this ballet. It had been performed more than 250 times. Apart from Moscow Love For Love had been staged in other Soviet cities and abroad – in Iceland, Bulgaria, Poland and Yugoslavia. The composer continued working in this genre and came back to the libretto of Long Time Ago ballet based on the play of A.Gladkov, that had been created ten years before by Oleg Vinogradov, a choreographer of the Kirov’s Theater in Leningrad. As Khrennikov recalled: “It was keeping the theme of Much Ado About Nothing (Love For Love) in ballet – the theme of comical and lyrical performance. I have always been fascinated by ballet but sometimes dissatisfied with its kind of one-sided development – I mean tragic subjects of many ballets. I didn’t want to turn it down entirely, but I always wished to see some festive, joyful and bright performances full of beauty and inspiration”.
The ballet Hussar Ballade appeared in the Kirov Opera and the Ballet Theatre in Leningrad on April 3rd 1979. A year after that it was produced in the Bolshoy by the same choreographers – Oleg Vinogradov and Dmitry Bryantsev. In the beginning of the eighties Khrennikov composed his Third Piano Concerto and Second Cello Concerto. Then he wrote a number of comic operas for Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre in Moscow: Dorothea (based on The Duenna comedy by Sheridan); The Golden Calf (based on novel by Ilf and Petrov); and The Naked King based on play by Schwartz for Malyi Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Leningrad.
Later Khrennikov put the opera genre at rest and turned to the chamber music. He composed his first quartet in autumn 1988 and followed with the cello sonata. In 1989 he created music for three sonnets of Shakespeare. In 1993 Andrei Petrov, a choreographer and head of Kremlin Ballet, offered Khrennikov the idea of the ballet about Napoleon Bonaparte. Charming adagios which are kind of Khrennikov’s trademark adjoin with pompous ballroom scenes, battles and political episodes, philosophic and lyrical pieces. The gap between the 2nd ballet and Napoleon Bonaparte was sixteen years. It was written in times of Perestroika and reforms that turned the country into a wild outburst of permissiveness, corruption, violence and poverty. Dramatic and philosophical concept of this ballet was noticed by all critics. October 3rd, 1995 Napoleon Bonaparte was presented to the public at Congress Palace in Kremlin.
The Composer’s Union was disbanded in 1991 together with collapse of the Soviet Union. During the lifetime of the Union of Composers a lot of things had been done: rest houses for composers had been built in Ruza, Ivanovo, Sukhumi, Sortavale and many Soviet republics; the system of royalty payments had been put in order; musical pieces were being bought by the state; the mighty system of musical propaganda had been constructed. However, all this was destroyed and sold out after 1991. Khrennikov resigned from the position of chairman. Some critics in their fight with totalitarian past tried to criticize Khrennikov for his speech back in 1947 and show him as a watchdog of Stalinism and dictatorship. Khrennikov withstood it with all possible serenity, courage and dignity. “Time will put everything in order, - he used to say. – My music will get back to the audience even if not today”. Other writers emphasized Khrennikov’s wisdom and humanistic leadership that helped all Soviet composers avoid Stalin’s GULAG. They praised his unique melodic talent which makes him the outstanding contemporary composer of world recognition. Khrennikov remained the head of Tchaikovsky Competition Committee up to year 2004 with his professorship in Moscow Conservatoire it was the only public activity he left for himself. He even decided to resume his tours in spite of everything and performs his Third Piano Concert in several Russian cities. Unfortunately he had to stop his public performances after a serious heart attack at the age of 85. But he continued his concert tours. The composer was performing his Third Piano Concert in several Russian cities. He had to stop his public performances after a serious heart attack at the age of 85.
The composer was blessed with a bright and long life in music. His pieces form the musical portrait of the XXth century always being young, strong and optimistic, sincere and inspirational, warm, humorous and energetic. Tikhon Khrennikov had never betrayed his ideals in life and art.
His favorite composers had always been Bach, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. His last will was to be buried in Yelets…