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If you haven’t previously encountered the music of Russian composer Leokadiya Kashperova (1872-1940), be kind to yourself: until recently, her name was known only as Stravinsky’s piano teacher (whom he highly regarded), her own rich musical output entirely forgotten.
Happily the situation is changing, thanks to the work of Dr. Graham Griffiths, whose research has led to a Kashperova Edition now being published by Boosey & Hawkes. Recently added, Griffiths now brings us her delightful solo piano suite, In the Midst of Nature…
“The most gifted of them all…”
Kashperova was apparently one of the most talented Russian pianists of her generation. Studying at the St Petersburg Conservatoire she was a member of Anton Rubinstein’s elite piano class, and it was noted in the press that she was ‘the most gifted of them all’.
Having graduated in 1893, she reentered the Conservatoire as a composition student, graduating a second time in 1895. For the next two decades, she enjoyed a hugely successful career as a composer-pianist based in St Petersburg, touring Russia, and coming to London and Berlin to perform.
Kashperova’s professional ascendency was interrupted by her marriage in 1916 to her pupil Sergei Andropov, a Bolshevik revolutionary and personal associate of Lenin, and by the subsequent Russian Revolution and First World War. Settling in Moscow in 1920, her career never regained its earlier momentum, and though popular in her heyday, after her death in 1940 Kashperova’s music was quickly forgotten altogether.
Griffiths became interested in Kashperova having chanced upon her name while researching Stravinsky. Travelling to Russia, all he initially discovered was a short dictionary entry about her, but subsequently he found a score for her Symphony, and with further visits to Moscow he unearthed a significant body of her music, all written with a care which he says made their editing and preparation for publication an easy task.
Suite for piano solo
Completed in 1910, In the Midst of Nature is a six movement piano suite whose evocations of nature express the composer’s nostalgia for her childhood in the peaceful and remote Russian countryside. The music is composed in a fairly conservative (for its time) and melodic Romantic piano style.
The six pieces are:
- Roses I & II
- Autumn Leaves I & II
- The Murmuring of the Rye
- The Threshing of the Wheat
And you can listen to Griffiths’ own performance right here while you continue to read:
According to Griffiths,
“In the Midst of Nature also presents an artfully graded progression, indicating that Kashperova probably shared this music with her many pupils: the early movements are within the range of the talented young player whilst the latter movements require the technique and interpretative maturity of a conservatoire student, the whole work being admirably suited to the professional recital.”
I certainly found the first four pieces, the Two Roses and Two Autumn Leaves, easy to play at sight on my first attempt, and would suggest they are early advanced pieces that would suite players at around UK Grade 5-7 level.
Similarly, I agree with Griffiths’ suggestion that the last two pieces are closer to first diploma level (they would make an attractive “own choice” inclusion for Grade 8 or ARSM programmes).
In all six pieces, Kashperova’s pianistic understanding underpins her musical gift, the writing wonderfully fitting under the hands and suited to the tonal beauty of the instrument.
The Kashperova Edition
In the Midst of Nature is one of ten publications so far in Boosey & Hawkes’ Kashperova Edition. The book appears with plain cover printed on matt card:
The book begins with a superb three-page Preface comprising biographical note, a detailed outline of the music itself and editorial notes, all written by Griffiths and appearing in English, subsequently repeated on the following pages in German and French.
The scores themselves are beautifully and spaciously engraved, and occupy the remaining 20 pages. There are no editorial intrusions, so pedal marks and suggested fingering are absent.
Overall then, this is a simple, durable score which is a pleasure to play from.
These beguiling pieces are truly a joy to discover, and I would certainly be intrigued to hear more of Kashperova’s music. Unpretentious in their simple melodicity, easy charm but consummate craftsmanship, they show her to be a composer of talent and breadth; all six pieces really are a breath of fresh air.
To what extent they confirm Kashperova as a composer whose music is now likely to appear more frequently in concert halls remains to be seen, but I am happy to add them to my own repertoire, and to the Pianodao Music Library of pieces I teach and recommend.
Huge congratulations and thanks to Dr Graham Griffiths for these discoveries, and to Boosey & Hawkes for finally making them available to players everywhere.
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