Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev (Pronounced: Ta-'ñe-jəv) (also Taneev or Taneiev, Russian: Сергей Иванович Танеев) (Vladimir, November 25, 1856 – Dyudkovo, near Moscow,June 19, 1915), a pupil of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was a Russian composer, pianist, teacher of composition, music theorist and author. (Taneyev's first name appears both as Sergei and Sergey.)
Taneyev was born to a cultured and literary family of Russian nobility. His uncle, Alexander Sergeevich Taneyev, was also a composer, while his first cousin, Anna Vyrubova, was highly influential at court.
He began playing the piano at the age of 5 and entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1866, (the year of its foundation). His teachers included Tchaikovsky for composition and the Conservatory's founder, Nikolai Rubinstein, for piano. Taneyev graduated in 1875, the first student in the history of the Conservatory to win the gold medal both for composition and for performing (piano).
In the same year (1875) Taneyev made his debut as a concert pianist in Moscow playing the first piano concerto in D minor of Johannes Brahms. Taneyev was also the soloist that year in the Moscow première of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Tchaikovsky was clearly impressed by Taneyev's performance because he later asked Taneyev to premiere his Second Piano Concerto. (After Tchaikovsky's death, Taneyev also completed and premiered his Third Piano Concerto.)
Taneyev was quite cosmopolitan. After his graduation from the Conservatory, Taneyev spent five years in Paris, where he moved in artistic circles and met with Ivan Turgenev, Gustave Flaubert, César Franck and Camille Saint-Saëns amongst others.
Until 1905 Taneyev taught at the Moscow Conservatory, serving as Director from 1885-1889. He had great influence as a teacher of composition. His pupils included Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Reinhold Glière, Paul Juon and Nikolai Medtner.
During the summers of 1895 and 1896, Taneyev stayed at Yasnaya Polyana, the home of Leo Tolstoy and his wife Sofia. She developed an attachment to the composer which embarrassed her children and made Tolstoy jealous. However this also released her from the distress of the isolation she experienced when Tolstoy grew distant from family concerns and devoted himself to the Christian anarchist-pacifism which shaped his last years. Sofia's infatuation with Taneyev and his music echoes the story of Tolstoy's great and penetrating dissection of marital relations in The Kreutzer Sonata.
Taneyev's later years were troubled by alcohol problems. He died from pneumonia contracted after attending the funeral of his pupil Scriabin.
A museum dedicated to Taneyev is located in Dyudkovo, where he died. There is also a section dedicated to Taneyev at the Tchaikovsky Museum in Klin.
Taneyev's style reflects the European, and especially German, orientation of the Moscow Conservatory, rather than the Russian nationalist outlook of the school of Balakirev.
His compositions include nine complete string quartets (plus two partially completed), a piano quintet, two string quintets and other chamber works, including a piano prelude and fugue in G-sharp minor; four symphonies (only one published during his lifetime, and at least one incomplete), a concert suite with violin and a piano concerto, and other orchestral works; an organ composition "Chorale with variations"; choral and vocal music. Among the choral works are two cantatas, "St. John of Damascus," op. 1 (also known as "A Russian Requiem"), and "At the Reading of a Psalm" (op. 36, sometimes regarded as his swan song). In the choral works the composer combines the Russian melos with remarkable contrapuntal writing.
Taneyev regarded his Oresteia, originally conceived in 1882, as his major achievement. This work, which the composer entitled a 'musical trilogy' rather than an opera, and was closely modelled on the original plays by Aeschylus, was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre on 17 October 1895. Taneyev wrote a separate concert overture based on some of the opera's major themes, which was conducted by Tchaikovsky in 1889.