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Unknown and early original lacquer technique cabinet photograph by Konstantin Shapiro, c. 1889. The photographer’s work is well collected.  The image of the composer-pianist dates to a point before his hairline had fully receded in his early to mid thirties.

Tanayev (1856-1915) was an exceedingly important figure in Russian music. A composition pupil of Piotr Tchaikovsky, he was also a disciple, a lover and sounding board, though they from time to time were in conflict with each other musically.  He also studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory with pedagogue Eduard Langer and Anton Rubinstein.  When Tanayev graduated from the Conservatory in 1875, it was with the gold medals in both piano and composition, a first and then he was the first recipient of the Grand Gold Medal.  

Tanayev spent the Summer of 1875 touring with Nikolai Rubinstein and much of 1876 touring Russia as Leopold Auer’s accompanist.  He later was the original dedicatee of Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto which was struck in favor of Hans v. Bülow.  He gave the first Moscow performance of the work.  He gave the first Russian performance of the 2nd Piano Concerto and completed the 3rd Piano Concerto after Tchaikovsky’s death and gave the world premiere.  Tchaikovsky also gave him the world premiere of his Concert Fantasia for piano and orchestra and the piano part of the Trio in A Minor.  He also completed the Andante and Finale for Piano and Orchestra and gave that world premiere as well.  In 1878 he followed Tchaikovsky in the position of Professor of Harmony and Orchestration which he maintained until 1905.  In 1881 after the death of Nikolai Rubinstein, he added the responsibility of his classes as Professor of Piano.  From 1885-1889 he was Director of the Moscow Conservatory.  He resigned in 1905 after the first Russian Revolution and resumed his touring concert pianist and chamber career.  As a pedagogue, his harmony and orchestration pupils included: Conus, Gliere. Juon, Medtner, Rachmaninov and Scriabin.

As a composer, Tanayev was often in conflict with his teacher Tchaikovsky and the “Mighty Handful” which he held at times in disdain, particularly Balakriev, the most powerful of the five.  While his orchestral works bear some of the bombast that his mentor Tchaikovsky favored, his works were firmly grounded in the German contrapuntal Romantic school. His symphonies are influenced by the late German Romantics Brahms, Schumann and Bruch, than the Russian National School. You don’t hear Russian folk themes in his large scale orchestral works as was the wont of many Russian composers of his time.  British musicologist Gavin Dixon wrote an article in 2009 entitled, “Tanayev Tchaikovsky’s Heir, or the Russian Bach”. While I’m note sure either are correct,  In addition to 4 symphonies, Tanayev wrote a single piano concerto, orchestral overtures, a concert suite for violin and orchestra, chamber music in a variety of configurations from two to five musicians and 11 string quartets, an opera, songs and choral music.  He also wrote a number of solo piano works, though not as many as one would expect from a pianist.  Both Martha Argerich and Stephen Isserlis have arranged multiple night concerts of his works in recent years.

The photographer Konstantin Shapiro (1841-1900, though birthdate according to various sources varies from 1839-1841) was the most important photographer operating in St. Petersburg during the 4th quarter of the 19th Century.  He was a leading Yiddish poet of his time in Russia as well, which is something of a paradox as he converted to Christianity.  Needless to say, his photography business paid the rent. 

Shapiro was born in Grodno in Belarus to an orthodox Jewish family.  He attended Yeshiva and studied photography as a means to make a living.  His parents forced him to marry at the age of fifteen.  Unhappy in his marriage, it was annulled and angry with his family he left Grodno to study photography, first in Bialystok and then in Vienna.  He returned to Russia for further study in St. Petersburg.  The poet enrolled in the Academy of Art to study writing and withdrew to open his studio, where he was the chief competitor of the slightly older Charles Bergamasco.  Shapiro’s work would eventually rival and exceed that of Bergamasco. During his first years in St. Petersburg, he was taken in by a well to do family, however, they were Russian Orthodox Christians.  After becoming attached to their daughter, she became pregnant. Shapiro contracted typhus and was near death.  To spare the family and child the “shame” of a half Jewish fatherless child, he made a sick bed conversion to Christianity and married the daughter.  He survived and it was his constant shame for the rest of his life.  He was torn in the middle as the Jews in St. Petersburg no longer accepted him and he was still Jewish to the Christians.  The one silver lining is that he received a royal warrant from Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich as photographer to the royal family.  His guilt and shame haunted him throughout the rest of his life and he never stopped writing poetry in Yiddish and many of his poems reflected his shame.   

While Shapiro’s personal life was difficult, his life as a photographer was anything but.  In addition to the royal warrant, he also became the “official” photographer of writers, poets, composers, musicians and government officials in St. Petersburg.  The anti-Semitic Leo Tolstoy would not have Shapiro to his home, however, he would visit his studio and he became Tolstoy’s favorite photographer.  In addition to Anton Rubinstein, Shapiro was a frequent photographer of the composers and musicians in the city including Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, Glazunov, Tanayev and others.  His photographs of writers included Burenin, Chekov, Dostoyevsky, Goncharov, Grigorovich, Ostrovsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Turgenev, Uspensky and Zweifel.  He also photographed other famous people of note including, scientists, physicians, politicians and the royal family including Alexander III who awarded him a silver medal at a St. Petersburg photography exposition in 1883.  Shapiro was one of the first photographers in Russia commissioned to produce photographs for a book, the volume was a new luxury edition of Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” also in 1883. 

Shapiro, despite his conversion wrote Jewish poetry throughout his life, including a long poem about the Dreyfus Affair.  An ardent Zionist throughout his life, he left the bulk of his estate to Zionist causes.