Taneyev was an important Russian pianist, educator, and composer active at the turn of the twentieth century. Although he wrote a large quantity of keyboard, orchestral, vocal, and chamber music, he is known today primarily as the teacher of Scriabin, Rachmaninov, and Glière. As a young man, Taneyev made his first impact as a pianist, giving the first Russian performance of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, and the Russian premieres of all of Tchaikovsky's other works for piano and orchestra. For many years, Taneyev's teaching and administrative duties at the Moscow Conservatory prevented him from touring as a performer, but later in his life, he resumed his career as a pianist, particularly in chamber music.
Taneyev was born into a well-to-do and aristocratically connected family, and therefore had the best possible education. His most important teachers at the Moscow Conservatory were Tchaikovsky, for composition, and Nikolay Rubinstein, for piano. Taneyev received gold medals in both at his graduation in 1875. After touring as a pianist for three years, Taneyev reluctantly took a position in 1878 at the conservatory, which would eventually lead him to its directorship in 1885. After four years, he resigned, becoming once again an instructor in order to concentrate on composition. The first result of this decision was the completion and premiere of his opera The Oresteia in 1895. In 1905, Taneyev stopped teaching completely and resumed his career as a pianist. As a result, his compositional activities turned almost exclusively to chamber music. By the time of his death at the age of 58, Taneyev had left behind a substantial catalog of works, virtually none of which has entered the standard repertory.