Partner Pavel Tchelitchew

Queer Places:
Oakwood Cemetery Mount Vernon, Jefferson County, Illinois, USA

OC 2013.3, Folder 16Allen C. Tanner (September 29, 1898 - October 3, 1987) was an Illinois-born pianist.

Allen Tanner was born on September 29, 1898, to Allen Caldwell Tanner (1853-1917) and Mabel Waters Pace (1858-1946) of Mount Vernon, Illinois. He came from a musically talented family, including siblings Florence (1881–1970), Wynona, Allene, and Earl (1900-1969), Arnold (1894-1972). At the age ofeight, he began training in music with an aunt who played the piano and with his cousin Mabel Pavey, who was also a skilled musician. Tannershowed promise as a pianist at an early age, and at fifteen he went to Chicago to further his musical education. He was awarded a scholarship to study with Victor Heinze and soon began performing publicly. In Chicago, he made his first appearance with an orchestra, followed by several concert tours in the West. There he met Margaret Anderson, editor of the Little Review.

He then moved to New York, where he performed in musical salons and accompanied many musical greats of the era including Marguerite Namara and was invited to play with Ruano Bogislav (Mrs. Riccardo Martin), Frances Alda, Marguerite D’Alvarez, and Georgette Leblanc. He also performed in musical salons and came into contact with many musical greats of the era, including Myra Hess, Arthur Rubinstein, Paul Kochanski, and Karol Szymanowski. In the early 1920s, he spent a summer in Bernardsville, NJ where he shared a house with Margaret Anderson, Georgette Leblanc, and George Antheil.


Allen Tanner, by Pavel Tchelitchew

In 1922, Tanner left for Europe, bearing a letter of recommendation from Alexander Siloti. He arrived in Berlin in December 1922, where he became a scholar of Leonide Kreutzer. Almost immediately he met the artist Pavel Tchelitchew, who was working as a set designer for the Russian Romantic Theatre. The two became friends, and this friendship soon grew into a relationship that would last over a decade. In early summer of 1923, they left Berlin for Paris, where they lived with Tchelitchew's sister, Alexandra Zaoussaïloff, for several years. The pair moved to Paris to pursue their artistic careers. In Paris, Tchelitchew worked on his painting, including sets for Sergei Diaghilev, while Tanner took work as a piano instructor.

In the winter of 1923 composer Nicolas Nabokov, cousin to Vladimir and Sergei, introduced Sergei to Tchelitchev. The two of them shared an apartment with Tanner. The flat was so tiny that when Tchelitchev saw it he remarked, "We are to live in a doll's house!" It had no electricity and no bath -- they had to wash themselves in a zinc tub using water heated on a gas stove. Sergei survived by giving lessons in English and Russian. His circumstances may have been straitened, but the cultural scene in which Sergei found himself was rich beyond all measure. According to Andrew Field, Nabokov's first biographer, Sergei was good friends with Jean Cocteau, and he was also connected, through Tchelitchev and his cousin Nicolas, to Sergei Diaghilev, to composer Virgil Thomson, to those aristocratic aesthetes the Sitwells and even to the legendary salons conducted by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas at 27 Rue de Fleurus.

In 1926, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas discovered Tchelitchew’s paintings through an exhibit at the Galérie Drouet and through Jane Heap, editor of the Little Review. Stein became an admirer of Tchelitchew’s art, and Tanner, Tchelitchew, Stein, and Toklas commenced a tumultuous friendship that lasted until 1932. For a time the two men were a part of Stein's circle of literary and artistic friends, a group which also included René Crevel and Virgil Thomson.

During their time in France, Tanner and Tchelitchew travelled, going to Fontainebleau in 1925, Tunisia in 1926, and Algeria in 1927. In 1927, Tanner and Tchelitchew began renting a pair of adjoining cottages in Guermantes, where they spent much of their remaining time in France. That same year, Tchelitchew met Edith Sitwell in Paris and she became a champion of his art. Sitwell stayed with Tanner and Tchelitchew in Guermantes, where she and Tanner formed a friendship. The two exchanged letters for many years.

Tanner’s mother, Mabel, visited him in France in 1929 on the occasion of his sister Florence’s marriage to Georges Maratier. Tanner took his mother on sightseeing tours of landmarks such as Fontainebleau and hosted her at the cottages in Guermantes.

In 1932, Tchelitchew met American poet Charles Henri Ford, and the two eventually became lovers. Tanner and Tchelitchew’s relationship ended in 1933, although the two remained friends until Tchelitchew’s death in 1957. In fact, Tanner returned to the United States with Tchelitchew in 1934. After travelling together to Chicago for an exhibit of Tchelitchew’s work at the Art Club there, Tanner remained in Illinois to care for his ailing mother. Tchelitchew returned to New York City where he lived with Charles Henri Ford.

After his return to the United States, Tanner coached piano students in concert repertory. He regularly received correspondence from authors and publishers interested in producing biographies of Tchelitchew, Anderson, and others among Tanner’scircle of acquaintances. He often responded with lengthy accounts of his memories and sometimes loaned letters and photographs for research use.

Tanner lived in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s and then returned to Illinois later in life. In 1967, Melos Records released the album Allen Tanner Plays Bach, Debussy, Scriabin, Granados, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, and Steinert. Tanner passed away in Belleville, Illinois on October 3, 1987.

The collection at the Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections contains correspondence, writings, programs and publicity, news clippings, financial documents, sheet music, sound recordings, photographs, and books. In addition to Tanner's correspondence with fellow musicians and cultural figures, Tanner also exchanged letters with authors and publishers who were interested in his memories of individuals such as Tchelitchew, Gertude Stein, Edith Sitwell, and Margaret Anderson.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University also holds a collection of Allen Tanner papers.


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