This April, we celebrate the birthdays of two influential Soviet Era composers: Sergei Rachmaninoff (April 1st) and Sergei Prokofiev (April 23rd). Rachmaninoff is known for his soaring, romantic melodies, while Prokofiev’s music is more dissonant and fantastical. Along with Shostakovitch and Stravinsky, they brought international attention to Russian music, often in exile from or direct defiance of the Soviet government. Many other Russian Soviet Era composers made significant musical contributions, yet their works are obscure and under-performed. Here are just a few of these composers:
REINHOLD GLIÈRE (January 11, 1875 – June 23, 1956) made his name with folkloric pieces like his Slavonic epic Symphony No. 3 ‘Ilya Muromets,’ as well as an excellent body of chamber music. He taught Miaskovsky, featured below, and a young Prokofiev. He later conducted musical research in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Today, his most played works are his string duos and numerous works for double bass.
NIKOLAI ROSLAVETS (January 4, 1881 – August 23, 1944) was a modernist composer, deeply influenced by Scriabin, as well as Schoenberg’s twelve-tone serialism. Fiercely outspoken about artistic liberty, he was among the first to be targeted by the Soviet Union’s political purges. His string works include two violin concerti, viola and cello sonatas, and many shorter violin works.
NIKOLAI MIASKOVSKY (April 20, 1881 – August 8, 1950), known as the “Father of the Soviet Symphony,” composed 27 of them. He was good friends with Shostakovitch and Prokofiev, and taught Khachaturian and Kabalevsky. He was an introspective composer, a quality exemplified in his cello concerto.
MIECZYSŁAW WEINBERG (December 8, 1919 – February 26, 1996) was a Jewish Polish composer who fled the Holocaust to live in Russia. He struggled to be recognized by the Soviet musical establishment, and narrowly escaped execution by the Stalinist government. He enjoyed a close friendship with Shostakovich, and the two frequently exchanged musical ideas. Weinberg was prolific – he wrote twenty-two symphonies, seventeen string quartets, and many works for solo strings.
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