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8.223113 - MYASKOVSKY: Symphonies Nos. 7 and 10
Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881–1950)
Nikolai Miaskovsky was born in Novogeorgievsky, on April 20, 1881. The son of a Russian army engineer, he moved with his family to Kazan in 1889 where his mother gave him his first music lessons. The composer described this period in his article Autobiographical Notes on My Creative Development, published in Soviet Music in 1936: “By now music was already a driving force. The decisive moment arrived when I heard a pianoforte duet… that stirred me profoundly… then began my pleadings for a musical education. We finally hired a piano and Auntie began to teach me…”
With the death of his mother, this aunt, who had been a soprano with the St. Petersburg Opera, continued the lessons, but her nervous disposition, according to Miaskovsky’s biographer, lkonnikov, “led to an unhealthy reticence in him”.
Miaskovsky’s first compositions consisted of piano preludes. Despite his musical gifts, he was expected to pursue a military career. His father, now a general, sent him to the cadet school at Nizhy-Novgorod in 1893 and to a military school in St. Petersburg in 1895. He studied piano, violin and harmony and joined the cadet orchestra. Nikisch conducted in St. Petersburg the following year, so impressing Miaskovsky that he was determined to pursue a musical career. His father insisted that he conclude his military studies, however. He graduated from the Academy of Military Engineering in 1902.
At Taneyev’s recommendation, Miaskovsky took a six-month course in harmony from Glière in 1903, studied theory for three years with Kryzhanovsky and entered St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1906. Studying with Liadov and Rimsky-Korsakov, he composed for piano, voice and orchestra. Destined to become the most prolific Russian composer, with his 27 symphonies, he wrote his First in 1908. On the merit of his work, he was granted a Glazunov scholarship which enabled him to complete his musical education. In 1911 he graduated from the Conservatory and completed his Second Symphony which was given its first performance on July 24, 1912. Subsequently, he wrote two piano sonatas and his Third Symphony, which was introduced on February 27, 1915.
During the First World War, Miaskovsky was at the front with the Russian army for three years. Wounded and shell-shocked, he left the front in 1917 to work on fortifications. In 1921 he was appointed composition professor at the Moscow Conservatory and he held this position for life. During the twenty years of his professorship, Miaskovsky taught over forty composers, among them Khachaturian, Kabalevsky and Alexandrov. From 1921 and 1922 he was assistant director of the music department of the People’s Commissariat, being editor of the Music Publishing House from 1922 to 1931. On the editorial staff of Soviet Music, he held an imposing position in the Union of Soviet Composers.
Victor Belyayev sees in Miaskovsky’s music influences from Glazunov regarding symphonic structure, and Scriabin concerning harmony, but maintains that such derivations are of a general nature, and that Miaskovsky’s work reveals a strongly original creative personality.
The title “Artist of Merit” was bestowed in conjunction with the sixtieth anniversary of the Moscow Conservatory in 1926. The Fifth and Sixth Symphonies brought Miaskovsky international recognition. Nicolas Slonimsky has divided the composer’s symphonic output into four distinct periods: “The first period from the First to the Sixth is typical of his pre-revolutionary moods: introspective and at the same time mystical…His second symphonic period, from the Seventh to the Twelfth Symphony, symbolizes a path from the ‘subjective’ to the ‘objective’, from the individual to the collective….The third period, from the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth Symphony, represents a synthesis of subjective moods and objective realistic ideas…The Nineteenth Symphony is the beginning of a new phase, almost utilitarian in character. Miaskovsky’s symphonic writing here becomes more compact…”
An effective composer of chamber music, Miaskovsky wrote thirteen string quartets. The advent of the Second World War did not stifle his creativity, as his words indicate: “I worked intensively in those days, even in bomb shelters. After completing three songs and two military marches, I conceived the idea of a symphonic ballad. It was finished in October, during the stern days of the Hitlerite offensive against Moscow… Late Autumn found me in Kabardino-Balkaria, a small Caucasian republic whose people have a wealth of wonderful songs and dances. Here, in the town of Nalchik, I wrote another symphony, my Twenty-third, whose theme was inspired by Kabardino-Balkarian national music. Then I completed a string quartet in three movements, dedicated to the memory of those who perished for my country. It reflects one thought: the blood which has been spilled has not been in vain”.
Miaskovsky’s Symphony No. 23 was premièred on July 20, 1942, the “Symphonic Ballad” he refers to as Symphony No. 22, which was introduced in Tillis on January 12, 1942. He also composed two concerti: for cello and violin. L. Raaben, in his work The Soviet Instrumental Concerto, writes that Miaskovsky’s approach to the Concerto was that of a symphonist. This symphonic scope and grandeur is apparent in both works. The Cello Concerto was completed in 1944, first performed on March 17, 1945 and received the Stalin Prize.
A consistent worker, Miaskovsky remained true to his ideals despite the February, 1948 denunciation by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which issued a widespread censure of prominent Soviet composers. Miaskovsky’s views on music have been well expressed: “The first thing I demand from music in general is directness of appeal, power, and nobility of expression; music that does not satisfy these three requirements does not exist for me, or if it does exist, then it does so solely for utilitarian purposes. I always consider a piece of music from three points of view: its content, its inner and outer form… Of the three elements enumerated, I consider the first two to be absolutely essential. I admire good outer form, but I can make allowances for imperfections in it provided the first two elements are beyond reproach”.
Miaskovsky died in Moscow on August 9, 1950, the Soviet Council of Ministers describing him as “this outstanding Soviet musical worker and people’s artist”. With his Sixth Symphony still unfinished, Miaskovsky began to work on his Seventh, completing it in 1922. An austere, one-movement work, it begins solemnly. The first theme is quietly stated by horns against a background of shimmering strings. The woodwind responds tentatively; orchestral snarls dissolve into disconsolate introspection. Brass and lower strings express a sudden surge of hope, followed by orchestral turbulence and a gradual descent into sadness.
Written concurrently with the Ninth Symphony, Miaskovsky completed his Tenth in 1927. Like Shostakovich’s Seventh, Miaskovsky’s Tenth Symphony depicts aspects of Leningrad. The primary theme of this work is derived from Alexander Benois’ illustration to Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman, depicting Eugene’s horrific flight from his pursuer, Falconers noted statue of Peter the Great.
There are three central motifs in this work: Eugene, his wife, Parasha, and Peter’s equestrian monument. These three themes are constructed on ten semitones of the chromatic scale and determine the melodic and harmonic structure of this symphony. Bristling with tension, this work is a dramatic study of psychological turmoil.
Dr. Donald Venturini
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