CÉSAR CUI (1835 - 1918)
César Cui, one of the group of five nationalist Russian
composers of the second half of the 19th century known as the
Mighty Handful or the Five, was the son of a French officer who
had remained in Russia after the retreat of Napoleon in 1812.
In common with other composers of his generation and background,
he had a career apart from music, in his case as a professor at
the Academy of Military Engineering, an expert in fortification.
This did not prevent him from ambitious activity as a composer
and an important career as a critic, often harsh and intolerant
in his judgements. He is best known for his colourful short piano
Cui's first opera was A Prisoner in the Caucasus, with a libretto based on Pushkin. Particularly pleasing to his friends and supporters was the opera William Ratciff, based on the play by Heine. Further operas followed, enjoying varying success, followed by four final children's operas.
In his four orchestral Suites Cui demonstrates his ability in the handling of attractive smaller forms, belying contemporary accusations of lack of skill in orchestration. Suite No. 4 offers orchestral arrangements of piano pieces written originally for his Belgian patroness, the Countess of Mercy-Argenteau. The Suite concertante for violin and orchestra makes an unusual addition to solo violin repertoire.
Cui's chamber music includes various shorter pieces for violin and piano or cello and piano, notably two sets of Miniatures for violin and piano, as well as three string quartets. Piano Music In his piano music Cui again shows his gifts as a miniaturist, exhibited in a large number of attractive short pieces.
Vocal and Choral Music
Cui claimed that he was compelled, in general, in his operas to avoid Russian subjects, since he was himself half French and half Lithuanian. His songs, of course, do treat Russian texts and include settings of Pushkin, Nekrasov and A.K. Tolstoy, while his choral music is generally on a more ambitious scale.