Maximilian Oseyevich Steinberg (pronounced Shteynberg in Russian) was born into a Jewish family in Vilnius, Lithuania, and moved to Russia to study at St Petersburg Conservatory with such esteemed composers as Liadov in harmony, Glazunov in orchestration, and Rimsky-Korsakov in composition. Rimsky took the young Steinberg and his classmate Igor Stravinsky under his wing, treating them both as extended family, but it was Steinberg who accompanied him to Paris for Diaghilev’s Saison Russe; and it was Steinberg who, on June 4, 1908, four days before Rimsky’s death, married the latter’s daughter, Nadezhda Nikolaevna, a sacrament that required him to be baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church.
Steinberg would also prove to be Rimsky-Korsakov’s heir apparent academically and professionally, recommended by him to teach the orchestration class at the conservatory, and entrusted with editing several of his compositions and textbooks after his death. Joining the conservatory faculty in 1908, he became, in 1915, Professor of Composition and Orchestration, a post held by his father-in-law, and eventually was appointed the vice-rector of the conservatory. One of his most illustrious students was Dmitry Shostakovich.
Although Steinberg’s early works were closely connected with the intellectual currents of Russia’s ‘Silver Age,’ he largely rejected the modernist direction of his fellow-student Stravinsky, and became recognised, in the words of Boris Asafiev, as ‘the overall perpetuator of Rimsky-Korsakov’s compositional school, [who also] was close in his way of thinking to his other teacher, Alexander Glazunov’.1 He wrote mostly programmatic symphonic music, with close ties to literary and artistic themes, as well as music exploring some of the Soviet Union’s ethnic cultures, such as those of Uzbekistan and Armenia.