Hi, Gaucho !
I hope your novel is going well, and thank you for the opportunity to
As you have discovered, many composers, such as Rachmaninoff and
Medtner, fled Russia after the Revolution.
However, undoubtedly the major figure among Soviet composers of the
period was Dmitri Shostakovich. Onno Van Riijen has a site dedicated
to Soviet composers up to modern times, though he is quick to point
out that living there did not necessarily mean approving of the
Born in 1906 Shostakovich was 10 or 11 at the time of the Revolution,
while is his first is dated 1919. most of his training was therefore
post-Revolution. During the period you are interested in - 1923 to
1929 - he was becoming established as a very major talent.
On 20 March 1925 he gave a recital of five of his works at the Moscow
Conservatorium, playing the piano in some, while fellow pianist L.
Oborin played others, supported by other musicians. Onno lists the
"Opus 5: "Three Fantastic Dances" for piano (1922)
Dedicated to J.Z. Schwartz (fellow student, pianist); originally
published as opus 1. First performance: 20 March 1925 in Moscow
Conservatory by D. Shostakovich."
Also performed were Opus 6: Suite F sharp minor for two pianos (1922)
(dedicated to his father), Opus 7: Scherzo E flat major for orchestra
(dedicated to his Leningrad professor of composition), Opus 8: Trio
for violin, cello and piano No. 1 (1923) (dedicated to his girlfriend,
and Opus 9: Three pieces for cello and piano (1923-1924) (dedicated
to his sister, a local music critic and a poet friend respectively).
12th of May the following year saw his Opus 10: Symphony No. 1 F minor
performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic as his graduation piece.
In the following years he composed a couple of pro-revolution
celebratory pieces, such as Opus 14: Symphony No. 2 B major "To
October" with chorus (1927) commissioned for the tenth anniversary of
the revolution and Opus 20: Symphony No. 3 E flat major "The First of
May" with chorus (1929) .
But these formed only a small part of his work. He also wrote the
score for the opera "The Nose" after a satirical piece by Gogol as
well as incidental music for the stage comedy "The Bedbug". For film
he wrote music for the silent movie "New Babylon" 1928-9.
Delightfully, he also transcribed "Tea for Two" from "No, No Nanette"
(Youmans, 1925) as "Tahiti Trot"(1928) showing he was by no means out
of touch with Western music.
By the end of the period in which you are interested, he was working
on Six Romances on words by Japanese poets, as well as the ballet
music for "The Age of Gold". He also supplied an overture and finale
for German composer Erwin Dressel's opera "Armend Columbus". (Some
limited information on Dressel , 1909 to 1972, can be found in German
So Shostakovich was very much in touch with developments in European
music. Indeed, he made a transcription of "Symphony of Psalms" by Igor
Stravinsky for two pianos (1930) in the same year that it was
composed., which suggests that the two men were in touch.
(Stravinsky had left Russia when composing for Diaghiliev and the
Ballets Russe. By 1915 he was based in Geneva, and by 1925 he first
visited The USA from his home in France. He became first a French
citizen in 1934 and then a US citizen in 1945. Source: John E,.
Harrington's website at:
Shostakovich's range of interests - and mix of official commissions
and personal projects - was still reflected in his work towards the
end of his life, when he wrote such works as Opus 136: "Loyalty",
eight ballads after Dolmatovsky for unaccompanied male chorus (1970)
composed for the centenary celebrations of Lenin's birth., as well as
Six Romances on Verses by English poets (1971).
Classical net has a short biography of him at:
About the period in which you are interested they say:
"Shostakovich .... was active as a student composer and wrote his
First Symphony as a graduation piece in 1925. It was so impressive a
work that it ..(vaulted)... Shostakovich to the forefront of Soviet
Russia's new Leninist government recognized Shostakovich as a valuable
political tool. During the 1920s, the Soviet cultural bureau was eager
to set new trends and provided him with commissions for the concert
hall and stage. By the early 1930s, however, Shostakovich's
avant-grade forms, brash harmonies, and sarcastic idioms brought him
into disfavor with the regime then headed by Stalin. Although popular
...., he was forced to suppress new works and remove others from the
active repertoire. For the remainder of his life, Shostakovich bore
the weight of a hypocritical order that threatened to destroy his life
while at the same time decorating him with awards and promoting him
abroad as the Revolution's musical prodigy. ...
Shostakovich's support for Leninism, if leading biographies are
accurate, had already dwindled while in childhood. He witnessed the
bloodshed of the 1917 Revolution first-hand, was malnourished in its
succeeding years, and worked exhausting hours as a silent movie
pianist after school to help family ends meet in the
post-Revolutionary economy. ..."
Ian McDonald's site, Music under Soviet Rule, has letters that he
wrote to his friend Isaak Glikman with commentary by Ian MacDonald and
Dmitry Feofanov. since they relate to a later period (1940s on) I have
not quoted from this page but you might find it of interest as an
insight into feelings about the regime of the time:
The site is intended to be far-ranging, but many pages are still under
Another major figure working in the Soviet was Aram Ilyich
Kachaturian, (also spelt Khachaturian),1903 - 1978, - you will be
familiar with his famous "Sabre Dance."
Born in Tsbilisi (Georgia?) ...He also studied at the Moscow
Conservatory. However his early works The Trio for Clarinet, Violin,
and Piano (1932) and then the First Symphony (1934) were published
outside your time frame. Some brief information is at:.
(Note: this site redirects to a "file not found" page so you have to
read fast !)
"His works demonstrate lyrical power, brilliant use of dissonance,
traditional techniques, and the influence of Armenian folk music. Some
of his later works are Poem for Stalin (1938), Violin Concerto in D
Minor (1940); Gayane (1942), a ballet which includes the well-known
Sabre Dance, and Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra (1960). In 1959 he
was awarded the Lenin Prize. He died in 1978 "
4Music has an article on him at:
This stresses his Armenian background especially in his approach to
"Many a Russian composer of the past -- Balakirev, Borodin and
Rimsky-Korsakoff included -- has been attracted by the exotic sounding
music of regions and countries near Caucasus. .... The great
difference between these and Khachaturian is that he himself comes
from that region. His whole background is imbued with its folk-music
and folk-lore. What to a Russian would appear exotic was to him a
normal part of every day life; and when he began to study Western
music he in turn found this exotic, being particularly attracted by
the colorful music of the French impressionists who had much the same
fascination for him as the orient does for us. "
He started his formal musical education late and was still a student
at the period you are considering (1923-29) graduating in 1933 at the
age of 30.
"At the same age as Khachaturian learnt a crochet from a quaver,
Prokofiev and Shostakovich had important compositions to their credit
and ones that are still very much in the repertoire today.
How little Khachaturian knew about his chosen subject can be well
illustrated. When asked what types of music he wished to take up he
was unable to answer as he had not considered the point. After doing
so he decided to become a cellist. Only after three years on this
instrument did he enter a composition class. "
Another major figure of the period was Sergei Prokofiev, 1891 to 1953.
Onno cites Howard Robinson's book "Sergei Prokofiev, a biography": as
dividing his career into three sections:
Exile: Japan, USA, Europe (1918-1936)
Soviet Union (1936-1953)"
So at the period in which you are interested he was away from Russia
but feeling very much the ex-patriot, and preparing for a possible
later return. There is an excellent three part article by Ian McDonald
Called "Prokofiev, Prisoner of the State" it is an examination of his
relationship with the Soviet State. Among other things, MacDonald
"...Prokofiev's fellow émigré Nikolai Nabokov recalls him in Paris
'continuously repeating that the Revolution for him was an
inescapable, positive event of Russia's national history, and that he
did not see in it, as so many of his compatriots did at the time, a
desperate and fatal calamity'. On the contrary, Nabokov insists, 'he
believed that the Russian Revolution was teaching a lesson to the West
and would ultimately lead to a regeneration of European society'
If genuine , Prokofiev's high-minded stance of the mid-Twenties
represents a remarkable shift from the position he had taken during
the Revolution itself. Then, with bullets humming down the boulevards
of Petrograd, he had stayed indoors writing the anti-Bolshevik cantata
Seven, They Are Seven...."
"....The recent publication of the composer's Soviet Diary 1927 shows
that his attitude in that year to Communism was sceptical to the point
of fundamental distrust - the typical Russian bourgeois position of
the time. ...
During the mid-to-late Twenties, iconoclastic modernism was
Prokofiev's calling card and being hailed by European critics as "an
apostle of Bolshevism" for the constructivist ballet Le Pas d'acier
was as useful in building a lucrative notoriety as being smeared by
the American press as "a tool of Soviet propaganda" for the same
This is not to deny that acquaintance with the Changing Landmarks
school of fellow-travelling émigré writers and conversations with the
ballet's scenarist Sergei Yakulov (and later with Maxim Gorky in
Sorrento) may have influenced Prokofiev into a rosier view of the
Revolution than he might naturally have taken. "
Apparently when leaving in 1918 he was careful to retain his passport
and observe all formalities." He clearly had a long-term plan,
conditions permitting, for coming back - one perhaps so cherished that
he was prepared to go a considerable way in self-deception in order to
A nice linkup for you is that in 1927 he made his first return to
Russia for a concert recital series, and visited Leningrad where he
heard the 20-year-old prodigy of Soviet music Dmitri Shostakovich play
his First Piano Sonata. A fictional backstage encounter between the
two men might give you a nice scene.
In 1932 Stalin officially Unionised art, and Prokofiev made a much
publicised return to Russia, although his principal residence was
still in Paris for the next four years.
"Prokofiev was not alone in being deceived by the 1932 decree; even
Shostakovich, whose experience of political arm twisting was already
extensive, welcomed it (or let himself be officially presented as so
doing). Prokofiev does, however, seem to have allotted wishful
thinking an imprudent prominence in his analysis of events. Chatting
with Viktor Seroff in Paris before leaving for Moscow, he explained
how he saw it:
'Here I have to kow-tow to publishers, managers, committees, sponsors
of productions, patronesses of art, and conductors each time I wish my
work to be performed. A composer doesn't have to do that in Russia.
And as for 'politics', they don't concern me. It is none of my
He died at 61, 55 minutes before Stalin.
Like Shostakovich, he wrote for ballet, opera and film. you will be
familiar with his "Lieutenant Kije Suite" 1934, and his music for the
ballet "Romeo and Juliet" 1935/6 (available on video). You may also
have heard some of his film music, for example that for "Alexander
Others, however, remained in Russia throughout the period. For
example, Nikolai Yakovlevich Miaskovsky (1881 - 1950)
is described at:
"He was a pupil of Liadov and Rimsky-Korsakov, at the St. Petersburg
Conservatoire, after receiving private lessons with Glière.
From 1921 he taught composition at the Moscow Conservatoire.
His works include 27 symphonies, spanning a period from 1908 to 1950,
many of which are patriotic and seek to express the varied fortunes of
the Soviet Union. "
He would therefore have been one of Shostakovich's teachers. his name,
and works, do not seem to be widely known in the west.
Sergey Vasilenko (1872-1956) likewise remained in Moscow where he
became " like Rachmaninov, conductor for the Mamontov Opera in the
years before 1914. His marked interest in the exotic is reflected in
his musical exploration of Central Asia and in his Chinese and Hindu
Suites, works marked by colourful Russian orchestration. "
Dmitri Borisovich Kabalevsky, 1904 to 1987, is another in the
generation of composers who gained most of their training after the
Revolution. A short biography is at the Naxos site at:
"Kabalevsky was a pupil of Myaskovsky at the Moscow Conservatory,
where he himself taught from 1932, and in general did his utmost to
conform with government cultural policy, occupying important positions
in the Union of Soviet Composers. He wrote operas and operettas that
enjoyed success in Russia, as did his patriotic vocal works and useful
compositions for children. "
Another influential composer who remained in Russia was Reinholdt
Gliere, 1875 - 1956. He briefly taught Myaskovsky, though only some
ten years his senior.
Naxos says of him:
"....Glière continued the romantic Russian tradition, winning immense
popularity for his Soviet ballets The Red Poppy and The Bronze
Horseman, where he is also able to demonstrate his interest in wider
Slavonic musical traditions. " Source:
(Thank you Tutusdad-ga for the reference to Steven Estrell's site
This enabled me to track some of these minor figures down.
A lovely site recommended to me by umiat-ga is Russian Musical
Highlights of the Twentieth Century, by Olga Fyodorova, at:
You can browse this site year by year, For the years you are
interested in the mood in Russia is very well summed up. for example,
"In 1923, the Russian musicians were bitterly split, but there was one
thing they all agreed on and that was their resolute break with the
classical traditions of old
Members of the Association of Contemporary Music embraced everything
that was ultramodern and propagated music by Russian and foreign
composers. .... the Association's leaders were determined that "the
new times should spawn new styles in music and even if only few people
can understand it now, someday it will be appreciated by millions."
Pitted against the ACM were the proponents of the so-called
proletarian art. "Who needs all these operas and symphonies?" they
wondered. "We need to write something people can understand
They churned out " an avalanche of overly patriotic poems and cantatas
all praising to the skies the Soviet government, the Bolshevist party
and the glorious Red Army. Some of those creations were really good,
though, most notably the song about a young revolutionary who
sacrificed his life for the lofty ideas he believed in. The song,
called Orlyonok, which means an eaglet, was written by composer Viktor
Bely who was a leading member of the Proletarian Musicians'
She gives details of concert artists, singers, and all aspects of
musical life, as well as political context. (This is the only
reference I have been able to find to Viktor Bely.)
So from your point of view as a novelist, you have three strands apart
from the emigres.
1. The old guard, mostly teaching as well as composing, Nikolai
Yakovlevich Miaskovsky , Gliere, Vasilenko.
2. The young talent: Shostakovich the early achiever, Katchaturian
still a determined older student finding his way as a "country boy" in
Moscow, and the more pedestrian Kabalevsky.
3. The very talented and very difficult Prokofiev, grumbling his way
out of, and back into Russia, desperate to believe the best of the new
regime, and perhaps not quite believing it. His attendance at
Shostakovich's concert meant he probably took word of the new talent
back with him to Europe.
Against them you can set the major emigre talents of Igor Stravinsky
(who left before the Revolution) and Rachmaninoff (who fled
afterwards) and lesser emigres such as Medtner.
Add some political conflict from the rival musicians' associations,
and you've got a whole new novel to think about !!
Thank you for a fascinating question.
"No No Nanette"