Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Nikolai Myaskovsky (ru: Н.Мясковский) (April 20,1881 – August 8,1950) was born near Warsaw (though moved to Saint Petersburg in his teens,) and at first discouraged from a musical career — not unusually — and into the military, where indeed he did spend some of the years of the First World War. He was a friend of Prokofiev's beginning in Conservatory and throughout the older man's life. In Conservatory, they shared a dislike of their professor Lyadov which came out in Myaskovsky's choice of theme for the variations with which he closed his third string quartet (probably not his third, but eventually so published) since Lyadov disliked Grieg the theme's author. Prokofiev and Myaskovsky worked together while in Conservatory on at least one work, a mostly lost symphony, part of which was later scavenged to provide material for the slow movement of Prokofiev's fourth piano sonata . They both later produced works subtitled From old notebooks using materials from this period — in Prokofiev's case the third and fourth piano sonatas, in Myaskovsky's, other works, such as Myaskovsky's 10th string quartet and what are now the fifth and sixth piano sonatas, are revisions of works he wrote at this time. The first of his surviving symphonies (C minor, op. 3, 1908/1921) was his Conservatory graduation piece.
His stint in the 'Great War' produced shell shock, and while recovering he produced two diametrically opposite works, his fourth symphony (op. 17 in e) and his fifth (op. 18 in D. His third of 1914 has a Scriabin-influenced sound, though its concluding funeral march has a sense of direction that may be lacking in some works by that composer.) The next few years brought ascents and reversals — the death of his father from the anger of a revolutionary, his appointment to the teaching staff of the Moscow Conservatory and membership of the composers' union.
Students of his middle years
The years 1921 – 1933 (or so!) were years in which he most often experimented in music, producing works such as the tenth and thirteenth symphonies, fourth piano sonata, and first string quartet — also some of the suites of piano pieces — whose harmony is very much stretched, and the first years of his teaching at the Conservatory. Perhaps the thirteenth symphony is alone even among them, in one atmospheric and strange movement complete with fugato. And the only work by the composer premiered in the United States... (In passing, note that the third and fourth string quartets, though they share opus 33 with the first two, were first published together with them in the collected edition published after the composer's death, whether or not they were first published around the same time. These works — #3 in d, #4 in f — are mid-1930s revisions of works written in the last years of the 1900s, not new works as are the other two; so their style is quite different. Whether they sound worse is a matter of opinion, though they have a very high level of craftsmanship.)
His pupils were eventually to include such composers as Khachaturian, Rodion Shchedrin, Dmitri Kabalevsky, Vissarion Shebalin and many others. The sixth symphony (1921–3, rev. 1947 — this is the version that is almost always played or recorded) his only choral symphony and the longest of what eventually became twenty-seven, sets a brief poem (in Russian though the score allows Latin alternatively — see the American Symphony page below on the origins of the poem, — the soul looking at the body it has abandoned.) The finale contains quite a few quotes — the Dies Irae theme, as well as French revolutionary tunes.
The next few years, after 1933, showed primarily a retreat from that style, though with — again mostly — no general retreat in craftsmanship. The violin concerto dates from these years — in all he was to write two concerti, one for violin and also a cello concerto (several times recorded by Mstislav Rostropovich), or three if we count the Lyric Concertino of op. 32. Another standout, besides the violin concerto, of the years up to 1940 is the one-movement symphony no. 21 (in F-sharp minor, op. 51) produced in that year and recorded by Morton Gould, a compact and mostly lyrical work, very different in harmonic language from the thirteenth.
Last ten years and classicizing
The next year contained the Symphony-Ballade (symphony 22) in B minor, quite likely inspired in part by the first few years of the war. The year 1941 also saw an evacuation, along with Prokofiev and Khatchaturian among others, to what were then the Kabardino-Balkar regions. Which is why if you listen to Prokofiev's 2nd string quartet and Myaskovsky's 23rd symphony or 7th string quartet you will hear themes in common — they're Kabardinian folk-tunes the composers took down. The sonata-works (symphonies, quartets, ...) written in this period (especially starting with the 24th symphony , the piano sonatina, the 9th quartet) while Romantic in tone and style are direct in harmony and development. He does not deny himself a teasingly (?!!) neurotic scherzo, as in his last two string quartets (that in the thirteenth quartet, his last published work, is frantic, and almost chiaroscuro but certainly contrasted...) and the general paring down of means usually allows for direct and reasonably intense expression, as with the cello concerto and second cello sonata, the latter dedicated to Rostropovich.
What there is not, is much experiment, to suggest as with some earlier works that Scriabin or Schoenberg might still be an influence. Some things may work better and some worse in a late style like this. This may have been, of course, and in part or in whole, an attempt to dodge condemnation, especially after the Zhdanov Decree. There was of course no dodging possible, and Myaskovsky was condemned in turn, only rehabilitated posthumously after his death in 1950, leaving an output of eighty-seven published opus numbers spanning some forty years and students with recollections. (There's also a recollection in Testimony, a controversial book of interviews.)
Surname also transliterated to Miaskovski(i.)
While Myaskovsky had many students — in addition to those listed above there were also Alexander Lokshin , Boris Chaikovskii , and Evgeny Golubev, a teacher and prolific composer whose students included Alfred Schnittke — the degree and nature of his influence on his students is difficult to measure. Even lacking, I believe, is an account of his teaching methods, what and how he taught, or more than brief accounts of his teaching; Shchedrin makes a mention in an interview he did for the American music magazine Fanfare, and that section in Testimony, if authentic, is another. It has been said that the earlier music of Khachaturian, Kabalevsky and other of his students has a Myaskovsky flavor, with this quality decreasing as the composer's own voice emerges (since Myaskovsky's own output is internally diverse such a statement needs further clarification, of course. See this biographical essay on Kabalevsky's music for a case in point) — while some composers, for instance the little-heard Evgeny Golubev, kept something of his teacher's characteristics well into their later music. The latter's sixth piano sonata is dedicated to Myaskovsky's memory.
* This information is from Harlow Robinson 's biography of Prokofiev, Viking, 1987.
- Aleksei Ikonnikov, Myaskovsky; his life and work. Translated from the Russian and published by Greenwood Press in 1969. Original dates from 1946. Probably no longer available. ISBN 0837121582.
- Harlow Robinson, Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography, ISBN 1555535178 (new paperback edition) — referred to in main text.
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