Alexander Vasilyevich Mosolov was born in Kiev in 1900, but moved with his family to Moscow three years later. When he was five, his father died, but his widowed mother, a professional singer who worked at the Bolshoi Theatre until 1905, was left comfortably well off. After her husband’s death, she married the painter and designer Michael W. Leblan (1875-1940). She cultivated a cosmopolitan outlook, and the young Alexander was brought up speaking French and German in addition to Russian. The family regularly visited the cultural capitals of western Europe, especially Paris, Berlin and London. During the October Revolution he volunteered to serve in the Red Army, but in 1921 he was medically discharged, suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. He then entered the Moscow Conservatoire and studied composition with Glière and Myaskovsky. In 1927 Prokofiev, who was then living in the West, returned for a concert tour of the Soviet Union. He became acquainted with the music of Mosolov, whom he praised as the most interesting of Russia’s new talents.
In the years following the appearance of The Iron Foundry in 1927 Mosolov was attacked for his pessimism and modernist leanings. He consequently simplified his style, making it more readily accessible, and he abandoned potentially awkward proletarian subject matter. Instead, he developed a keen interest in the folk music of the Soviet Central Asian republics of Turkmenistan and Kyrgystan. The Phantasy for Piano, Turkmenian Nights, published in Vienna in 1929, is a product of this time, although some tough ‘constructivist’ elements do remain in it. Eventually Mosolov’s concern with folk music took over his approach to composition, though not necessarily through choice. For as long as Stalin’s henchmen held Soviet artists in their iron grip, there would be no more tolerance of ‘futurism’, which was considered elitist and not serving the interests of the state. In 1937 Mosolov was arrested for ‘counter-revolutionary activities’ and had an eight-year sentence handed down. Through the offices of some well-connected colleagues, he was released after only eight months, but he was never again able to experiment in his musical work. His youthful prospects as a leading Soviet composer with a rosy future were never fulfilled, and he sank into obscurity. By the time of his death in 1973 he was more or less forgotten, save for The Iron Foundry, which remained his signature piece.