Glière continued the Russian Romantic tradition in music, following the example of Glazunov. He explored the exotic in his use of material from Georgia and Central Asia, and his contribution to Soviet ballet is significant.
Hungarian-born pianist, composer, conductor, and musicologist Tibor Harsányi was part of the lively Paris musical scene from 1923. He was a student of Kodály in Budapest, then travelled around Europe as a performer, settling briefly in Holland, where he worked as a conductor. Harsányi was a prolific composer of chamber music, solo piano works, and songs, as well as opera and ballet.
Young Romanian composers studied or specialised abroad, especially in Paris (Mihal Andricu, Theodor Rogalski), Vienna (Paul Constantinescu) or in the German conservatories, absorbing there some of the jazz idioms that were then in vogue in the greater cities. A pupil of Reger in Leipzig, and later of Florent Schmitt in Paris, Mihail Jora seems to combine both teachings in his suite, Joujoux pour ma dame, Op. 7, composed in 1924. It is a series of ironic pastiches of the most influential modern composers of the time (Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel and Bartók).
Pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, teacher, pianist and music critic, Klimenty Korchmaryov (also transliterated as Korchmarev) was another composer whom music history has written off completely, in this case probably for his excessive dedication to the Communist cause. Such works include his opera Ten Days That Shook the World (1929–31), the Stalin Prize-winner cantata Free China (1950) and his Lullaby (1924) with his reassuring whispered words ‘Under the Kremlin wall there’s a big mausoleum / There Ilich [Lenin] lies in his coffin, guarding the world’s happiness.’ His American foxtrot is probably his only score published in the West (by Universal Edition), and opens with a piano trill leading to an ascending scale (from piano to forte) so clearly reminiscent of the first bar of Gershwin’s ground-breaking Rhapsody in Blue.
The composer and musicologist Yulian Grigor’yevich Krein was son of Grigory Abramovich Krein. He studied composition with Dukas at the Ecole Normale in Paris, graduating in 1932, and lived in Moscow from 1934. His compositions developed under the influence of French music, but he also drew upon nineteenth-century Russian tradition and on the innovations of Skryabin. As a result his music is complex and many-sided, its lyricism clearly expressed in melodic breadth and colourful harmony. The French connection is most evident in his orchestration, while the chamber pieces are more Romantic in style. A prolific composer and a noted musicologist, he also appeared frequently as a pianist.
Simon (Szymon) Laks had formerly worked as violin accompanist for silent films, and he had also some jazz-influenced compositions to his name, particularly a (now lost) Blues symphoniques – Jazz Fantasy for orchestra and saxophone (1928), a Sonate pour violoncelle et piano (1932) and a piano Blues, undated, but most probably from around the same period.
Completely unknown in the western world, Aleksandr Levin was the third of three brothers whose careers reflect the changing times. The first, Josef Lhévinne (1874–1944), was a Romantic pianist and well-known teacher who graduated at the top of a class that included both Rachmaninov and Scriabin. The second, Miron Levin (1879–1965) wrote light-hearted waltzes, humoresques and polkas, favoured a decade before that of Aleksandr. The youngest brother was exactly the sort of gifted musician who in those years published foxtrots, tangos, ragtimes, songs and romances for the needs of the market. Titles such as The Snow of Yukon, or Ali, Pearl of the East, or Hockey wink at the various American worldwide successes well known everywhere in the early Twenties.
Mihovil Logar was a Serbian composer (born in Rijeka) who had studied in Prague with Karel Boleslav Jirák and Josef Suk. The so-called Prague Generation of Serbian composers, in opposition to the old National School, was more cosmopolitan. There is no wonder why they readily took inspiration from dances of the New World, given the lineage at the Prague conservatory which, through Suk and Vítězslav Novák, went back to Dvořák. Logar’s piano output consists mostly of concise miniatures of a post-impressionist quality, written mostly around the mid-Thirties.
Son of the Slovak composer Mikuláš Moyzes, Alexander Moyzes was a pupil of Novák and held a leading position in Bratislava as a teacher and composer. In his music, he made use of Slovak folk material.
Mravinsky rose to national prominence in 1937, when he conducted the first performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. Following the composer’s official condemnation by the state in 1936, the success or failure of this première would be significant, given also that Stalin’s purges were by now gaining momentum. Mravinsky delivered a powerful and successful account of the new work, which subsequently became a core item in his repertoire. Thirty years later he recalled this breakthrough in his career: ‘I still wonder just how I dared to take up such a complicated thing without a moment’s hesitation. If it happened now I would certainly rack my brains, making lots of second guesses and I’m not sure I would take it up…I had my whole reputation at stake and, even more importantly, also that of a new composition no one had ever heard in public before…My only excuse was my young age, and that I was unaware of the problems that awaited me down the road, and the responsibility I was taking…’ This success also led to a close working relationship with Dmitri Shostakovich: Mravinsky was to conduct the first performances of several more of his symphonies. The next critical stage in his career was his participation in the first All-Union Conductors’ Competition, which was held in Moscow in 1938. This identified the major future leaders of Soviet music: Mravinsky took the first prize and the other prizewinners were Konstantin Ivanov, Kirill Kondrashin and Nathan Rakhlin. Shortly afterwards Mravinsky was appointed chief conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, a position which he held henceforth until his death in 1988. He gave his last concert on 6 March 1987.
Dora Pejačević was born in Budapest and grew up in her family’s palace in Našice, Slavonia. She studied in Dresden with Percy Sherwood and in Munich with Walter Courvoisier. Her output embraces songs, a piano concerto and a symphony. Most of her works feature the piano.
Leonid Polovinkin was, together with Alexander Mosolov and Gavriil Popov, one of the leaders of Russian modernism, and one of the most performed young composers in the early Twenties. A versatile musician, he experimented with prepared piano well before Cage, composed Marxist remakes (as with Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots redone with a new politically updated apotheosis, under the title The Decembrists), puppet theatre pieces, and much piano music. His flexibility and originality made him a highly sought-after professional by metteurs en scène, such as Alexander Tairov, for whose Kamerny Theatre revue Kukirol he composed his Fox-Trot ‘Ski’, as an overture.
Dmitry Shostakovich belongs to the generation of Russian composers trained principally after the Communist Revolution of 1917. He graduated from the Petrograd Conservatory as a pianist and composer, his First Symphony winning immediate favour. His subsequent career in Russia varied with the political climate. The initial success of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, based on Leskov and later revised as Katerina Ismailova, was followed by official condemnation, emanating apparently from Stalin himself. The composer’s Fifth Symphony, in 1937, brought partial rehabilitation, while the war years saw a propaganda coup in the Symphony No. 7, ‘Leningrad’, performed in the city under German siege. In 1948 he fell afoul of the official musical establishment with his Ninth Symphony, thought to be frivolous, but he enjoyed the relative freedom following the death of Stalin in 1953. Shostakovich outwardly and inevitably conformed to official policy, but posthumous information suggests that he remained very critical of Stalinist dictates, particularly with regard to music and the arts. He occupies a significant position in the 20th century as a symphonist and as a composer of chamber music, writing in a style that is sometimes spare in texture but always accessible, couched as it is in an extension of traditional tonal musical language.
Mischa Spoliansky was born into a Jewish musical family in Białystok (then part of the Russian Empire) and very early became a well-known figure in Berlin cafes and nightclubs, being – among others – the house composer and pianist at the well-known Schall und Rauch cabaret. In order to keep up with the times, like all cabaret musicians of this era, Spoliansky produced extraordinary musical examples of the new dances almost simultaneously with their American or English models. One example is his Jimmy Shimmy, composed as early as 1921, whose rhythmic pattern of dotted notes is constantly suspended by three marcato chords where the dancer, with his body still, could shimmy, i.e. move her/his shoulders alternately back and forth.
Few composers in the twentieth century have such an exceptionally far-ranging career as Alexandre Tansman. Born in Poland in 1897 at Łódź, also the birthplace of his friend, the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, Tansman studied at the conservatory there and in Warsaw. He had as a fellow student the famous conductor and composer Paul Kletzki, who, as a violinist, took part in the first performance of Tansman’s now lost Piano Trio No. 1 and later conducted also in Paris his Fifth Symphony [Marco Polo 8.223379]. After winning in 1919 the three first prizes in the national composition competition organized in the newly established Polish Republic, Tansman settled in Paris, where he had the support and encouragement of Ravel and Roussel.
Born in Split, Dalmatia, Ivo Tijardović had many talents, to say the least: he was a composer, conductor, librettist, stage and costume designer, director, dance teacher, painter and caricaturist. A man of the theatre but also able to provide a finished product for the Edition Slave of Vienna, a Croatian enterprise (1918–23). For it, he not only composed hits for piano, such as the White Serenade, or Exitation dalmate (foxtrot), but also orchestrated them (with the help of Blagoje Bersa and Jakov Gotovac who were also working there) and he often designed their wonderful Art Deco covers.
Born in Ukraine, the composer and pianist Dimitri Tiomkin studied in St Petersburg with Blumenfeld and Glazunov, and with Busoni in Berlin, first embarking on a career as a concert pianist. In 1922 he settled in Paris but in 1929 moved with his choreographer wife to Hollywood, where he turned his attention to composition, first with scores for ballet films. After writing the music for the film Lost Horizon in 1937, he began a busy career as a film composer. In 1968 he moved to London, where he spent the last decade of his life.
Alexander Tsfasman had much in common with Dimitri Tiomkin, as he too graduated with Felix Blumenfeld (who had also taught Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Yudina and Simon Barere), he too composed for and conducted his own jazz orchestra, and he too loved Gershwin.
A virtual contemporary of Tcherepnin, prominent Bulgarian composer-pianist Pancho Vladigerov was actually born in Zürich. He began musical studies in Sofia, but eventually went to Berlin where he took lessons in composition from Paul Juon amd Georg Schumann, and piano with Leonid Kreutzer at the Akademie der Künste. He worked as conductor and composer at the Max Reinhardt Theater in Berlin until 1932 when he returned to Sofia. Until 1972 he was professor of piano and composition at the Bulgarian State Conservatory of Music in Sofia. Among his many students was Alexis Weissenberg.
Vladigerov was a virtuosic pianist, performing frequently his five piano concertos. He also left a recorded legacy of many of his other solo works. Vladigerov’s music is an artful and brilliant combination of Bulgarian folk influences, peculiar melodic and rhythmic patterns, peppered with stark modern harmonies.
Born in Bátaszék, Hungary, in 1894, Zádor demonstrated an early affinity for music (exhibiting great keyboard virtuosity) and at the age of sixteen went to study with Richard Heuberger in Vienna. A year later he moved to Leipzig, where he was a pupil of Max Reger. After completing his doctoral degree at the University of Münster, he returned to Vienna, where he taught at the New Vienna Conservatory through the 1920s. While there, he composed (among other works) a symphony and two operas (both produced by the Budapest Royal Opera). He left the conservatory in 1928 to devote himself full-time to composition and never ceased writing music until his death in 1977. His final catalogue comprised numerous works for orchestra (including four symphonies), several operas, chamber music, piano pieces, choral works, songs and various concertos for what he liked to call “underprivileged” instruments—including trombone, cimbalom, double bass and accordion.