The composer, violinist and teacher Nikolai Roslavets was born in Central Ukraine and studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where his teachers included Ippolitov-Ivanov and the violinist Hřímalý. He first embarked on a career as a freelance composer and music critic, collaborating with other leading young composers, including Myaskovsky, in the foundation of a group that in 1923 was to become the Association for Contemporary Music. After the February Revolution of 1917 he joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party, and in 1918 he was a member of a group affiliated to the Bolsheviks, breaking off his connection in 1921. He served as a leader of the Association for Contemporary Music, while defending traditional musical training and earning the condemnation of the Association of Proletarian Musicians. In 1931 he moved to Tashkent, where he worked at the Music Theatre; but in 1933 he returned to Moscow, where he had difficulty surviving, proscribed by the Soviet authorities but teaching privately. At his death in 1944 many of his manuscripts were seized by the secret police, but others were preserved by his widow and by one of his pupils. Perestroika has allowed a revival of interest in his surviving work. Roslavets devised a new system of tonal organisation through a technique of what he called synthetic chords (a phrase taken from Scriabin) consisting of between six and ten notes; the technique has been compared to the 12-note system developed by Schoenberg. At one time a leading musical revolutionary (the so-called Red Schoenberg), for the last 10 years of his life he was virtually a non-person, his music unheard and his name, officially at least, largely forgotten.
The chamber music of Roslavets includes five string quartets and a number of works scored for violin, reflecting the development of his musical language from the avant-garde of the time to the relatively conventional.
Orchestral and Vocal Music
Roslavets wrote a number of works for solo singers, chorus and orchestra between the years 1910 and 1930. His purely orchestral works include two violin concertos, and he wrote a number of songs in his earlier years as a composer. Some of his vocal compositions are devoted to political polemic.