Nabokov, Nicolas (actually, Nikolai)

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Nabokov, Nicolas (actually, Nikolai)

Nabokov, Nicolas (actually, Nikolai), distinguished Russian-born American composer; b. near Lubcha, Novogrudok district, Minsk region, April 17, 1903; d. N.Y., April 6, 1978. He was a scion of a distinguished Russian family; his uncle was a liberal member of the short-lived Duma (Russian parliament), and the famous writer Vladimir Nabokov was his first cousin. Nabokov received his early education with Rebikov in St. Petersburg and in Yalta. After taking courses at the Stuttgart Cons. (1920–22), he continued his studies with Juon and Busoni at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik (1922–23). Finally he moved to Paris, where he was introduced to Diaghilev, who commissioned him to write his first major score, the ballet-oratorio Ode: Méditation sur la majesté de Dieu (1927), for the Ballets Russes. In 1933 he went to the U.S., and in 1939 became a naturalized American citizen; taught at Wells Coll. in Aurora, N.Y. (1936–41) and at St. John’s Coll. in Annapolis (1941–44); after working for the U.S. government in Berlin (1944–7), he taught at the Pea-body Cons, of Music in Baltimore (1947–52). From 1951 to 1963 he was secretary-general of the Congress for Cultural Freedom; then served as artistic director of the Berlin Music Festivals (1963–68); lectured on aesthetics at the State Univ. of N.Y. at Buffalo (1970–71) and at N.Y. Univ. (1972–73). He was elected to membership in the National Inst. of Arts and Letters in 1970. In addition to writing articles for various periodicals, he wrote a book of essays, Old Friends and New Music (Boston, 1951), and the vols. Igor Stravinsky (Berlin, 1964) and Bagazh: Memoirs of a Russian Cosmopolitan (N.Y, 1975). In his music, he adopted a cosmopolitan style, with an astute infusion of fashionable bitonality; in works of Russian inspiration, he reverted to melorhythms of Russian folk songs.


dramatic: opera:The Holy Devil (1954–58; Louisville, April 16, 1958; rev. version as Der Tod des Grigorij Rasputin, Cologne, Nov. 27, 1959); Love’s Labour’s Lost (1970–73; Brussels, Feb. 7, 1973). ballet:Ode: Méditation sur la majesté de Dieu, ballet-oratorio (1927; Paris, June 6, 1928); La vie de Polichinelle (Paris, 1934); Union Pacific (Philadelphia, April 6, 1934); The Last Flower (1941); Don Quixote (1966); The Wanderer (1966). orch.: 3 syms.: No. 1, Symphonie lyrique (Paris, Feb. 16, 1930), No. 2, Sinfonia biblica (N.Y., Jan. 2, 1941), and No. 3, A Prayer (N.Y., Jan. 4, 1968); Piano Concerto (1932); Le Fiancé, overture (1934); Flute Concerto (1948); Cello Concerto, Les Hommages (Philadelphia, Nov. 6, 1953); Symphonic Variations (1967); Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky for Cello and Orch. (1968). chamber:Serenata estiva for String Quartet (1937); Bassoon Sonata (1941); Canzone, Introduzione, e Allegro for Violin and Piano (1950); 2 piano sonatas (1926, 1940), and other piano pieces. vocal:Job, oratorio for Men’s Voices and Orch. (1933); Collectionneur d’échos for Soprano, Bass, and 9 Percussion Instruments (1933); The Return of Pushkin, elegy for Soprano or Tenor and Orch. (Boston, Jan. 2, 1948); America Was Promises, cantata for Alto, Baritone, and Men’s Voices (N.Y, April 25, 1950); Vita nuova for Soprano, Tenor, and Orch. (Boston, March 2, 1951); Symboli chrestiani for Baritone and Orch. (1953); Quatre poèmes de Boris Pasternak for Voice and Piano (1961; arr. for Voice and Strings, 1969); 5 Poems by Anna Akhmatova for Voice and Orch. (1964).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis Mclntire