Slonimsky, Sergei (Mikhailovich)

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Slonimsky, Sergei (Mikhailovich)

Slonimsky, Sergei (Mikhailovich) , greatly talented Russian composer, nephew of Nicolas (Nikolai Leonidovich) Slonimsky; b. Leningrad, Aug. 12, 1932. A member of a highly intellectual family (his father was a well-known Soviet author; his paternal grandfather, an economist, the author of the first book on Karl Marx in the Russian language; his father’s maternal uncle was a celebrated Russian ed. and literary critic; his father’s maternal aunt was the noted piano teacher Isabelle Vengerova), he studied at the Leningrad Cons., taking composition with Boris Arapov and Orest Evlakhov (graduated, 1955) and piano with Vladimir Nilsen (graduated, 1956); he also took courses in musicology with F. Rubtzov (folk music) and N. Uspensky (polyphonic analysis). While a student, he wrote a fairy-tale suite, Frog-Princess, and in 1951 composed a string quartet on Russian folk motifs. In 1959 he was appointed to the faculty of the Leningrad Cons. For further study of folk music he traveled into the countryside, in the rural regions of Pskov and Novgorod. Concurrently, he explored the technical modalities of new music, in the tradition of Soviet modernism, evolving a considerable complexity of texture in a framework of dissonant counterpoint, while safeguarding the tonal foundation in triadic progressions. Some of his works, such as his opera Virineya, represent a contemporary evolution of the Russian national school of composition, broadly diatonic and spaciously songful; his other works tend toward ultramodern practices, including polytonality, microtonality, dodecaphony, tone-clusters, amplified sound, prepared piano, electronic sonorism, aleatory proceedings, and spatial placement of instruments. His Concerto for Orchestra employs electronically amplified guitars and solo instruments; even more advanced is his Antiphones for String Quartet, employing non-tempered tuning and an “ambulatory” setting, in which the players are placed in different parts of the hall and then walk, while playing, en route to the podium; the piece is especially popular at modern music festivals. A prolific composer, he has written 10 syms. and a remarkably varied catalogue of chamber music pieces which he produces with a facility worthy of Rossini. He also has an easy hand with choral works. Although his natural impulse tends towards the newest sound elements, he proves remarkably successful in gathering and transforming folk motifs and rhythms, as in his Novgorod choruses, composed for the American Festival of Soviet Music of 1988. The most unusual subject, for a Soviet composer, was an opera based on the life and death of the Catholic Queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart. Mary Stuart was first performed in Kuibishev on Oct. 1, 1983, and then subsequently performed in Leningrad and in Leipzig (1984). It was then selected for a gala production at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, where it was given on Aug. 22, 1986, by the Leningrad Opera in a performance in the Russian language. The score utilizes authentic Scottish folk songs, suitably arranged in modern harmonies, as well as original themes in the pentatonic scale. The opera received the prestigious Glinka Prize in 1983. Slonimsky encountered considerable difficulties in producing his chamber opera, The Master and Margarita, after a novel by Bulgakov, because the subject had to do with mystical religious events. The Soviet authorities delayed its production for nearly 15 years. Finally, with a liberal change in the political climate, the opera was performed, first in East Germany, and, eventually and to considerable acclaim, in Leningrad, on Dec. 1, 1989. Practically all of Slonimsky’s music, including the operas, has been publ. Apart from his work as a composer and teacher, he contributes music criticism to Russian magazines; he also publ, a valuable analytic survey of the symphonies of Prokofiev (Leningrad, 1976).


DRAMATIC: Opera : Virineya (Leningrad, Sept. 30, 1967); The Master and Margarita, chamber opera, after Bulgakov (1973; Leningrad, Dec. 1, 1989); Mary Stuart, operaballad (1978–80; Kuibishev, Jan. 31, 1981); Hamlet (1992). Ballet : Icarus (1962–69; Moscow, May 29, 1971). Other : Incidental music and film scores. ORCH .: Carnival Overture (1957); 10 syms.: No. 1 (1958; Leningrad, March 11, 1962), No. 2 (1977; Leningrad, Sept. 21, 1979), No. 3 (Leningrad, Dec. 15, 1982), No. 4, dedicated to the memory of his father (Kuibishev, Oct. 1, 1983), No. 5 (1983; Kuibishev, Oct. 1, 1984), No. 6 (1983; Leningrad, June 21, 1986), No. 7 (1984; Leningrad, June 21, 1986), No. 8 for Chamber Orch. (Vilnius, Sept. 30, 1985), No. 9 (Leningrad, Feb. 18, 1989), and No. 10 (1992); Choreographic Miniatures (1964); Concerto buffo (1964–65; Leningrad, April 28, 1966); Concerto for Sym. Orch., 3 Electric Guitars, and Solo Instruments (1973; Leningrad, Feb. 9, 1974); Dramatic Song (1974); Festive Music for Balalaika, Castanets, and Orch. (1975); Symphonic Motet (1976); Quiet Music (1981; Leningrad, March 7, 1982); Concerto primaverile for Violin and String Orch. (Vilnius, Oct. 8, 1983, Sergei Stadler soloist). CHAMBER : String Quartet on Russian Themes (1951); 2 Pieces for Viola and Piano (1956); Suite for Viola and Piano (1959); Sonata for Solo Violin (1960); Chromatic Flute and Humoresque for Flute (1961); 3 Pieces for Cello (1964); Dialogues for Wind Quintet (1964); Antiphones for String Quartet (1968); Sonatina allegro for Horn and Piano (1974); Monologue and Toccata for Clarinet and Piano (1974); Solo espressivo for Oboe (1975); Exotic Suite for 2 Violins, 2 Electric Guitars, Saxophone, and Percussion (1976; Leningrad, Nov. 3, 1978); Legend for Domra and Piano (1976); Merry Rondo for Domra and Piano (1976); Novgorod Dance for Clarinet, Trombone, Cello, Piano, and Percussion (1980); Rondo, on a theme by Gounod, for Trumpet and Piano (1980); Musica lirica for Flute, Violin, and Harpsichord (1981); Dithyramb for Cello Ensemble and Piano (1982); In the World of Animals, children’s suite for Cello and Piano (1982); Suite (Seattle, July 1990). keyboard: Piano: Sonata (1962); Three Graces, suite (1964); Children’s Pieces (1970); Coloristic Fantasy (1972); Tiny Pieces for children (1973); Serenade from a Musical, street song (1976); Round Dance and Merry Rumba (1977); Charlie Chaplin Whistles On (1978); Cat’s Lullaby (1978); Hungarian March for Piano, 4-Hands (1980); Intermezzo in Memory of Brahms (1980); Travel Suite (1981); Romantic Waltz (1982); Variations on a Theme by Mussorgsky (1984); 3 pieces: Jump Rope, Blues, and Metro (1984); 24 Preludes and Fugues (1993). Organ: Pastorale and Toccata (1961); Chromatic Poem (1969); Round Dance and Fugue (1976); Rondo-Humoresque (1979). VOCAL: Songs of Freedom, on Russian folk motifs, for Mezzo- soprano, Baritone, and Piano (1957); Spring has arrived, vocal cycle for Voice and Piano, after Japanese poets (1958); Polish Stanzas, vocal cycle, after the Polish poet Anthoni Slonimski, first cousin of the composer’s father (1963); Lyric Stanzas, vocal cycle for Voice and Piano (1964); Voice from the Chorus, cantata, after Alexander Blok (1964); Farewell to a Friend for Voice and Piano (1966); Monologues for Soprano, Oboe, Horn, and Harp (1967); 2 Russian Songs for Chorus (1968); 6 Songs, after Anna Akhmatova (1969); Northern Landscapes for Chorus (1969); Merry Songs for Voice and Piano (1971); Choral Games for Children’s Chorus, Boy Soloist, and 2 Percussion Instruments (1972); Evening Music for Chorus (1973); 4 Songs, after Osip Mandelstam (1974); 10 Songs, after Anna Akhmatova (1974); 4 Russian Songs for Chorus (1974); Virineya, suite- oratorio from the opera of the same name (1974); Pesnohorka (Sing-Chorus) for Contralto, Flute, Oboe, Trumpet, Balalaika, Accordion, 3 Electric Guitars, Castanets, and Vibraphone, on Russian folk songs (1975); Songs of the Troubadours, vocal cycle on old French ballads for Soprano, Tenor, 4 Recorders, and Lute (1975); Songs of Songs for Soprano, Tenor, Chorus, Oboe, Horn, and Harp (1975); Bashkir Girl’s Song for Voice, Flute, and 2 Bongos (1977); Quiet Flows the Don for Chorus, to words of old Cossack chants, after Sholokhov’s novel (1977); 2 Poems for Chorus, after Pushkin (1979); Suite from the opera Mary Stuart for Chorus and Orch. (1980); 2 Songs for Mezzo-soprano and Piano, after Alexander Blok (1980); White Night for Chorus (1980); Morning Song for Children’s Chorus and Snare Drum (1981); Strophes of Dhammapada for Soprano, Harp, and Percussion, after the classic Buddhist epic (1983; Leningrad, Feb. 21, 1984); Song of Leningrad for Bass, Chorus, and Orch. (1983); Little Triptych for Chorus (1983); 2 Vocalises for Soprano and Mezzo-soprano (1983); Railroad for Chorus, Trumpet, Piano, and Percussion (1983); White Night in Leningrad for Chorus (1983); 4 Strophes for Chorus, after Sophocles’ Oedipus Colonus (1983).


A. Milka, S. S.(Leningrad, 1976).

—Nicolas Slonimsky, Laura Kuhn, Dennis McIntire