Gnesin, Mikhail Fabianovich

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GNESIN, MIKHAIL FABIANOVICH (1883–1957), Russian composer, musicologist, and teacher. Born in Rostov-on-Don, he studied with Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. From 1910 to 1923 he taught at Rostov, Yekaterinodar, and Petrograd, and undertook study trips to Greece, Italy, France, Germany, and Palestine (in 1914 and 1921) and worked in Meyerhold's St. Petersburg studio. He also made a survey of music education in the Jewish schools on behalf of the *Odessa Committee. During 1921 he stayed in Palestine, and then went to Germany where he was one of the founders of the Jibneh music publishing house and reorganized the activities of the *Society of Jewish Folk Music of which he had been one of the founders in 1908.

From 1923 to 1935 he was professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, where he also served as head of the pedagogical faculty and of the "studios for the development of the national music of the Soviet peoples." From 1935 to 1945 he taught composition at the Leningrad Conservatory, and from 1945 to 1951 headed the composition department at the music school, which bore his name and that of his sister who was also a musician. Gnesin's pedagogical activity included the creation of the basic plan for teaching music composition, which is still followed in the Soviet Union. In addition to his memoirs, he published a number of books on composition, aesthetics, Jewish music, and a study of Rimsky-Korsakov. Among his students were Khachaturian and Khrennikov. As a composer, he pioneered the new Russian symphonic style, and the use of material from the various peoples of the U.S.S.R. Of the 68 items in the list of his works, about a quarter bear "Jewish" titles. The sources for these were, as he himself declared, threefold: tunes of his maternal grandfather, the Vilna badḥan and singer Shayke Fayfer (Isaiah Fleytsinger); the synagogue tradition which he received from his first teacher, Eliezer *Gerovich; and the melodies he had collected in Palestine. The publication of his Jewish compositions ended in 1929 (see list, up to this date, in Sendrey, Music). Of his later works, the most noteworthy are Song of the Old Homeland, for orchestra, op. 30; Wolochs for string quartet and clarinet, op. 56, in two versions (1938, 1951); Pastoral Elegy for piano trio, op. 57 (1940); the opera Abraham's Youth, to his own libretto, op. 36 (1921–23); and the suite A Jewish Orchestra at the Mayor's Ball, from his music to Gogol's Revizor ("The Government Inspector"). His opera Bar Kokhba, to a libretto by Samuel Halkin, remained unfinished.


ng2; Baker's Biographical Dict; Riemann-Gurlitt Dic; L. Saminsky: 'O tvorcheskom puti M. Gnesina' [The work of the composer], in: Muzyka (1913), no. 3 pp. 5–8; A.N. Drozdov, Michail Fabianowitsch Gnessin (Rus. and Ger., 1927); I. Ryzhkin: 'O tvorcheskom puti Mikhaila Gnesina', in: Sovetskaya muzyka (1933), no. 6 pp. 32–49; M. Bronsaft [Gorali], Ha-Askolah ha-Musikalit ha-Yehudit (1940), 52–59.

[Haim Bar-Dayan]