Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nikolai Andreevich Roslavets

While still a student, Roslavets had been engaged in vigorous artistic debates provoked by Russian Futurism, and was close to artists such as Kasimir MalevichAristarkh Lentulov,Vasily KamenskyDavid Burlyuk and others. Deeply influenced by the later works of Alexander Scriabin and his mystic chord, Roslavets' quest for a personal language began not later than in 1907; it led to his propounding a "new system of sound organisation" based on "synthetic chords" that contain both the horizontal and vertical sound-material for a work (a concept close to that of Schoenberg's twelve-tone serialism). Following an article of Vyacheslav Karatygin, published in February 1915, Roslavets was sometimes referred to as "the Russian Schoenberg," but in 1914 Nikolay Myaskovsky had already stressed the original nature of Roslavets' style. In an article published in 1925 the critic Yevgeni Braudo pointed out that this was no more helpful than calling Schoenberg "the German Debussy." Although in the 1920s Roslavets criticized Scriabin because of his "over-simplification", the “new system of sound organisation” was first of all inspired by Scriabin's ideas and concepts were transmitted by Leonid Sabaneyev, a close friend of both Scriabin and Roslavets.
Though the "new system of sound organisation" regulates the whole twelve-tone chromatic scale, most of Roslavets’ "synthetic chords" consist of six to nine tones. In the 1920s Roslavets developed his system, expanding it to encompass counterpoint, rhythm, and musical form while elaborating new principles of teaching. In Roslavets' earlier romances and chamber instrumental compositions those sets were already elaborated side by side with expanded tonality and free atonality. The mature forms of this "new system of sound organization" are typical for the pieces composed between 1913 and 1917, such as Sad Landscapes (1913), Three Compositions for Voice and Piano (1913), String Quartet No.1 (1913),Four Compositions for Voice and Piano (1913–14), and the Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 (1914) and 2 (1916, reconstructed by Eduard Babasian), etc.
After the Bolshevik revolution, Roslavets made an important contribution to the "revolutionary propaganda in music" in such compositions as the cantata October (1927) and numerous songs. However, his symphonic poem Komsomoliya (1928), demonstrates an extraordinary mastership, a very complex and highly modern compositional technique, far from the simplification typical for "propaganda works".
In Tashkent, he turned for a while to working with folk material, producing among other works the first Uzbek ballet, Pakhta (Cotton). The works of his last years in Moscow show a simplification of his characteristic language to admit an expanded conception of tonality (for instance in the 24 Preludes for violin and piano), but are still highly professional.  Among Roslavets' later compositions, the Chamber symphony (1934–35) demonstrates one of the peaks of his "new system of sound organisation" in its later phase.

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