Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987) – one of the most prolific and popular composers of the former Soviet Union – was the “perfect” Soviet composer, a “sweet dream” of the government. He was one of the first composers educated under the Soviet system and, during his student years, became a member of the so-called PROCOLL (Proletarian Collective): a group whose manifesto proclaimed that “Revolutionary musical creation can only be achieved by those who grew up with the Revolution and are active participants in its development.”
The list of his compositions includes a number of works written in quiet response to concrete events of Soviet life, or in accordance with the communist party’s directions. Among them are the Symphony No. 3 (on verses by Nikolai Aseyev dedicated to the memory of Lenin); the ballet Golden Ears (about collective farm life in the 1930s); two operas about wartime: In the Fire (1942) and Taras’ Family (1947-50); plus numerous songs, cantatas on patriotic texts, etc.When the French writer Romain Rolland became a close friend of the Soviet regime and an officially praised author, Kabalevsky wrote an opera based on his short novel, Colas Breugnon (1937). When the famous resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (1948) demanded that composers write folk-based music that was more accessible to ordinary people, he composed three instrumental concertos for young performers using Russian folk tunes.
Kabalevsky was very conservative in his musical tastes and style – a characteristic that hardly changed over the years. His tonal, diatonic, harmonically logical and transparent music was based on 19th-century traditions (Tchaikovsky was his greatest influence), emphasizing romance- or songlike melodicism and simple, traditional forms. It is therefore easy to perceive and understand, and demands little intellectual or spiritual effort from the listener. It is also remarkable for its optimistic tone: another reason Soviet officials praised it.
Beyond that, his public popularity was, to a great extent, due to the virtuosic skills that he applied to traditional styles – skills that he gained from the excellent education he got as a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory’s piano and composition departments (where he studied with such outstanding musicians and teachers as Gregory Katuar, Nikolai Myaskovsky and Alexander Goldenweiser). Also, his perfect sense of musical structure, brilliance as an orchestrator, musical sincerity, remarkable melodic talent and the organic qualities of most of his works combined to bring him real popularity among mass audiences.
Especially popular was his music for children. Kabalevsky began his teaching career in the mid-twenties, immediately after his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory in 1925. In an effort to expand the narrow piano repertoire for beginners, he started to write piano pieces for mostly pedagogical purposes. Since the “children’s sphere” closely matched his individual style, he continued to produce music for young people – including chamber miniatures, sonatas, concertos, choral pieces and songs. These eventually added up to several volumes of beautiful, pedagogically valuable and very popular music for young performers and listeners. Kabalevsky was also a renowned lecturer and writer on the subject of classical music for young audiences: a sort of Russian Leonard Bernstein.
Although Kabalevsky wrote four symphonies (three in the 1930’s and the fourth in 1956) plus five operas, he is mainly considered a master of smaller forms as well as programmatic and applied “illustrative” music (he wrote many scores for films, the theater and radio productions). This Delos re-issue disc, Kabalevsky, presents telling evidence of that aspect of his achievements.
Sample Kabalevsky on Delos Radio:
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