YURI KHOLOPOV was one of Russia's leading musicologists, a man with an encyclopaedic mind, and a teacher whose courageous refusal to follow the lines of Communist Party theory made him a beacon for the emerging generation of modernist composers.
Born in Ryazan, south-east of Moscow, in 1932, Kholopov attended the Regional College of Music in his home city before studying at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatoire between 1949 and 1954, taking a postgraduate degree in 1960, when he also began to teach there. It was his doctoral thesis, an examination of Prokofiev's harmonic practice, that brought his run-in with the musical apparatchiks of the Communist Party.
Marxist-Leninist music theory insisted that the content of a piece of music - its extra-musical "meaning" - was more important than the form in which it was expressed; music could thus be used to communicate non- musical (that is, political) ideas to its audience. Kholopov knew that this assertion was nonsense and duly ignored it, underlining the importance of form in Prokofiev's compositions. But "formalism" was what had run Shostakovich, Myaskovsky and Prokofiev himself foul of the Party machinery in the famous congress in 1948, resulting in a ban on performances of their music.
Kholopov's revolutionary book Sovremenniye chert' garmonii Prokofieva ("Contemporary Aspects of Harmony in the Music of Prokofiev"), published in a tiny edition in 1966, thus flew in the teeth of what Soviet musicology could accept and his argument ran into fierce ideological criticism in the official organs, such as Sovietskaya Muzyka. When in 1975 Kholopov presented his analysis as part of his PhD requirements, his doctorate was withheld.
This setback notwithstanding, the quality of Kholopov's teaching ensured the steady advance of his career. He became a docent (assistant professor) at the conservatoire in 1972, and a full professor in 1983; he also taught at a number of other musical institutions in Moscow. His early students felt the ill wind blowing them some good: before Kholopov was allowed to lecture to entire classes, they benefited from small, personal tutorials.
As a teacher, his ambit embraced all aspects of music, not least form and harmony, of course. He passed different systems of music theory under the lens, too: the theories of Hindemith, Schenker, Messiaen and Schoenberg were all dissected for the benefit of his students. He taught courses in counterpoint, instrumentation, analysis, music history and contemporary music - where he became a guiding light for his students, who were denied official access to developments elsewhere in the world.
Kholopov wasn't quite the only voice in the Soviet Union prepared to speak about musical modernism: he readily acknowledged the superior knowledge of Philip Hershkowitz, a Romanian-born former pupil of Berg and Webern and, in 1939, as a Jew, a refugee from Nazism. Hershkowitz (usually called Gershkovich in Russian) was an outcast from official musical life: he was an otkaznik - a refusenik whose request to leave the Soviet Union had been turned down - and was thus ostracised and survived, with …