Music of the Repressed Russian Avant-Garde, 1900-1929

By Larry Sitsky | Go to book overview
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11
Vladimir M. Deshevov: The Man of the Theater

Vladimir Mihailovich Deshevov was born in St. Petersburg on February 11, 1889 and died in Leningrad on October 27, 1955. His family belonged to the intelligentsia, and so musical culture was a fact of everyday life. His father, an engineer, was a patron of music and a tireless concertgoer; his mother studied singing. Deshevov's grandmother on his mother's side was an excellent pianist. She was responsible for the first years of his pianistic life, and guided him from the early five-finger exercises to a concert level of performance. The would-be composer attended school at Tsarskoe Selo, where the family had moved a few years after his birth. Music at that time was still not recognized as a safe profession, and so it was by no means a certainty for Deshevov to move in that direction, despite his obvious talent and his ability to improvise; he happened to be equally exceptional in subjects such as physics. In 1904 he heard works by Paul Dukas and Richard Strauss,. and by 1906 he seemed more certain as to his future direction. He began studying music theory with the composer A. F. Pashchenko (theory and solfege) in that same year and in 1908 he visited Bayreuth and saturated himself with Wagner operas. He entered the St. Petersburg Conservatoire in 1908 and stayed there until 1914, with A. K. Liadov (counterpoint and fugue), M. O. Shteinberg and V. P. Kalafati (composition), as well as with A. Ya. Vinkler and L. V. Nikolaev (piano). Sergei Prokofiev was a pupil of Vinkler at the time, and must have exercised some influence on his young fellow student. He therefore belongs to that generation of composers who grew up in pre-revolutionary days, sensing or knowing that vast changes were in the making -- musical as well as political. Russian art at this time was subject to a huge number of movements and manifestos, of varying effectual durations.

St. Petersburg then boasted at least three progressive music organizations: the Russian Musical Society, the Koussevitzky Concerts and the Siloti Concerts. Richard Strauss's "Burleske" and the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto were heard at concerts of the Russian Musical Society during Deshevov's first year, in the Great Hall of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. Students had a free pass to such concerts. The Siloti and Koussevitzky Concerts featured such works as the Scriabin "Poem of Ecstasy" and "Prometheus," Stravinsky's "Firebird," "Petrouchka," and "Rite of Spring," sometimes in excerpt or in suite form; Rachmaninoff "Isle of the Dead," Third Symphony, "The Bells," and many other new works. Debussy was a guest of the Conservatoire in 1913 and Deshevov heard a number of works including "La Mer."

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