Composers in Exile
Ivan A. Vyshnegradsky: Microtones
Ivan Aleksandrovich Vyshnegradsky ( Wyshnegradsky, Wyschnegradsky, Vyshnegradski, Vishnegradsky) was born in St. Petersburg on May 14, 1893 and died in Paris on September 29, 1979. A composer and theorist, Vyshnegradsky was one of a large number of emigrés who left Russia during the time of the upheavals of the first two decades of the twentieth century. Many such emigrés moved to Paris and formed there a Russian colony of some intellectual and cultural potency.
Vyshnegradsky first studied philosophy and law at the University of St. Petersburg, then gravitated to music, working with Nikolai Sokolov. This was not an unusual transition as the composer's father was a well-known music lover and supported the Conservatoire in St. Petersburg. He served on its artistic council and was able to offer financial advice as he was, by profession, a banker. Vyshnegradsky's first compositions were written under the influence of Wagner and Tchaikovsky, but then, Sokolov introduced the young composer to the music of Scriabin, which had a long-lasting effect. His first acknowledged work (the oratorio "La Journee de l'Existence") had a Scriabin-like outlook, with musical symbolism coupled with Hegelian philosophy, according to Detlef Gojowy article in the "Biographical Dictionary of Russian/Soviet Composers". Clusters already appear in this first work -- it actually ends on a five- octave cluster -- and the Scriabinesque ecstasy is never too far away.
In 1916 and 1918, Vyshnegradsky himself experienced what he later described as "cosmic consciousness," which put him squarely in the tradition of Russian mystics/composers. This experience was directly responsible for the creation of the oratorio, which his wife later claimed was "the source of his entire further output, and therefore occupies a special place in the totality of his production" (writing under her maiden name, Lucile Gayden; see bibliography). The work, with words written by the composer, deals with the development of human consciousness, from its primitive beginnings to its "absolute end: the cosmic consciousness.' About two years later, Vyshnegradsky began to compose with quarter-tones. He saw the use of microtones