The Big Three
Nikolai A. Roslavets: The Russian Schoenberg
"A most interesting twentieth-century Russian composer."
Igor Stravinsky, from a 1990 pamphlet on the Roslavets Festival in Bryansk. "[A] compositional force of a large order."
Nikolai Myaskovsky, from a 1990 pamphlet on the Roslavets Festival in Bryansk.
Nikolai Andreevich Roslavets, was born in Dushatino, Ukraine, on January 5, 1881, and died in Moscow on August 23, 1944. Of all the composers surveyed in this book, Roslavets must surely rank as the most neglected and simultaneously, probably the most gifted. Written out of the history books, it was left to musicologists from the West to discover him. This has sparked off a similar process within Russia, especially after glasnost, and some of the works have been recently reprinted there. The key to this surge of interest lies in the quality of the music, as much as the light it casts on the perplexities and agonies facing Russian composers in the first quarter of the century. Roslavets' own tragic fate is linked with the general destiny of the artist-innovator coping with a repressive regime, moreover, one that he passionately believed in.
Roslavets was born in the then Chernigov region, in a rural area (his parents were peasants), and was initially self-taught in music. His determination may be gauged by the fact that he taught himself to read and write in surroundings that were largely illiterate. Most of his close relatives were too busy and hardworking, burdened by many children, to worry about literacy. Roslavets must have been inspired by the example of his father who was also self-taught, after serving in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878. The fledgling composer managed to get some violin lessons from his uncle, who played by ear. Roslavets demonstrated his talents as early as at the age of seven or eight. From 1893 he appears to have been self-sufficient, working at clerical jobs and studying further with a Jewish violinist whose name has not been preserved, but who apparently made a living playing for weddings. It was not until