Arthur V. Lourié: The Decadent Out of Place
Arthur Vincent Lourié (also sometimes transliterated as Lur'e and Lur'ye) was born in St. Petersburg on May 14, 1892 and died in Princeton, N. J. on October 13, 1966. Lourié once said of himself that his intense relationship to poetry and visual art gave him a certain advantage over other musicians. As a composer he was self-taught. He attended both the St. Petersburg University and Conservatoire, but left after a time, as he preferred to pursue his objectives alone, and he found himself without sympathy for the then-prevailing line of musical thought. He was one of the earliest and most versatile musical innovators among the Russian Futurists, and as early as 1910 he had composed a string quartet with microtones.
Lourié began to work with 12-tone complexes (not 12-tone systems, as has been claimed by some writers) as early as 1912, and published his thoughts on quarter-tone notation in the Futurist periodical Strelets in 1915. In this same year he composed his "Forms in the Air," a prototype of graphic notation, which he dedicated to Pablo Picasso. These three miniatures reflect the harmonically austere style of the early experimental period, which was rich in dissonance and favored the use of chordal combinations with half-tone tension. This early style evolved shortly thereafter in the direction of "New Simplicity," characterized by a new diatonicism and linearity of which Lourié was also one of the forerunners.
Sabaneev, writing for the Musical Times in 1927, gives an amusing pen-portrait of the young Lourié:
An exquisite aesthete, a highly cultured and extremely clever man, he possesses that quality of "moral anarchism" which in Russia so often overtakes even men of standing. At first a friend of the poet Blok, a constant frequenter of the Petersburg pre-war "Brodyachaya Sobaka," that half-den, half-salon, where the supreme attainments of culture were blended with the most degraded manifestations of human nature; that Montmartre of the northern capital of Russia -- Lourier [sic] was already a musical "futurist" belonging to the "extreme left" wing, wandering about in a sort of Pierrot costume, with an exquisitely weary air, and seemingly exhausted by an excess of culture. . .. Always with the same bored air of a man who knows everything in the world and therefore finds nothing interesting, Lourier [sic] brought order into the musical life of Russia, being guided by the incisive politics of the musical left wing.
Lourié, like his friend, the poet Alexander Blok, and the majority of the Russian