Nikolai Obukhov: Mystic Beyond Scriabin
Nikolai Obukhov ( Obouhov, and in French publications, Nicolas Obouhow) was born in Kursk on April 22, 1892 and died in Paris on June 13, 1954. Obukhov studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire with Shteinberg and N. N. Tcherepnine. His early compositions, written soon after 1910, were first heard at a concert of new Russian music organized by the journal Muzikal'nyy sovremennik in 1915. The following year, in St. Petersburg, the same publishers organized a similar event incorporating pieces written in Obukhov's new notation. The family moved to Paris in 1918 to try to escape the extreme instability sweeping through Russia. In Paris, Ravel seemed interested in his music, and there is some documentary evidence of this in the Obukhov archive in the Bibliotheque Nationale. Together with Pierre Dauvillier he constructed a very early electric instrument, like a species of the Ondes Martenot, which he called the "Croix Sonore." The instrument was consistently used in his works. Koussevitzky became interested in Obukhov's magnum opus, "La Livre de vie" ("The Book of Life"), and played the Prologue in 1926. The pianist Marie-Antoinette Aussenac de Broglie, who studied with Obukhov, became one of his most devoted and consistent proponents. There was little composition during World War II, but Obukhov codified his theories in a book, Traite d'harmonie tonale, atonale et totale. In 1949 he was injured in an attack by some hooligans and was unable to compose during his last five years.
Obukhov is important as a Russian composer who experimented very early with a species of 12-tone organization and electronic sounds, the first attempts going back to around 1914. He saw the twelve tones as a kind of total musical world, and therefore developed concepts such as control over intervals and nonrepeatability of notes. He created a special notation for accidentals, and also began to use a kind of maltese-cross rubber stamp to give him bar numbers, as his religious fervor increased over the years. The system of notation for accidentals which he claimed to invent (on July 8, 1915, according to his manuscript) also appeared in the music of Golyshev at approximately the same time, apparently independently. We have no way of knowing, at this stage, whether the two emigrés met. Most of Obukhov's manuscripts are prefaced with a diagram setting out the new notation, and giving the date of invention. I have made a copy of this in my own hand, giving English rather than French note names (Figure 21.1). An interesting volume, printing some standard and new works in this notation, was published by Durand in Paris (see works list below). Since Obukhov was happy