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

By Larry Sitsky | Go to book overview

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


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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • 1 1
  • Bibliography 7
  • Part I - The Precursors 10
  • 2 - Vladimir I. Rebikov: The Inventor of Whole-Tone Music 10
  • Bibliography 25
  • 3: Aleksei V. Stanchinskiy 27
  • Part II - The Big Three 38
  • 4 - Nikolai A. Roslavets: The Russian Schoenberg 38
  • Bibliography 58
  • 5: Aleksandr V. Mosolov 60
  • 6: Arthur V. Lourié 87
  • Part III - The Smaller Five 111
  • 7 - Leonid A. Polovinkin: The Partial Avant-Gardist 111
  • Bibliography 132
  • 8 - Vladimir V. Shcherbachev: Old Wine in New Vessels 133
  • 9: Lev K. Knipper 149
  • 10: Boris N. Liatoshinski 158
  • 11 - Vladimir M. Deshevov: The Man of the Theater 171
  • Part IV - The Reluctant Avant-Gardists 183
  • 12 - Samuil E. Feinberg: The Post-Scriabin Pianist 183
  • Bibliography 198
  • 13: Anatoliy N. Aleksandrov 199
  • 14 - Boris A. Aleksandrov: Son of the Composer of the Soviet Anthem 216
  • Part V 217
  • 15: Aleksandr A. Krein 219
  • 16 - Grigoriy A. Krein: Toward Assimilation 225
  • Bibliography 229
  • 17 - Yulian G. Krein: Precocious Cosmopolitan 235
  • 18 - The Ukrainian Bartók and Bloch 241
  • 19: Mikhail F. Gnessin 242
  • Part VI 248
  • 20 248
  • 21: Nikolai Obukhov 254
  • 22: Iosif M. Schillinger 264
  • 23: Aleksandr N. Tcherepnine 273
  • Part VII 283
  • 24 283
  • 25: Leonid L. Sabaneev 291
  • 26 - Dmitriy M. Melkikh: Rhapsodist 309
  • 27: Gavrill N. Popov 310
  • 28: Aleksei S. Zhivotov 318
  • 29: Efim Golyshchev 323
  • 30 - Georgi M. Rimsky-Korsakov: Microtonist 328
  • Appendix: Further Scores for Study and Reference 329
  • Index 343
  • About the Author 349
  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of Music and Dance 351


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