Leonid L. Sabaneev: Would-be Scientist Becomes Critic
Leonid Leonidovich Sabaneev was born in Moscow on October 1, 1881 and died in Antibes on May 3, 1968. He studied both mathematics and physics at Moscow University and these fields distracted him for some time from his musical career. In 1898 he enrolled in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Science, graduating in 1906 with a degree of Master in Pure Mathematics. His musical gifts were recognized very early, and he entered the Moscow Conservatoire, studying piano with N. S. Zverev (from 1888), N. Ladukhin (from 1889), and P. J. Schloetzer (after Zverev's death); theory and composition with Taneev (from 1890), and instrumentation with N. Rimsky-Korsakov. Works from his extreme youth included incidental music to "King Oedipus" ( 1889) and a funeral march in memory of Beethoven ( 1890).
From 1906, after graduating from Moscow University, he embarked on a dual career as composer and musicologist; it is as the latter that he eventually made his mark in the West, but his musicological approaches were always colored and tempered by his active participation as a composer in various new trends of his time. He was regarded as a flag-bearer for the Left, proclaiming freedom from academic traditions resulting in a new creativity. Beginning with the music of Scriabin, he also espoused much of the music of the younger generation of composers. His articles appeared in a great variety of publications: Golos moskvy, Russkoe slovo, Utro Rossii, Muzyka, Apollon, Muzykal'nyy sovremennik, Melos, Der blaue ritter, Musical Times, The Dominant, and others. His scientific background allowed him to view new scores from a particular vantage point, and he produced, early on, writings on theory, harmony, rhythm, and the relationship between sound and color. He founded the Moscow Institute of Musicology, was chairman of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, and was heavily involved in a number of teaching institutions. As early as 1912, Sabaneev announced the birth of the Science of Music; he had a rather low opinion of theorists from the past, accusing them of being essentially untalented, failed musicians.
His writings (see Works list) contain some interesting ideas, though, perhaps not as scientifically presented as he thought: thus, the derivation of Scriabin's so-called mystic chord from the overtone series; the application of the term "astral body" in an effort to explain Scriabin's music from a harmonic standpoint; his notion of an ultrachromatic music, lying beyond the bounds of the equal-tempered system; his advocacy of a 53-note octave as the music of the future. This last was presented as a paper to the State Institute of Musical Science during the 1920s, together with a