Gavrill N. Popov: Contrapuntalist
Gavriil Nikolaevich Popov was born in Novocherkassk on September 12, 1904 and died in Repino on February 17, 1972. His father was a professor of languages, the family was highly cultured, and this contributed to the composer's very broad and extensive education. From childhood, Popov had a command of a number of important foreign languages, and was well-read in literature, history, and philosophy. He began his studies at the School of Music in Rostov-on-Don, where he worked with V. Shaube on piano, and M. L. Pressman on composition ( 1917-1922); during this period he also had the opportunity to sit in on lectures by M. F. Gnessin and avail himself of some private lessons with this composer. Popov moved to Leningrad and entered the Conservatoire in 1922; he studied there with V. V. Shcherbachev (composition), Maximilian Shteinberg (theory) and M. N. Barinova and later L. V. Nikolaev (piano).
A variety of interests manifested themselves at this stage, for in 1922 he attended classes in the faculty of architecture at the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute; in 1923- 1924 in the literary section of the Leningrad Institute of the History of Arts; and in 1924-1927 as pianist/improvisor at the Leningrad studio of Plastic Dance. He was Shcherbachev's favorite pupil, and the two kept in touch until Shcherbachev's death, supporting each other through difficult times.
Popov's Septet dates from this period, a work now notorious in the Soviet Union as a example of dissonance and extreme counterpoint. Between 1927 and 1931 he began to teach both composition and piano, and also established himself as a concert pianist. In 1943 he moved to Moscow, where he remained for the rest of his professional life.
The early works were individual, and include pieces such as "Expression" and "Melody" for piano, the "Grosse Suite" for piano, the Septet and the First Symphony (awarded equal second prize with symphonies by Shaporin and Shebalin in an all- Union competition held in 1932; first prize was not awarded). His motto at this time was "Art must be contemporary." But Stalin changed all that, and Popov's later music was certainly more conservative, especially after he was attacked by Zhdanov. He was never the same person again, and began to drink.
The First Symphony must be thought of as a cross-over work, leading to the more traditional music of Popov's later period. It was spoken of most highly by Shcherbachev, Prokofiev, Meyerhold, and Asafiev. Shostakovich, at a meeting held on May 8, 1933, appealed passionately in favor of this symphony. It was premiered in Leningrad on March 22, 1935. There was overseas interest, and some prominent