Aleksei S. Zhivotov: Notorious for One Piece
Aleksei Semenovich Zhivotov was born in Kazan' on November 1, 1904 and died in Leningrad on August 27, 1964. Zhivotov was a graduate of the Leningrad Conservatoire and also a pupil of Shcherbachev; his other teacher there was M. M. Chernov; both men worked with him between 1924 and 1930. From 1926 to 1930 he himself was on the staff, teaching theory and orchestration. His debut as a composer came with the Suite for Orchestra, composed in 1928 and performed in 1930. Zhivotov was clearly a highly gifted and precocious composer. His song cycle "Zapad" ( "The West"), for voice, chorus, and orchestra had significant successes (the title of this work came from the use of revolutionary texts by Western authors). Brilliantly and imaginatively scored for large forces, Zhivotov attempted to set each movement using a varied treatment, and one movement uses a species of literary montage. The work shows that he had also studied the music of Stravinsky.
In his "Zavod" movement for "Lenin," the oratorio composed by Shcherbachev and his pupils, Zhivotov, instead of using the orchestra to imitate machine noises, hit upon the original and effective device of having the speaking chorus whispering sequences of numbers. A special plank was also made for this movement, so that all eighty-eight keys of the piano could be simultaneously depressed.
These early works were clearly influences from the West, particularly Germany. The early Suite and the Nonet ( "Frammenti") are constructed on linear, layered principles. The Jazz Suite of 1930, however, exercised Zhivotov's penchant for the grotesque. After the artistic policy changes, Zhivotov concentrated less on virtuosity and orchestral color and more on straightforward lyricism; it was safer. He wrote often for the stage, and was fairly active in administrative duties: between 1961 and 1964 he was president of the Leningrad branch of the Musikfond; he was the recipient of State honors in 1957, and a member of the Union of Composers in Leningrad.
"Frammenti" is still very valid today and creates a vivid impression in concert. It should be in the repertoire of every contemporary performing ensemble. Its hallmarks, apart from the extreme brevity of the movements, are bi-tonality (Figure 28.1), quartal harmony (Figure 28.2), a soloistic piano part (Figure 28.3), use of glissando (Figure 28.4), appearance of clusters (Figure 28.5), combinations of some of these effects (Figure 28.6), and a great virtuosity in the writing (Figure 28.7).