Nikolai Myaskovsky - Biography

N. Myaskovsky, 1934

Nikolai Myaskovsky was born in the military frontier town of Novo Georgiyevsk (present day Lomze) in the Warsaw governorate of the Polish territories of the Tsarist empire on April 20, 1881. He was the second son of Yakov Konstantinovich Myaskovsky and Vera Nikolayevna.

Both parents had military backgrounds, and Nikolai’s father, Yakov was the military engineer in charge of building forts on the frontier with Prussia. The first seven years of Nikolai’s life were spent in a small military cottage in Novo Georgiyevsk where his two sisters also were born, Vera (1885) and Valentina (1887). Nikolai’s grandfather Konstantine Ivanovich had been a tutor at the military Cadet College of Orel, where Yakov had studied, and had also worked as a noted military engineer building fortresses for the Russian Empire. His maternal grandfather, Nikolai Petrakov, had been a supervisor at the military gymnasium in Nizhni Novgorod.

From his memoirs, Nikolai liked playing with his older brother, Sergei (b. 1877), but he also demonstrated a strong preference for arts and imaginative activities and was drawn at a very early age to the piano. His first piano teacher was his aunt, Yelikonida, Yakov’s sister, who had had a musical education. She also had a strong religious inclination which put off Nikolai for its “gloominess and oppressive qualities”, especially in the years after his mother’s death in 1890, when Yelikonida became the children’s guardian.

In 1888, the family moved for a spell to Orenburg, and in 1889 to Kazan, where Nikolai’s third sister, Eughenia (1890) was born. It was in Kazan in 1891 that Nikolai began serious music lessons and he also was enrolled in a Cadet College –the beginning steps of a military engineering career. His first profound musical memory was listening to a piano duet of a medley from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He and his brother attended the local summer theatre and he had strong inspiration from Glinka’s Ivan Susanin, and Orphee aux enfers, and Verstovsky’s The Tomb of Ascold. He showed from the earliest times a very good ear and strong memory and enjoyed scales, exercises and mastered quickly Bertini’s Etudes.

It was in Kazan, and then from 1893 in Nizhni Novgorod that Nikolai began to demonstrate his strong artistic independence and intellectual drive which was to characterize him for the rest of his life. He became a prolific reader of literature and the intellectual arts journals of the day, he was a very assiduous student and was usually tops in his cadet class, and still as a teenager he began playing both classical and popular works and trying out simple composition. Although he took formal music lessons in at the College in Nizhni Novgorod, his strongest frustration was that he was frequently chased off the piano and he felt he did not get enough practice time. Perhaps this led him later to teach himself violin inspired by his cousin, Karl Bogdanovich Brandt, a violinist himself. Nikolai was good enough to play violin in the College orchestra.

In 1895 the family moved to St. Petersburg, where in addition to his studies at the Second Cadet College, he began to attend regular concerts around the capital. Brandt often took the teenaged Nikolai to operas and Sunday concerts. At one of these Nikolai was swept away by Beethoven’s Second Symphony, especially the larghetto. The family apartment on Znamenskaya Street became a lively cultural salon. Not only did Nikolai play duets with Brandt, but he also became acquainted with some distant relatives, the Gorodenskys from Helsinki. Alexandra Gorodenskaya was a composer of some accomplishment at that time and her daughter, Maria a skilled pianist. Nikolai and Maria became regular piano partners and, with the mother, the three of them played symphonies and overtures of classics from the German school of composers. In December1896, he attended a concert of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony directed by the famous Arthur Nikisch. Again this was one of the moving music memories of the young Nikolai’s life. He was presented a score of this symphony as a present, which remained one of Nikolai’s prized possessions for the rest of his life.

After his graduation from the military high school in 1899, Nikolai was enrolled in the School of Military Engineering, much against his inclination and desires. His circle of friends at the university included some fanatical followers of Russian progressive, nationalist music, at that time represented by the Big Five—Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, and Balakirev. Rimsky-Koraskov was the pre-eminent composer of the day and a cultural giant in St. Petersburg. Ironically he had a somewhat similar background to Nikolai, being as he also had studied as a military cadet and as a naval officer, before he could break from the military to pursue music professionally. For the next eight years, Nikolai tried to balance his studies in military engineering—which was directing him to a military career in the path of his father and grandfather—and his increasing commitment and love of music. He balanced this by very intensive work. Early in this period, when he was in the fappers battalion in Moscow, he took his first composition lessons with the young, soon to be famous composer, Reinholdt Gliere, a student of Sergei Taneyev who had recommended him.

More here.

Nikolai Myaskovsky - Kirov is With Us (1942) - live.


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