Born: Dec 30, 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia
Dead: Feb 14, 1987 in Moscow, Russia
The music of Russian composer and teacher Dmitri Kabalevsky was hailed by Communist authorities as the finest incarnation of their artistic vision. Born in St. Petersburg in 1904, he lived during a notoriously difficult time for composers in that country. In 1918, Kabalevsky moved with his family to Moscow, where he studied at the Scriabin Music School. At the age of 18, Kabalevsky began to compose, primarily for the piano. His early pieces were studies for his young students, a practical facet of his compositional output which would remain with him throughout his career. He entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1925, studying piano with Goldenweiser and composition with Miaskovsky, the latter being particularly influential on Kabalevsky's developing musical outlook. By the end of the 1920s Kabalevsky was gaining notoriety as a composer; in 1928 the premiere of his First Piano Concerto launched him into the forefront of Soviet composers, while at the same time, the charming C major Sonatina for piano brought him international acclaim.
From his appointment to the composition faculty of the Moscow Conservatory in 1932 to his death in 1987, Kabalevsky produced a steady stream of works which sought to embody Soviet musical ideals through the use of diatonic tonality and accessible structural contours. He is perhaps best known for the overture to his opera Colas Breugnon (1936) which Arturo Toscanini conducted worldwide in the 1940s and 1950s. His suite The Comedians (1940), is another well-known work, while the Piano Concerto No. 2 (1935) is likely his finest purely musical achievement. A series of concertos for young players (Violin 1948, Cello 1949, and the Third Piano Concerto of 1952) has greatly enriched the literature for student soloists. Kabalevsky's Requiem, Op. 72, completed in 1962, is a memorial to those who lost their lives during World War II. The text is based on a poem written by Robert Rozhdestvensky.
In addition to his compositional activities, Kabalevsky was a frequent contributor to pedagogical magazines and he held positions on various State educational bodies. Kabalevsky joined the Communist Party in 1940; by 1941 he received the Medal of Honour from the Soviet government for his musical prowess. During World War II, Kabalevsky wrote several inspirational songs and battle hymns. In 1942, his Great Homeland, and Avengers of the People were written to inspire heroism and patriotism. Kabalevsky's popular The Taras Family (1947) used music from the opera In the Fire. It became a success in spite of the 1948 party decree on music, probably because Kabalevsky's music had become more lyrical in nature. Kabalevsky was one of the few well-known Soviet composers who escaped the infamous 1948 condemnation of composers by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. (The scapegoats, including Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and Miaskovsky were censured for indulging in "decadent formalism.")
Later in life, Kabalevsky became more involved in choral music. Kabalevsky continued to be a force in musical education. He was elected the head of the Commission of Musical Esthetic Education of Children in 1962, as well as being elected president of the Scientific Council of Educational Esthetics in the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the U.S.S.R. in 1969. Kabalevsky also received the honorary degree of president of the International Society of Musical Education.
- Blair Johnston (All Music Guide)