Women Composers

Composers from Russia

Lera Auerbach

October 21, 1973 -

Modern Period

Lera Auerbach is a Soviet-Russian born American pianist and composer whose works are frequently commissioned by a variety of artists and ensembles including Gidon Kremer, the NDR Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Danish Ballet.

 


Alexander Borodin

November 12, 1833 -

Romantic Period

Unlike most composers, Alexander Borodin was trained as a scientist and medical doctor; his primary career was that of a very successful professor of chemistry. He was an amateur musician who played the piano, flute and cello and who enjoyed composing in his spare time. Borodin was one of the five Russian composers known as the Mighty Handful, who were active at the end of the 19th century. Others in this group include Modest Mussorgsky, César Cui, Mily Balakirev and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Borodin's life was incredibly busy and his apartment was continually filled with visitors and family. It is surprising that he created as much music as he did. His most famous composition is the opera, Prince Igor, on which he worked for nearly twenty years. It was never finished; his friends, Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunow, completed it after his death.

Borodin’s music contains wonderful melodies that remind the listener of old Russia. The Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor supplied the melody for a famous 20th century popular song, Stranger in Paradise.

 


Alexander Glazunov

January 31, 1865 -

Late Romantic Period

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in Saint Petersburg in 1865. He rose to fame very quickly as a teenager with the help to Russian nationalist music group, The Five. At age 16, Mitrofan Belyayev hired an orchestra to play Glazunov's First Symphony. Belyayev served as a key promoter of Glazunov's career. Glazunov is known for having an incredible memory. He once played an entire symphony after hearing it from behind a closed door. His most famous pieces include ballets The Seasons (1899) and Raymonda (1898).

 


Dmitri Kabalevsky

December 30, 1904 -

Modern Period

Dmitri Kabalevsky was born in St. Petersburg, which was then the capital of Russia. He started playing the piano by ear when he was six. In 1918, after the Russian Revolution, the family moved to Moscow, where Dmitri finally started studying music -- including composition.

Kabalevsky lived in a difficult time and place for a composer. In the Soviet Union, the government told artists -- painters, writers, composers, you name it -- exactly what they were expected to create, and how it should look or sound. Kabalevsky managed to make the authorities happy as he continued to compose.

Kabalevsky wrote a lot of piano music, including pieces for children. He really enjoyed writing for children. Other Kabalevsky compositions include songs for children's chorus, and a set of songs for solo voice based on some wonderful Russian translations of Mother Goose rhymes. Of course, Kabalevsky also wrote plenty of adult pieces, including symphonies, concertos, and music for the theater.

 


Modest Mussorgsky

March 21, 1839 -

Romantic Period

Modest Mussorgsky was born in the Russian village of Karevo. His mother gave him his first piano lessons, and it was clear early on that Mussorgsky was a very good pianist.

Modest went to military boarding school, and when he graduated, he joined the army as an officer. Then, Mussorgsky started studying music with Russian composer Mily Balakirev, and left the army to become a composer. He was part of a group of five Russian composers known as "The Five," or the "Mighty Handful."

But Mussorgsky had a hard time making a living as a composer, especially after his family lost all its money. So he got a government job, and continued to spend all his spare time composing.

In addition to his instrumental music, Mussorgsky wrote songs, and several operas. His operatic masterpiece is "Boris Godunov," about a Russian Tsar who lived in the 1500's.

 


Sergei Rachmaninoff

April 01, 1873 -

Romantic Period

Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the most important composers in Russia in the early 20th century. He was a wonderful pianist, and some of his most important compositions were written for that instrument. He studied first at the school of a very difficult taskmaster, Nikolai Zverev, who made his students work for 16 hours each day. He then went to the Moscow Conservatory, where he won the Great Gold Medal in 1892.

Despite this fine training, and encouragement from Tchaikovsky, who was Russia's most famous composer at the time, Rachmaninoff’s career moved slowly. When his first symphony was performed, absolutely nobody liked it. He lost confidence and found himself unable to compose. He finally went to a hypnotist, who repeated over and over to him, "You will write your Concerto – You will write your Concerto…." He did, producing his famous Piano Concerto in c minor, which is his most popular work. He went on to compose several other concertos plus symphonies, piano works and songs. Another well-known work is the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Rachmaninoff left his home country, moving first to Switzerland and then to the United States. He toured often, conducting and performing. His astounding abilities on the piano won him high praise and great fame. He had a phenomenal memory and could hear a piece of music and play it back not only the next day but years afterward. Fortunately, Rachmaninoff recorded much of his own music, so we can still hear his performances today. He died in California at the age of 69.

 


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

March 18, 1844 -

Romantic Period

Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was born in the Russian town of Tikhvin. During his childhood, Nikolai enjoyed listening to Russian folk songs, church music, and opera.

When he was older, Nikolai followed his brother to the naval college in St. Petersburg. While he was there, he also studied music. Rimsky-Korsakov composed his first symphony while on a navy ship.

After he left the navy, Rimsky-Korsakov was asked to teach at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which is now called named for him. Rimsky-Korsakov was also one of a group of five famous Russian composers known as "The Mighty Handful" (as in five fingers).

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote operas, choral music, chamber music, and works for piano. One of his most famous pieces is the Flight of the Bumblebee, from the opera Tsar Saltan. In the opera, this music is played when a prince disguises himself as bee.

 


Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein

November 28, 1829 -

Romantic Period

Rubinstein was born in Podolsk Russia to Jewish parents. At the age of 4 his grandfather ordered the family to convert to Russian Orthodox Christianity because Jews at the time were not permitted to travel freely. For this reason, Rubinstein's ethinic identity as a Jew was compromised. At 5 his mother began instructing him and his brother on the piano. Both boys progressed quickly and by age 14 Rubinstein had played for Chopin, Liszt, and Tzar Nicholas I. Because of his mixed ethnic heritage, the 'Russianness' of Rubinstein's work has been called into question by critics. In 1862 he opened the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, the first Russian school for music. Rubinstein made sure that the school's focus was on Russian music, which surprised most people, who expected him to teach other European and Germanic composers. He is best known for his work as a touring keyboardist, but also composed operas, single instrument concertos, and symphonies. His most famous works include the Fourth Piano Concerto (1864), The Demon (1871), and Ivan the Terrible (1869) .

 


Dmitri Shostakovich

September 25, 1906 -

Modern Period

Dmitri Shostakovich started composing early, completing his Symphony No. 1 when he was only 19 years old. For some time, he wrote traditional music that was well received by Russian audiences. He ran into trouble, however, with an opera called Lady Macbeth of Mzensk.

In 1917, the Russian Revolution had taken place and the new leadership of the country, under the direction of Joseph Stalin, had its own ideas as to what appropriate music should sound like. It banned any sort of innovative works and demanded that composers produce bland pieces that had a Socialist theme. The Lady Macbeth opera incensed Stalin, who left the theatre after the first act in a towering rage.

Fearing imprisonment, Shostakovich started composing "safe" music, including his famous Symphony No. 5. However, in so doing he stifled his true creativity. Despite these efforts to conform, the criticisms continued and in 1948 nearly every important Soviet composer was attacked. Most apologized profusely, promising to mend their ways! Russian music became dull, lifeless and boring.

While Shostakovich continued to compose, he became bitter, knowing what he could have done if he had the freedom to write as he had wished. His later years were most unhappy, and he died at the age of 69.

 


Igor Stravinsky

June 17, 1882 -

Modern Period

Igor Stravinsky was born in St. Petersburg, which was the capital of Russia at the time. His father was a famous opera singer, so as a kid, Igor got to hang out at the opera house, where he met all the famous musicians of the day. At one performance, he even caught sight of Tchaikovsky.

Igor began taking piano lessons at age 9. When he grew up, he started studying law. One of his fellow law students was the son of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who agreed to give Stravinsky composition lessons. Law fell by the wayside completely after Stravinsky had a big success with The Firebird, which he composed for Serge Diaghilev, head of the Russian Ballet.

Stravinsky went on to write more ballets for Diaghilev. One of those was The Rite of Spring, about a pagan ritual in ancient Russia. The opening night audience found the music and choreography so shocking that there was actually a riot in the theater!

Stravinsky moved around a lot. In Europe, he lived in France and Switzerland; during World War II, he came to the United States, where he lived in both California and New York. Stravinsky's music moved around, too -- he never really picked one style. He wrote Russian-sounding music, music that looked back to previous centuries, modern music, opera, and religious music -- including a symphony with psalms in it.

 


Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

May 07, 1840 -

Romantic Period

Piotr (or Peter, as we would say in English) Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, a town in Russia's Ural Mountains. When he was 8 years old, his family moved to the capital city of St. Petersburg. Even though Tchaikovsky was a good musician as a kid, that wasn't considered an "acceptable" profession, so his parents made him study law instead.

But even in law school, Tchaikovsky continued to study music. Eventually, he gave up his legal job and went to the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After he graduated, he moved to Moscow to teach at the new conservatory there. It's now named for him.

For years, Tchaikovsky had a patroness named Nadezhda von Meck -- a wealthy widow who was a big fan of Tchaikovsky's music. She regularly sent him money so that he could concentrate on composing without having to worry about making a living. But Nadezhda von Meck didn't want to meet Tchaikovsky. For 14 years, they only communicated by writing letters to each other. Tchaikovsky dedicated his Fourth Symphony to his patroness.

Tchaikovsky traveled all over Europe for performances of his music. In 1891, he even came to America for the opening of Carnegie Hall, where he was invited to conduct his music.

 


Women Composers

Composers from Russia

Lera Auerbach

October 21, 1973 -

Modern Period

Lera Auerbach is a Soviet-Russian born American pianist and composer whose works are frequently commissioned by a variety of artists and ensembles including Gidon Kremer, the NDR Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Danish Ballet.

 


Alexander Borodin

November 12, 1833 -

Romantic Period

Unlike most composers, Alexander Borodin was trained as a scientist and medical doctor; his primary career was that of a very successful professor of chemistry. He was an amateur musician who played the piano, flute and cello and who enjoyed composing in his spare time. Borodin was one of the five Russian composers known as the Mighty Handful, who were active at the end of the 19th century. Others in this group include Modest Mussorgsky, César Cui, Mily Balakirev and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Borodin's life was incredibly busy and his apartment was continually filled with visitors and family. It is surprising that he created as much music as he did. His most famous composition is the opera, Prince Igor, on which he worked for nearly twenty years. It was never finished; his friends, Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunow, completed it after his death.

Borodin’s music contains wonderful melodies that remind the listener of old Russia. The Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor supplied the melody for a famous 20th century popular song, Stranger in Paradise.

 


Alexander Glazunov

January 31, 1865 -

Late Romantic Period

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in Saint Petersburg in 1865. He rose to fame very quickly as a teenager with the help to Russian nationalist music group, The Five. At age 16, Mitrofan Belyayev hired an orchestra to play Glazunov's First Symphony. Belyayev served as a key promoter of Glazunov's career. Glazunov is known for having an incredible memory. He once played an entire symphony after hearing it from behind a closed door. His most famous pieces include ballets The Seasons (1899) and Raymonda (1898).

 


Dmitri Kabalevsky

December 30, 1904 -

Modern Period

Dmitri Kabalevsky was born in St. Petersburg, which was then the capital of Russia. He started playing the piano by ear when he was six. In 1918, after the Russian Revolution, the family moved to Moscow, where Dmitri finally started studying music -- including composition.

Kabalevsky lived in a difficult time and place for a composer. In the Soviet Union, the government told artists -- painters, writers, composers, you name it -- exactly what they were expected to create, and how it should look or sound. Kabalevsky managed to make the authorities happy as he continued to compose.

Kabalevsky wrote a lot of piano music, including pieces for children. He really enjoyed writing for children. Other Kabalevsky compositions include songs for children's chorus, and a set of songs for solo voice based on some wonderful Russian translations of Mother Goose rhymes. Of course, Kabalevsky also wrote plenty of adult pieces, including symphonies, concertos, and music for the theater.

 


Modest Mussorgsky

March 21, 1839 -

Romantic Period

Modest Mussorgsky was born in the Russian village of Karevo. His mother gave him his first piano lessons, and it was clear early on that Mussorgsky was a very good pianist.

Modest went to military boarding school, and when he graduated, he joined the army as an officer. Then, Mussorgsky started studying music with Russian composer Mily Balakirev, and left the army to become a composer. He was part of a group of five Russian composers known as "The Five," or the "Mighty Handful."

But Mussorgsky had a hard time making a living as a composer, especially after his family lost all its money. So he got a government job, and continued to spend all his spare time composing.

In addition to his instrumental music, Mussorgsky wrote songs, and several operas. His operatic masterpiece is "Boris Godunov," about a Russian Tsar who lived in the 1500's.

 


Sergei Rachmaninoff

April 01, 1873 -

Romantic Period

Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the most important composers in Russia in the early 20th century. He was a wonderful pianist, and some of his most important compositions were written for that instrument. He studied first at the school of a very difficult taskmaster, Nikolai Zverev, who made his students work for 16 hours each day. He then went to the Moscow Conservatory, where he won the Great Gold Medal in 1892.

Despite this fine training, and encouragement from Tchaikovsky, who was Russia's most famous composer at the time, Rachmaninoff’s career moved slowly. When his first symphony was performed, absolutely nobody liked it. He lost confidence and found himself unable to compose. He finally went to a hypnotist, who repeated over and over to him, "You will write your Concerto – You will write your Concerto…." He did, producing his famous Piano Concerto in c minor, which is his most popular work. He went on to compose several other concertos plus symphonies, piano works and songs. Another well-known work is the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Rachmaninoff left his home country, moving first to Switzerland and then to the United States. He toured often, conducting and performing. His astounding abilities on the piano won him high praise and great fame. He had a phenomenal memory and could hear a piece of music and play it back not only the next day but years afterward. Fortunately, Rachmaninoff recorded much of his own music, so we can still hear his performances today. He died in California at the age of 69.

 


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

March 18, 1844 -

Romantic Period

Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was born in the Russian town of Tikhvin. During his childhood, Nikolai enjoyed listening to Russian folk songs, church music, and opera.

When he was older, Nikolai followed his brother to the naval college in St. Petersburg. While he was there, he also studied music. Rimsky-Korsakov composed his first symphony while on a navy ship.

After he left the navy, Rimsky-Korsakov was asked to teach at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which is now called named for him. Rimsky-Korsakov was also one of a group of five famous Russian composers known as "The Mighty Handful" (as in five fingers).

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote operas, choral music, chamber music, and works for piano. One of his most famous pieces is the Flight of the Bumblebee, from the opera Tsar Saltan. In the opera, this music is played when a prince disguises himself as bee.

 


Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein

November 28, 1829 -

Romantic Period

Rubinstein was born in Podolsk Russia to Jewish parents. At the age of 4 his grandfather ordered the family to convert to Russian Orthodox Christianity because Jews at the time were not permitted to travel freely. For this reason, Rubinstein's ethinic identity as a Jew was compromised. At 5 his mother began instructing him and his brother on the piano. Both boys progressed quickly and by age 14 Rubinstein had played for Chopin, Liszt, and Tzar Nicholas I. Because of his mixed ethnic heritage, the 'Russianness' of Rubinstein's work has been called into question by critics. In 1862 he opened the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, the first Russian school for music. Rubinstein made sure that the school's focus was on Russian music, which surprised most people, who expected him to teach other European and Germanic composers. He is best known for his work as a touring keyboardist, but also composed operas, single instrument concertos, and symphonies. His most famous works include the Fourth Piano Concerto (1864), The Demon (1871), and Ivan the Terrible (1869) .

 


Dmitri Shostakovich

September 25, 1906 -

Modern Period

Dmitri Shostakovich started composing early, completing his Symphony No. 1 when he was only 19 years old. For some time, he wrote traditional music that was well received by Russian audiences. He ran into trouble, however, with an opera called Lady Macbeth of Mzensk.

In 1917, the Russian Revolution had taken place and the new leadership of the country, under the direction of Joseph Stalin, had its own ideas as to what appropriate music should sound like. It banned any sort of innovative works and demanded that composers produce bland pieces that had a Socialist theme. The Lady Macbeth opera incensed Stalin, who left the theatre after the first act in a towering rage.

Fearing imprisonment, Shostakovich started composing "safe" music, including his famous Symphony No. 5. However, in so doing he stifled his true creativity. Despite these efforts to conform, the criticisms continued and in 1948 nearly every important Soviet composer was attacked. Most apologized profusely, promising to mend their ways! Russian music became dull, lifeless and boring.

While Shostakovich continued to compose, he became bitter, knowing what he could have done if he had the freedom to write as he had wished. His later years were most unhappy, and he died at the age of 69.

 


Igor Stravinsky

June 17, 1882 -

Modern Period

Igor Stravinsky was born in St. Petersburg, which was the capital of Russia at the time. His father was a famous opera singer, so as a kid, Igor got to hang out at the opera house, where he met all the famous musicians of the day. At one performance, he even caught sight of Tchaikovsky.

Igor began taking piano lessons at age 9. When he grew up, he started studying law. One of his fellow law students was the son of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who agreed to give Stravinsky composition lessons. Law fell by the wayside completely after Stravinsky had a big success with The Firebird, which he composed for Serge Diaghilev, head of the Russian Ballet.

Stravinsky went on to write more ballets for Diaghilev. One of those was The Rite of Spring, about a pagan ritual in ancient Russia. The opening night audience found the music and choreography so shocking that there was actually a riot in the theater!

Stravinsky moved around a lot. In Europe, he lived in France and Switzerland; during World War II, he came to the United States, where he lived in both California and New York. Stravinsky's music moved around, too -- he never really picked one style. He wrote Russian-sounding music, music that looked back to previous centuries, modern music, opera, and religious music -- including a symphony with psalms in it.

 


Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

May 07, 1840 -

Romantic Period

Piotr (or Peter, as we would say in English) Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, a town in Russia's Ural Mountains. When he was 8 years old, his family moved to the capital city of St. Petersburg. Even though Tchaikovsky was a good musician as a kid, that wasn't considered an "acceptable" profession, so his parents made him study law instead.

But even in law school, Tchaikovsky continued to study music. Eventually, he gave up his legal job and went to the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After he graduated, he moved to Moscow to teach at the new conservatory there. It's now named for him.

For years, Tchaikovsky had a patroness named Nadezhda von Meck -- a wealthy widow who was a big fan of Tchaikovsky's music. She regularly sent him money so that he could concentrate on composing without having to worry about making a living. But Nadezhda von Meck didn't want to meet Tchaikovsky. For 14 years, they only communicated by writing letters to each other. Tchaikovsky dedicated his Fourth Symphony to his patroness.

Tchaikovsky traveled all over Europe for performances of his music. In 1891, he even came to America for the opening of Carnegie Hall, where he was invited to conduct his music.

 


 

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