Dmitry Kabalevsky

Dmitri Borisovich Kabalevsky [Russian: Дмитрий Борисович Кабалевский] was a great Russian Soviet composer, but also a noted pianist and writer. His father was a mathematician who dealt with the national insurance; he wanted his artistic son to find a career in economics or mathematics. His father had given him a liberal education where young Dimitry had excelled in the arts; he painted and dabbled in poetry as well as excelling as an aspiring pianist. By the time he was 14 years old, Kabalevsky and his family had moved to Moscow where he had received his primary education in music at the Scriabin Musical Institute from 1919 to 1925 (he had also kept painting). In 1922, under his father's will, Kabalevsky took the entrance exam to the Engels Socio-Economic Science Institute, but he never enrolled because he had realized his career was in music, at first as a pianist. In the next three years, Kabalevsky excelled at being a pianist; he began to instruct at the Scriabin Institute as well as compose for his students. To further his interest in composing, Kabalevsky went to the Moscow Conservatory in 1925 where he studied composing under Miaskovsky and piano under Goldenweiser. Miaskovsky's compositional influence can be recognized in Kabalevsky's works such as the Three Poems of Blok (1927), considered his most daring work, and his first internationally known works, the First Piano Concerto (1928) and the C Major Sonatina (1930).

In the late 1920's there was great tension between the main forces of Soviet music: the RAPM (Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians and the ASM (Association of Contemporary Musicians). Dmitri Kabalevsky associated himself with neither one exclusively. He wrote his Poem of Struggle (1930) in line with the proletarian ideal of the RAPM; it used melodies from songs of the revolution. Kabalevsky showed his promise as a writer in 1927 with his contributions to an ASM journal. The tension between the two organizations ended in 1932 with the construction of the Union of Soviet Composers, which was spearheaded by Kabalevsky himself (he helped organize the Moscow branch).

By the 1930's Kabalevsky was appointed as an assistant instructor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, and by 1939 he was a full professor. This period until 1942 is considered to be Kabalevsky's strongest. During this time he wrote much incidental music for radio and stage. In 1936 he wrote his first opera, Colas Breugnon, which was based on the novel by Romain Rolland; it first appeared in 1938 and it was an immediate success (It is to be noted that Kabalevsky himself became dissatisfied with its dramatic structure, so he revised it in both 1953 and 1969).

Dmitri Kabalevsky joined the Communist Party in 1940; by 1941 he had received the Medal of Honour from the Soviet government for his musical prowess. It was during this period of time that Kabalevsky lent his musical talents to the war effort. During World War II, Kabalevsky had written several inspirational songs and battle hymns. In 1942, Kabalevsky's three huge works: Vast Motherland, Revenger of the People and Into the Fire, were written to inspire heroism and patriotism among the Soviets. His popular The Taras Family (1947) used out-taken music from the opera Into the Fire, and became a huge success. It became a success even in light of the 1948 party decree of music in Russia, probably because Kabalevsky's music had become more lyrical in nature.

In Dmitri Kabalevsky's later life, his music had become more entwined in choral music; the Requiem (1962), dedicated to those who died fighting fascism, is a great example. He had become quite 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 USSR in 1969. He also received the honorary degree of president of the International Society of Musical Education.

Dmitry Kabalevsky wrote for all musical genres; his pieces were all faithful to the ideals of Soviet realism as well. In Russia, he is most noted for his vocal songs, cantatas, and operas while overseas he is known for his orchestral music. Kabalevsky frequently travelled overseas; he was a member of the Soviet Committee for the Defense of Peace as well as a representative for the Promotion of Friendship between the Soviet Union and foreign countries. Kabalevsky will be long remembered as an icon of Soviet Russian nationalism.

Bach Cantatas Website

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1938-1940 The Comedians (Suite) 3.50 out of 5 stars CD
The Comedians, Op. 26, Russian Komedianty, incidental music composed by Dmitry Kabalevsky in 1938 to accompany a stage play called Inventor and Comedian at the Central Children’s Theatre of Moscow. The play, centred on a group of traveling entertainers, is seldom seen today, but the lighthearted and energetic songs, dances, and interludes composed for it continue to be performed in the form of an orchestral suite arranged by Kabalevsky in 1940.

The 10 selections that make up the suite are the “Prologue,” “Galop,” “March,” “Waltz,” “Pantomime,” “Intermezzo,” “Little Lyrical Scene,”“Gavotte,” “Scherzo,” and “Epilogue.” Most feature Kabalevsky’s inventive use of percussion and his preference for quick, lively rhythms. A wry sense of humour is also evident. “March” is alternately sombre and tipsy, and the “Waltz” comes complete with a rhythmic “oom-pah” brass line. At times, echoes of Felix Mendelssohn appear, particularly in the “Intermezzo” and “Scherzo,” which are reminiscent of their counterparts in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The suite concludes with the jovial “Epilogue,” which resurrects the theme of the first movement.

RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra cond. Kiril Kondrashin