He had earned the nickname “Father of the Soviet Symphony”. Soviet symphony, not Russian. He was a shy, introverted musician, and he the critic Boris Afsayev described him as “not the kind of composer the Revolution would like; he reflects life not through the feelings and spirit of the masses, but through the prism of his personal feelings. […] He speaks not only for himself, but for many others.” Nikolai Myaskovsky was awarded the Stalin Price five times, more than any other composer, still, like Dmitry Shostakovich, he was accused in 1947 of writing “anti-proletarian” and “formalistic” music. Oh, brave, new Soviet world!
Shostakovich called Myaskovsky “the most noble, the most modest of men” after he had visited him on his deathbed in 1950. As a student he had considered for some time to leave Leningrad and study with Myaskovsky in Moscow, who since 1924 held a chair as a professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory. Myaskovsky himself had studied with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in St. Petersburg and was a lifelong friend to Sergey Prokofiev.
In 1948/49 he wrote his Cello Sonata No. 2 in A minor (Op. 81). It is a wonderful piece, conceived originally for viola d’amore, that he dedicated to the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who actively promoted it. Myaskovsky qualified the Party’s accusation as hysterical, which it certainly was, but Stalin had been paranoid since the 1920s and saw enemies, some real, most imagined anywhere. Myaskovsky wrote the sonata as an answer to the party’s criticism. It is simple in formal terms, Romantic in a sense, a return to the roots of Russian classical music, with folk elements and flowing melodic lines that recall Pyotr Tchaikovsky, whose musical language had left a deep impression on the young Nikolai. The Soviet government honored this effort by another Stalin Price – posthumously.
Myaskovsky’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in A minor is a lovely meditative piece for a winter day with a little sunshine. A reminiscence of warmer days, a promise of the warm days to come. May it warm your heart a little, may it let you shed a tear of emotion. It has been recorded by Luca Magariello and Cecilia Novarino.
© Charles Thibo