Alexander Kastalsky

Alexander Kastalsky


• 1856 1926


Alexandr Dmitriyevich Kastalsky is primarily known for his large output of Russian sacred music. He was instrumental in the revival and further evolution of music in that genre, composing many hymns and other religious works, many of them written for use in Russian Orthodox Church service. Kastalsky typically wrote for a cappella male choir and was one of the leading figures in Russian sacred music from the 1890s until the Bolshevik Revolution, after which that genre of music was viewed suspiciously by Soviet government officials. While Kastalsky is not a household name to most listeners of classical or serious choral music, he wrote several works that have achieved significant exposure in the concert hall and on recordings, namely the hymns O Gladsome Light and God is with us. Larger works, such as The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (for female chorus), have also garnered a measure of attention over the years. From about the 1970s a revival of interest in Kastalsky's music in the former Soviet Union has slowly spread across parts of Europe and the Americas, and may well augur a favorable reassessment of the composer's legacy.

Alexandr Dmitriyevich Kastalsky was born in Moscow, Russia, on November 16, 1856. His father was a Russian Orthodox priest and his mother a pianist. His musical skills developed slowly from about the age of eight, when his mother began teaching him on piano and an uncle regularly encouraged him in vocal music. Kastalsky's most important teacher later on was Taneyev.

After military service in the early 1880s, Kastalsky organized an orchestra and chorus in Koslov. By this time he was already busy composing songs, orchestral marches, various pieces for piano, and an even an opera. In 1884 he returned to Moscow and began earning his living primarily as a teacher. He married Natalia Pavlovskaya in 1886, a woman who would prove to be of enormous help in preparing texts to many of his works.

By the early 1890s Kastalsky had become a successful composer. One of his compositions during this time, Blest are they whom thou has chosen, was dedicated to the memory of his sister, an ophthalmologist who died at 35. From 1900-1905 Kastalsky worked on the hymns for his All-Night Vigil, and in 1905 completed the aforementioned Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Kastalsky, a fading presence on the Russian music scene after 1917, died in Moscow on December 17, 1926.