• 1881 — 1950
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The son of an army engineer who eventually attained the rank of general in the Russian army, composer Nikolay Myaskovsky was expected to follow in his father's footsteps. However, after his mother's death in 1890, Myaskovsky was brought up by his aunt, a former singer, who encouraged his musical interests; his first compositions -- piano pieces much influenced by Chopin -- date from that time.
In 1903, Myaskovsky took a course in harmony from Reinhold Glière, which helped him decide on a music career. He continued his studies with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and Anatoly Liadov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory (1906-1911); his Symphony No. 1 (1908) won him a scholarship that allowed him to complete his education. Myaskovsky then spent some time as a private teacher and music journalist. During World War I, he served on the front for three years, then worked on military fortifications. Some of those experiences are reflected in his Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5, both of which were partially sketched on the front.
In 1921, Myaskovsky became a professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, a position he held until his death. He also was appointed assistant director of the music department of the People's Commissariat (1921-1922) and editor at the Music Publishing House (1922-1931). In later years, he would become a consultant for music broadcasts for the All-Union Radio Committee, and would hold an important position in the Union of Soviet Composers. With his Symphony No. 6 (1921-3) nationalistic themes entered his music; the Symphony's fourth movement is an evocation of the Russian Revolution. His Symphony No. 12 (1931-1932), written in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, was his first explicitly Soviet work, with its portrait of the past, present, and future of a Russian village.
In 1940, Myaskovsky received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the Moscow Conservatory. His Symphony No. 21 of that year, written for the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony, earned for the composer the first of his three Stalin Prizes and remains perhaps his best-known work. During World War II he was relocated to the Caucasus, later to Tbilisi and Kirghizia. The hardships he experienced didn't prevent him from composing, and he completed two symphonies, a Cello Concerto, and other works during those years.
Despite the prominent place he held in Russian musical society and the title of People's Artist he received in 1946, Myaskovsky was one of the composers -- along with Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Aram Khachaturian, and others -- denounced in 1948 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party for formalism, modernism, and ignoring the needs of the Soviet people and society. He wasn't criticized as harshly as the others, but the frequently pessimistic tone of his music was noted, and he was accused, through his teaching, of injecting "inharmonious music into the Soviet educational system." Myaskovsky was quite ill by this time, but was able to reply in part to the charges made against him with his Symphony No. 27 (1949-1950), which was premiered four months after his death and won him his third, posthumous, Stalin Prize.
Myaskovsky wrote 27 symphonies, 13 string quartets, nine piano sonatas, and a host of other works. Among his many students at the Moscow Conservatory were Aram Khachaturian and Dmitri Kabalevsky; his generosity as a teacher earned for him the nickname "the musical conscience of Moscow." On his death, just eighteen months after his denunciation, he was lauded by the Soviet Council of Ministers as an "outstanding Soviet musical worker and people's artist."