Samuil Feinberg

Samuil Feinberg


• 1890 1962


Samuel Feinberg (also Samuil) was better known in his day as a pianist than a composer, but it is as a composer that Feinberg is known to posterity. Feinberg' s interpretations of the keyboard works of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Scriabin, and others were startlingly original - he typically offered quite a different approach to each composer's music. He produced a substantial output of piano, vocal, and chamber works, but was generally reluctant to promote his compositions in the many concerts he gave. Feinberg' s early music is conservative in outlook, but he later became experimental in the use of serial techniques, only to return to a more traditional though individual style later on.

Feinberg was born in Odessa between May 14 and 26, 1890. Raised in Moscow, from an early age Feinberg exhibited an extraordinary talent on the piano. He enrolled in the Moscow Conservatory and studied piano with Alexander Goldenweiser. During his student years he took instruction in composition privately with Nikolai Zhilyayev.

After his 1911 graduation from the Conservatory, Feinberg launched a career as a piano soloist while writing music on the side. Before he was sent off to war, Feinberg met Scriabin, who praised his pianism. Feinberg's active participation in the Russian military ended abruptly when he became gravely ill and had to spend the remainder of the war recuperating in Moscow.

In 1922, Feinberg joined the faculty at the Moscow Conservatory, and thereafter revived his career as a pianist, and toured Europe in the late 1920s. When his composition teacher, Zhilyayev, who had also become his music editor, was arrested during Stalin's reign of terror, Feinberg had to rein in the progressive music style he had evolved in works like the Sixth (1923) and Seventh (1924-1925) piano sonatas and the First Piano Concerto (1931-1932).

After 1936, Feinberg's music became more conservative, though it retained a subtlety of expression and often divulged a penchant for imaginative contrapuntal techniques. Feinberg felt it wise not to seek publication of some of his more progressive works, like the Seventh Sonata, which would not appear in print until the 1970s.

In 1951 Feinberg's health declined from as the result of a heart ailment, but he remained active as a pianist and composer for his remaining days. He died in Moscow, largely an obscure figure in a global sense, however his reputation within Russia placed him among the pianistic giants of his age -- Sofronitsky, Goldenweiser, Ginzburg, and Neuhaus.