Alexandr MosolovSonatas for piano nos. 2 and 5; Deux Nocturnes op. 15
Alexandr Mosolov's reputation in the West rested, until quite recently, on a handful of orchestral works, in particular the 1928 Zavod (in English, The Iron Foundry) which Stokowski championed and Toscanini introduced to New York audiences, and whose hammering rhythms cast the composer as the "machine music" man, the very embodiment of Russian Constructivism. The characterization worked against Mosolov in his own, troubled, lifetime and has continued to obscure the diversity of his music.
Born in Kiev in 1900, Mosolov received his earliest musical instruction from his mother, an opera singer. His musical education was disrupted by a brief military career with the Red Army, and resumed at the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied piano with Grigorij Prokofiev and composition with Nikolaj Mjaskovskij. In 1925 he joined the Western-oriented Association for Contemporary Music and promptly became its director of chamber music.
Mosolov's compositional output in the 1920s was prolific - orchestral works, a symphony, two operas, numerous pieces of chamber music, as well as the sonatas and nocturnes for piano. In different ways these pieces were attempts to create, in Paul Griffiths' words, "appropriate music for a workers' state of new hope and determination". The composers affiliated with the Constructivist movement were influenced by Italian Futurism, offshoots of which also found expression in Paris in the 20s. Critics of the day bracketed Mosolov's factory ballet Steel with Antheil's Ballet mécanique or Honneger's tribute to the railway, Pacific 231, and variously lauded or damned its attempts to bring the industrial soundscape into the concert hall. Unlike their Western "counterparts", however, Mosolov and his comrades defended their aesthetic stance as one of allegiance to the urban proletariat. The workers were only temporarily persuaded by this line, and Mosolov's celebrity was short-lived. By the 1930s, denounced as decadent and counter-revolutionary by the Russian Union Of Proletarian Musicians, he was forced to modify - that is, simplify - his musical language. Even after his death in 1973, official condemnation of his early work was not tempered and as late as 1985 the Soviet Composers Union refused to grant permission for performances of his piano concerto in East Germany.
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Herbert Henck's New Series account of the very different piano works of Federico Mompou, released last year, prompted a widespread reappraisal of that Catalan composer's music and it is likely that his performances of Mosolov's sonatas and nocturnes will contribute to the Russian's "rehabilitation". After the slowly-melting tonal colours of the Música Callada, Henck is, at least on his own terms, back in more familiar territory here. The German pianist, who has specialized in some of the most demanding keyboard music of our century, from Boulez's piano sonatas to Stockhausen's Klavierstücke to Barraqué's fiendishly complex Sonate, has been considering Mosolov's work since the early 1980s, and found far more in it than mere onomatopia of the first machine age. "Mosolov's piano works are music of high virtuosity, whose links with Scriabin and Profofiev are unmistakable. (...) The sonatas were written in rapid sequence. They take full advantage of the colours and register of the modern concert grand, and their tempo and hand stretch requirements, power and complexity often push them towards the boundaries of what can be performed technically by an individual pianist. The basic tone is often set by dark, gloomy colours emanating from the bass regions of the instrument. Mourning and rage, aggression and depression meet within the most limited space, often intensifying with the most violent passion as they strive for reconciliation. The will to affirmative expression is supported in two ways: first, musical cells are constantly repeated, which fundamentally resists the musical flow, leading to a terraced, fragmented structure. Secondly, a pulse that accelerates and decelerates in waves can be felt, throbbing through the music like a heart-beat and laying every repetition open to experience as a swelling or easing of emotional energy." It is the complexity of emotional expression in Mosolov's music - the range of feeling - that gives the lie to the "mechanical" type-casting and makes us want to know more about this important and neglected composer who was briefly in the forefront of the Soviet avant-garde.
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Herbert Henck was born in Treysa, Hessen, Germany in 1948. He plays 20th century music almost exclusively in his concerts and recordings and has published numerous essays about it. From 1980 to 1985 he edited and published the five-volume series of yearbooks Neuland: Ansätze zur Musik der Gegenwart. Henck's book Experimentelle Pianistik. Improvisation, Interpretation, Komposition. Schriften zur Klaviermusik was published by Schott Musik International in 1994.
CD package contains a 28 page three-language booklet with notes on Alexandr Mossolov by Herbert Henck